Suomen kieli ulkomaalaisille/Sisältö/Verbityyppi 4

Note to editors. Please note also that this book takes a different view of the verb formation than many other grammar books take, although Daniel Abondolo takes a similar approach in his book "Colloquial Finnish". This is done for a very good reason. Editors should not to revise this section regarding stems and first infinitive endings without first understanding why this approach has been taken. The approach taken here reduces the number of rules that needs to be learned regarding verb conjugation and explains some phonetic effects better than some traditional grammar books. The treatment of the t in the verb endings such as osata as being part of the stem of the word and not as part of an infinitive marker is the approach taken by Lingsoft which has developed the most successful Finnish morphological analyzer FINTWOL on the market today. This is accessible on the net at FINTWOL. The theoretical foundation for FINTWOL (The Finnish Two Level morphological analyzer) is based on research done by Kimmo Koskenniemi and is the foundation of the spelling tools used by Microsoft for Finnish which were develoed by Lingsoft. For further proof see Lingsoft Stem Determiner

Type 4 Verb characteristicsEdit

  • Type 4 verb stems all end in a long vowel or a dipthong in the present tense or in the third person imperative and have past tense stems ending -si-.
  • Type 4 verbs all have dictionary forms ending in -ota -uta -ata -ätä. This is because the first infinitive needs to end in a or ä and this a or ä cannot be simply added to a stem if there are already two vowels present. Therefore the last vowel from the stem is dropped and a t is added followed by the infinitve a or ä.
This is the key recognisor from the first infinitive forms.
  • Type 4 verb stems have core stems in the present tense ending at least two syllables (single syllable stem vowels are all in Type 2). No Type 4 stem ends in OI- (those verbs that do are also in Type 2)
  • Type 4 verbs have many different stem forms.
The past tense STEM drops the a or ä that was in the present tense and substitutes si
The first infinitive STEM drops the a or ä that was in the present tense and substitutes t
The past participle STEM drops the a or ä that was in the present tense and substitutes N before adding the participle -NUT or -NYT, so in practice one always sees -NNUT or -NNYT at then end of these verbs.
  • The personal endings are just added on to the correct stem form.
Because in Finnish, no verb infinitive form can ever have 3 adjacent vowels, the third person singular for is the same as the basic stem form. In this sense Type verb forms follows the rule we have already seen for Type 2 verbs when forming the first infinitve (dictionary) form.
  • Type 4 verbs are sometimes subject to consonant gradation
The a > t transformation in the infinitive stem will reduce vowel space for any preceding hard consonants. This causes the dictionary form to be weak if the stem consonant is strong.
The consideration of whether the verb will experience consonant gradation is only predictable by knowing the stem of the verb. One cannot predict the stem or the consonant gradation by only knowing the dictionary form. However, the dictionary form is always predictable from the stem so it is essential to learn the basic stem of these verbs. Because of this, most bi-lingual dictionaries do not meet the needs of the student learner of Finnish.
So the starting point for this understanding is always the VERB STEM never the VERB'S FIRST INFINITIVE FORM. This in an important thing to understand. Thus the dictionary form of these verbs cannot predict the conjugated forms in all cases. It explains why the verb TAVATA "to meet" has the form TAPAAN "I will meet" but the verb AVATA has the form AVAAN "I will open". Similarly the verb PELATA "to play" has the form PELAAN "I will play" but PELÄTÄ "to be afraid" has the form PELKÄÄN, "I am afraid". The K in the stem PELKÄÄ is weakened by the addition of the t in the infinitive, whereas PELAAN never had a K in the stem to begin with. One has to remember that the language forms did not evolve from the first infinitive form. We will discuss this in more detail below.
The a > s transformation that happens when forming the simple past tense before the plural -i- is added does NOT cause the stem to weaken. (Contrast this with the a > t transformation which DOES cause the stem to weaken. This is an exception to the general rule that consonants that close a syllable can weaken a preceding hard grade consonant.

Forming the First Infinitive (Dictionary form)Edit

You will see in the table below that the congugation for person is identical to that we saw in Type 2 verbs which also have a long stem ending. Type 4 verbs however differ because they have an a or ä as the last vowel in the stem. This causes some changes in the way the first infinitive or dictionary form is formed.

We begin by re-iterating the fact that all Finnish verbs have a first infinitive (i.e. dictionary listed) form ending with the letter -a or -ä.

Consider the verb stem holhoa- to take care of

Making the first infinitive or dictionary forms from this verb stem is tricky because to add another -a as the infinitve marker would mean creating a verb form with 3 vowels (theoretically, holhoaa) but that is not allowed in Finnish. What happens therefore is that the final -a of the stem holoa- is transformed into -t (this becoming holot-) and then the infinitve marker a is added. This gives us the dictionary form holota (holhot-a) to take care of.

