Category Archives: Derivations and etymologies

Where words come from and easy rules how to remember words. More practical explanations than linguistics definitions.

A leader leads

Johtaa means “to lead” and is used often just like in English, where it has some concrete and some abstract meanings.

Kaikki tiet johtavat Roomaan.
All roads lead to Rome.

Hannes Kolehmainen johtaa kisaa.
Hannes Kolehmainen leads the competition.

Tämä metodi johtaa parhaiseen tulokseen.
This method leads to the best result.

Similarly, the leader is “johtaja”.

Johtaa has also a meaning “to pass through” or “to convey”, “to conduct”. In science, you can use it in experssions such as “the cord conducts electricity” / “Johto johtaa sähköä”.

The noun is “johto”, which means “leadership, management or goverment”, or as in the earlier example “a cord” or “a conductor”.

Miksi Lech Wałęsa pidätettiin?
Hän oli korjamassa autoa ja ilmiantaja kuuli, kun hän sanoi “puolan johto pitää vaihtaa”.

(Puola = Poland, puola = spark coil)

Derivations and etymologies: lähteä

Lähteä means “to leave” or “to go (away)”.

Sometimes “to go” is more natural in English: “lähden kalaan” / “I’ll go fishing” (“menen kalaan” is also possible here).

At railway stations you can see signs saying “lähtevät junat” meaning “departures”. The noun is “lähtö” (a departure), and “lähtöruutu” means the starting point, square one.

Lähettää means literally “to make something to leave”, so it means “to send”. “Lähetän kirjeen ulkomaille” / “I’m sending a letter abroad”.

Lähde is a place, where the water is coming from, a spring or a fountain. It can be used also in an abstract sense, as “origin” or “source”

Walk the walk (käydä)

Kävellä means “to walk” and it comes from the verb “käydä” which has basically the same meaning, but it has some other spesific uses. For example: “Sinun pitäisi käydä lääkärissä.” / “You should go to the doctor.”

It’s also a part if idioms like “to be okay with”, for example “maanantai käy minulle” / “Monday is ok for me.” (see also the article about “sopia”), or “to happen“. For example, “mietin, miten minulle vielä käy” “I wonder what will happen to me.”

When in English “engine runs“, in Finnish it “walks”. For example: “Moottori käy tasaisesti.” / “The engine runs steadily.”

-ttää -suffix has the meaning, “make somebody to do something”, for example syödä -> syöttää = to eat -> to feed (= “to make somebody to eat”). In the similar fashion, you’ll get a new verb from “käydä”, namely “käyttää”. Keep in mind that things that work smoothly, “walk” in Finnish. That’s why käyttää means “to use”.

Osaatko käyttää tietokonetta? / Do you know how to use a computer?

Waiter, I’m buying! (tarjota)

Tarjota means “to offer”, fox example “Tarjosin hänelle apua” / “I offered him help.” In Finnish, if you are giving something for free, you are “offering” it, for example: “Otetaan oluet, minä tarjoan.” / “Let’s have beers, I’m buying. “

A waiter in Finnish isn’t a person who waits, but “offers”, that’s why waiter = tarjoilija. Waitress is called “tarjoilijatar“, but it sounds really old fashioned. The waiter often brings you a tray, which is “tarjotin” in Finnish.

In sales, an offer = “tarjous“. It can also mean same as “alennus” = discount. For example: “Tämä paita oli halpa, koska se oli tarjouksessa” / “This shirt was inexpensive, because it was at a discount”.

Does that contract suit you? (Sopia)

Sopia means “to fit” or also to “to suit” both in concrete and abstract sense.

“Sopiiko paita sinulle?” “Onko se sopiva?” /
“Does the shirt fit to you? Is it suitable?”
“Tuo puku sopii sinulle hyvin.” /
“That suit suits you well.”

It can refer to other suitable/unsuitable things as well, not only clothes:

“Sopiiko perjantai sinulle?” / “Does Friday suit you?” (lit. “for you”)

If something “suits you” then you “agree to it”, that’s why “sopia” means also “to agree” in Finnish.

Teidän pitää sopia riitanne! / “you must come to an agreement.”

The noun derived from it is “sopimus“, which means any kind of agreement, pact, treaty or contract (written or oral).
Allekirjoitin vuokrasopimuksen vuokranantajan kanssa. /
I signed a rental contract with my landlord.

