Finnish verbs are relatively simple. There are few truly irregular verbs, and they follow the same general rules you have already learned (vowel harmony, consonant gradation, other changes). The difficult, as usual, is that there are many word changes within the words and fewer helper verbs. So, as usual, it’s hard because it’s different.
Forms and stems¶
There are only six types of Finnish verbs (and only about 3 that are
truly irregular). Just like other words, there is a base form which
always ends in
-ä, but this is completely
understandable by vowel harmony, so we only say the back vowel forms
on this page).
The first thing to do when using verbs is to convert the base form
into the stem. Let’s use
pakata as an example. This involves
removing the ending (
-ta) first (→
paka-). Then, apply the new
stem ending (
pakaa-). This process can result in
consonant gradation to happen. In our example, the double vowel opens
up the last syllable. (→
pakkaa-). Then, you apply additional
endings, which can result in more consonant gradation changes.
In this example, according to the rules of consonant gradation,
a double vowel means a syllable is always open. When you add endings,
it may close the syllable if it is required by the rules.
It’s worth saying this about consonant gradation again: there are two places it can happen, once when converting from base form to the stem (reverse), and once when adding the endings (forward). Usually both don’t happen in the same word. Both indecently follow the normal rules almost exactly.
These are the verb types:
|Type||Extension||Stem||Example||Example stem||Stem cons. grad.||Notes|
Examples of consonant gradation in the stems:
- type 3:
nak·ke·le-(the change results in syllable opening)
- type 4:
ta·paa-(note middle syllable acts closed)
- type 5:
- type 6:
e·te·ne-(note middle syllable acts closed)
As in many languages, there are six personal endings (singular, plural) × (1st, 2nd, 3rd person):
The “last syllable?” column tells you if it closes or opens the last syllable in the stem (and makes weak consonant gradation or strong). Note that this is completely understandable from the rules applied to the endings.
First and second person pronouns are optional (just like in some other languages). Third person pronouns are required. If third person singular pronoun is missing, this is the “zeroth-person” construction.
Verbs in sentences¶
We’ve already gon over this in word order, but remember the basic parts of Finnish: sentences have a subject (who acts), verb (the action), and object. The verb matches the subject (singular/plural and person).
There are four main tenses:
- Present: basic
- Imperfect (past): Basic past tense. Events concluded in past.
- Perfect (past):
- Future: There is no grammatical future tense in Finnish. To express future, you use the present with extra words, for example “Tomorrow I go to school”.
|Tense||usage||example (en)||form||negative form|
|imperfect||past, finished||I did||
|perfect||past, ongoing effect||I have done||
|pluperfect||past, ongoing effect, before imperfect||I had done||
In Finnish, “pluperfect” is “pluskvamperfekti”.
These tenses are quite similar to English. Note that the verb
olla (to be) is used for the perfect and pluperfect tenses, a lot
like have/had in English. The
-nyt (vowel harmony)
endings is similar to
-ed in English.
So, while there seems to be a lot here, concepts are relatively few:
- Forming stems from infinitive (basic rules)
- Forming imperfect (
-iwith isolated special cases)
- Forming past participle (
-nyt, plural form
-neet) (basic rules, some small differences per verb type).
- Using the
olla(to be) helper verb when needed.
This was already introduced in the section above. In Finnish,
negation is via the
ei helper verb, which is a proper verb with
full conjugation. To negate in present tense, you use helper verb
+ weak form of the stem (minä form without
-n). For example:
minä puhun= I speak
minä en puhu= I don’t speak
Finnish has stem morphology for conditional (could, would, should) and
potential (may, might) moods. Conditional is most common. It is
-isi- after the stem.
At this point, it’s not worth going into details.
TODO: strong or weak forms?
The Finnish equivalent of “(it) is eaten” or “(it) was eaten” is the passive. Again, this is pretty similar to English.
These are made with
-täänin the present form (various rules, either coming from infinitive or weak stem).
Again, at this point it’s not worth going into details.