Lets tabulate another, more common verb, osata to have the skill or ability to do something

osat a to be able to
...... .... .......
minä osaa n I can
sinä osaa t you can
hän osaa he/she can
me osaa mme we can
te osaa tte you can
he osaa vat they can


Note that the word can in English can mean both have the power or freedom to do something (which in Finnish has the verb stem voi-) as well as the ability or skill to do something (which in Finnish has the verb stem osaa-). So one has to be careful to choose the right Finnish verb when expressing the word can.

The dictionary form is sometimes weak gradeEdit

If one of the consonants or consonant clusters affected by consonant gradation appears immediately before the long -aa in the verb stem, then the long -aa causes it to be heard as Strong Grade when conjugated for person. This is according to the normal rules. However, the transforming t which replaces the final a in the stem when forming the first infintive or dictionary form is sufficient to weaken any preceding consonants in the stem, also according to the standard rules of consonant gradation. IT IS VERY IMPORTANT THAT YOU UNDERSTAND THIS.

For instance the words me hankaamme means we rub, but the dictionary form of the verb is hangata. The present tense stem is hankaa- but the dictionary stem is hangat-, the t in the stem weakens the nk to ng according to standard rules of consonant gradation.


hangata - to rub

hangat a to rub
...... .... .......
minä hankaa n I rub
sinä hankaa t you rub
hän hankaa he/she rubs
me hankaa mme we rub
te hankaa tte you rub
he hankaa vat they rub

These consonant changes make it very hard for the novice Finnish student to trace for example the meaning of the Finnish verb in a dictionary unless he or she understands how the dictionary form is constructed.

The stem form and consonant gradation is not predictable from the dictionary formEdit

This is best illustrated by comparing two verbs in Finnish, the verb meaning "to meet" and the verb meaning "to spell out, letter by letter".

Lets start with the verb meaning "to meet".

I meet or I will meet in Finnish is minä tapaan. Similarly

He meets or He will meet in Finnish is hän tapaa


So we can say that the verb "to meet" has a present tense stem form tapaa- followed by the relevant personal endings according to normal convention.

Note that the p in the stem is not strong pp but p, yet this p is followed by a long vowel space. This long vowel space normally preceeds strong form consonants, so in fact, this p could, in theory become weaker still if closed out by a consonant at the end of the syllable. We known that a single p can be weakened to v.

The dictionary form or first infinitive marker is a or ä according to front/back vowel conventions. But this is a problem for stem tapaa- .... how can we add an extra a to tapaa- because that would make tapaaa, and by convention no Finnish word contains 3 adjacent vowels. The solution adopted by Finnish is to contract the long vowel to a short vowel by dropping the final a of the stem, adding t as new separator, then adding the a marking the infinitive. That leaves us with tapata..... but because we have reduced the vowel space, the P is indeed weakened according to normal consonant gradation rules to V so we get the correct form for this verb which is TAVATA.

tavat a to meet
...... .... .......
minä tapaa n I (will) meet
sinä tapaa t you (will) meet
hän tapaa he/she (will) meet
me tapaa mme we (will) meet
te tapaa tte you (will) meet
he tapaa vat they (will) meet


Let's now consider the verb meaning to spell out letter by letter, or simply to spell. This verb has a present tense stem tavaa- probably ia related to the noun tavu meaning syllable

I spell or I will spell in Finnish is minä tavaan. Similarly

He spells or He will spell in Finnish is hän tavaa according to standard rules.

Making the infinitive of this verb leads us to the same problem we had with tapaa-, so the same solution is adopted. We effectively drop the last a from the stem, and separate the stem and the infinitive marker a with a letter to to make TAVATA.

tavat a to spell out, letter by letter
...... .... .......
minä tavaa n I (will) spell
sinä tavaa t you (will) spell
hän tavaa he/she (will) spell
me tavaa mme we (will) spell
te tavaa tte you (will) spell
he tavaa vat they (will) spell


So, rather amazingly, we have two identical verbs with a dictionary form TAVATA with different stem forms depending on the meaning, whether it is TO MEET or to TO SPELL OUT LETTER BY LETTER. In practice, this is no different to English homonym verbs such as TO RAIN and TO REIGN ... context will always help us distinguish which word is intended.

Use the Verbix verb conjugator to enter the verb tavata to compare all the possible forms of these two verbs.

But the important thing to note is that one cannot predict the stem just knowing the verb from the dictionary.

Thus knowing that the verb tavata to meet can become tapaan I will meet does not mean that avata to open will become apaan because it does not. It does in fact become avaan I will open.