Pariisin rauhansopimus päätti toisen maailmansodan./
The Paris Peace Treaty concluded the Second World War.

A challenging court case (haastaa)

Haastaa is an old fashined word meaning “to talk” or “to chat”. It’s rarely used in it’s original meaning, but it’s still included in another verb “haastatella” = “to interview” (lit. ~ “make someone to chat” ).

“Toimittaja haastatteli poliitikkoa.” “The journalist interviewed the politician.”

In modern Finnish, “haastaa” has a spesific meaning “to challenge”, for example “Haastan sinut kaksintaisteluun!” “I challenge you to a duel!”

Haastava” is an adjective and it means “challenging”, for example, “Kisa oli hyvin haastava” “The race was very challenging.”. The noun derived from “haastaa” is “haaste“, “a challenge”. “Otan kaikki vaikeudet haasteena” / “I will take all the difficulties as a challenge”.

In Finnish, to “sue somebody” is literarily “to challenge somebody into court” = “haastaa oikeuteen“. (see the article for “oikeus“)

A conversation in the center of the Middle-earth (Keski-)

Many words related to concepts such as “middle” or “centre” are derived from the root “keski-“. For example keskusta ~ centre and keskellä ~ in the middle.
“Kaupungin keskusta on kaupungin keskellä”/ “The city centre is in the middle of the city”
Keskusta means also the political centre, or the Finnish Centre party, Keskusta puolue.

The historical Middle ages are “keskiaika“, but when a person is middle aged, he is “keski-ikäinen“.

Wednesday is “keskiviikko“, because it’s in the middle of the week (as “Mittwoch” in German).

If something is unfinished, you are probably in the middle of the progress, that’s why: unfinished ~ kesken.

Keskellä means also “in between”. For example, “Maija istuu Pekan ja Villen keskellä.” / “Maija is sitting in between of Pekka and Ville”.

Conversation is communication between two or more people. That’s why conversation ~ keskustelu.

Two more verbs derived from this root are keskittää and keskittyä ~ concentrate.

Koskaan et muuttua saa (muu)

Finnish cows say “muu!“. Probably by coincidence, it means “other” or “else” in Finnish.
“voiko joku muu tehdä sen?” / “Can somebody else do it?”

Many words derived from this root are related to somekind of change. For example “to change oneself” is “to become the other” = muuttua. “Se muuttui muuksi” / “It changed into something else”.

The transitive verb (the one with an object) is “muuttaa“. “Ihmistä ei voi muuttaa, ellei hän halua muuttua” / “You cannot change a person, if he doesn’t want to change.”

“Muuttaa” is also used when you move (“change a place”), for example “Muutan uuteen asuntoon perjantaina.” “I’ll move to a new flat on Friday“.

Collective nouns with -sto-suffix

Words ending with “sto” usually mean “a large amount of something”. For example a library (kirjasto) is a collection of many books (kirja) and a crew (miehistö) consists of several men (mies).

laiva -> laivasto
ship -> navy

kirja -> kirjasto
book -> library

mies -> miehistö
man -> crew

maa -> maasto
ground -> terrain

kortti -> kortisto
card -> register

näppäin -> näppäimistö
key -> keyboard

elin -> elimistö
organ -> organism

raha -> rahasto
money -> fund

astia -> astiasto
dish -> tableware

henkilö -> henkilöstö
person -> personnel

kalu – > kalusto
tool -> arsenal

vuori -> vuoristo
montain – > mountain range

tieto -> tiedosto
information -> file

saari -> saaristo
island -> archipelago

kone -> koneisto
machine – > machinery

huone -> huoneisto
room -> apartment

Play it one more time (soittaa)

Soittaa means to play, for example, an instrument. “Aleksi Laiho soittaa kitaraa Childrens of Bodom -yhtyeessä”.

You can easily derive the typical nouns from the verb:
soittaja: a (musical) player
soitin: a musical instrument
soitto: music (also musiikki)

In Finnish, you also “play a telephone”, so to phone / call ~ “soittaa puhelimella”.

Conversely, to play a game is “pelata“, not “soittaa” and when the children play, it’s “leikkiä“.

As so often, this verb has also it’s intransitive counterpart (a verb without an object): soida.
Puhelin soi, kuka soittaa? / The phone is ringing, who’s calling?