Estonian/-da Infinitive

Estonian features two forms of Infinitives for verbs: the -ma Infinitive and the -da Infinitive. The difference is mostly based on distinction, and the language could have evolved with only one form, but ended up with two forms which have different uses and are necessary for grammatically correct and familiar-sounding Estonian.

Forming the -da Infinitive


The -da Infinitive is one aspect of a verb that cannot otherwise be derived from the -ma Infinitve or even the plain Negative form. It can only be predicted from prior knowledge, such as memory or intuition. The -da Infinitive obeys the EKI morphological type list. We can now list this form alongside the -ma Infinitive and Negative in vocabulary:

  • olema - (ei) ole - .olla - to be
  • .teadma - tea - .teada - to know
  • .saama - saa - .saada - to get/to become
  • .kuulma - .kuule - .kuulda - to hear
  • .tahtma - taha - .tahta - to want
  • nägema - näe - näha - to see
  • .sööma - söö - .süüa - to eat (Exception: the -da Infinitive is pronounced as ".süüi-ja")
  • tulema - tule - .tulla - to come
  • .ostma - osta - .osta - to buy
  • minema - lähe - .minna - to go
  • .võtma - võta - .võtta - to take

Many verbs tend to follow -ma -> -da transformation. The verbs listed here now have the . emphasis dot added to them. If you pay attention to the Overlong emphasis in Estonian, you can avoid the Estonian foreign accent to some degree.

New verbs

  • .müüma - müü - .müüa - to sell (like "süüa", the -da Infinitive is pronounced "müüi-ja")
  • kaduma - kao - kaduda - to disappear
  • .ilmuma - .ilmu - .ilmuda - to appear
  • .soovima - .soovi - .soovida - to wish
  • helistama - helista - helistada - to call

The difference


While the semantic difference between the -ma and -da infinitive forms seems obvious to the native speaker, they find it difficult to articulate when pressed. There is, however, a fairly straightforward explanation: The -da form is used to express an action that has a hypothetical component, i.e. it may or may not actually occur.

-ma Infinitive -da Infinitive
English Estonian English Estonian
He/She must eat Ta peab .sööma I want to eat Ma tahan .süüa
After verbs of motion:
He/She goes to eat
Ta läheb .sööma He/She can sell apples Ta võib .müüa .õune
Ta võib .õune .müüa
He/She comes to eat Ta tuleb .sööma You must want to appear (self)
You must want to show up
Sa pead tahtma ilmuda
Occasionally a construct like "Sa pead tahtma ilmuma" is mistakenly used but often unnoticed
Sa pead ilmuda tahtma
This is a complicated phrase, some native speakers might find it uncomfortable to put a -da in front of a -ma
After certain participles and adjectives:
I am ready to go
Ma olen valmis minema He/She cannot bear to do this Ta ei .jaksa seda teha

External resources


Appendix: Secondary forms


-ma actually has 5 forms, of which the primary is the Nominative, which we've used so far to list verbs themselves, and as arguments to the verb "pidama" (to need to). The other 4 also correspond to 4 of the 14 cases. The -ma form(s) are used to describe the verb or action itself.

  • Nominative: teadma - to know
  • Inessive: teadmas - in knowing
  • Elative: teadmast - out of knowing, to stop knowing
  • Translative: teadmaks - for knowing
  • Abessive: teadmata - without knowing

-da has two forms: the -da and the -des. The -des is used as "while", which acts as a kind of present participle, but doesn't act as an adjective like participles do, nt: Seda teades, ta pidi seda tegema - Knowing that, he/she had to do it.