Learning tip: Do not learn these verbs from a dictionary, but do learn them as you meet them in real life. Foucus on learning the stem form(s) and the translated meanings and rather less on learning the dictionary forms. The dictionary forms will come to you with practice. Try also to understand the root meaning in the stem forms as with tavaa- and its related words such as tavatus.

TAPAN versus TAPAAN. It is worth contrasting the verb tavata to meet with another verb altogether which is tappaa to kill or slaughter. If you say tapan lapseni instead of tapaan lapseni you could get some rather odd looks from your Finnish friends. Make sure the long vowel is present when you want to meet people instead of slaughter them!!

Simple Past Tense (Perfect Tense) FormationEdit

The past tense marker -i- in Type 4 verbs is added to the verb stem, but the final but cannot be added to the stem without modification because otherwise the verb would contain 3 adjacent vowels and we know that this is not allowed. Finnish gets around this problem by modifying the final a of the stem into s.

Note: The past tense a to s transformation DOES NOT close the vowel space so the verb stem remains strong. This is in direct contrast to the a to t transformation in the dictionary form which DOES close the vowel space making the infinitive stem WEAK .

For instance, tavata - to meet has a basic strong grade stem tapaa- in the present tense, a weak grade stem tavat- in the dictionary form (the a > t transformation weakening the p to v according to standard rules) but strong grade stem tapas- in the simple past (imperfect) tense (the a > s transformation is NOT able to weaken the p consonant).

tavat a to meet
...... .... .......
minä tapas i n I met
sinä tapas i t you met
hän tapas i he/she met
me tapas i mme we met
te tapas i tte you met
he tapas i vat they met

Past ParticipleEdit

Just as there is an a > t transformation in the formation of the infinitive stem, and an a > s transformation in the past tense stem, the past participle stem has a similar a > n transformation.

Because the past participle has the ending -nut or -nyt, the a > n transformation in the stem causes Type 4 verbs to have participle forms ending -nnyt or -nnut. Because Finnish cannot tolerate have two strong consonant clusters separated by a vowel or a dipthong, if the stem contains a strong final consonant, the stem's final consonant is weakened.

Lets see how all these transformations we have see so far work

Minä hyppään I'll jump The first person form, long vowel stem with strong grade hyppää-.

Hypätä to jump The dictionary form with ä > t stem transformation. The t moves the stem hypät- to weak grade.

Me hyppäsimme We jumped The past tense with ä > s transformation. The s is followed by past tense -i-. The s does not, however, move the stem hyppäs- to weak grade

He ovat hypänneet They have jumped The participle stem is now hypän- following ä > n transformation. The stem contains weak p because the following consonant is a stong nn.

Note nn is usually a weak form of the cluster nt, but this -nn- is not derived from -nt-, but is stronger than single n and therefore weakens the preceding consonant pp to p.

Conditional formationEdit

The conditional marker is -ISI- and is added between the stem and the personal ending. But Type 4 verbs have rather a lot of stem forms as we have seen. Which is the right stem form to use?

The simple answer is that it attaches to the present tense stem, but as the present tense stem ends in two vowels and the conditional marker begins with another vowel, we have a problem, because we know that no verb form in Finnish can have 3 consecutive vowels.

What happens is that the last vowel of the present tense stem is dropped.

Han hyppää he jumps

Hän hyppäisi he could jump

Minä hyppäisin I could jump

The standard vowel space rules for consonant gradation apply and the stem remains strong grade.

Summary of Stem ModificationsEdit

As we have seen, Type 4 verbs can have several stem forms.

For example HANGATA has the following stem forms

HANGAT- for the dictionary form, the passive, and certain imperative forms

HANKAA- for the present tense

HANKAS- for the past tense

HANGAN- for the past participle

HANKAI- for the conditional forms (this is arguably HANKA-, but HANKAI- is how Lingsoft morphology shows this form)

It is a good idea when learning verbs to practice forming these various stems forms at the same time. Your attempts can be checked from the Lingsoft web site, or from on-line verb conjucators such as that at verbix, or logos, or in certain printed dictionaries (e.g. the Nykysopmen Keskeinen Sanasto) that show all these forms. With some practice, and trial and error the formation of the right stems will become easier.


Similarity to Type 2 verbsEdit

Type 4 verbs are similar to Type 2 verbs in that both types of verbs have stems ending in long vowels or dipthongs and conjugate for person in exactly the same way.

The main difference is that Type 2 verbs do not have the consonant gradation effect and Type 4 verbs form the first infinitive form, the past tense and past particple forms very differently, and of course have the infinitive separator d instead of t.

You can learn more about Type 2 verbs in the appropriate section of this book.

Last modified on 18 November 2009, at 08:25