Finnish/Grammar-Vowel harmony

^^Contents^^ <<What is your name? | Grammar-Vowel harmony | Grammar-Suffixes>>

Vowel Harmony


Finnish, like many Uralic languages, has vowel harmony and it affects what vowels go with which words. It also affects the postpositions and endings of words.

In Finnish, there are eight vowels, a, e, i, o, u, y, ä and ö. They are grouped into three groups; front, neutral and back vowels. See the diagram:


The vowels in blue are front vowels (or "hard"), the vowels in green are neutral and the vowels in yellow are back vowels (or "soft").

In Finnish, single words contain only vowels of the same type as the initial, stressed syllable. So, for example, the word, aaltoileva contains only neutral and back vowels, while äidillä contains only front and neutral vowels. With respect to vowel harmony, compound words are separate words, e.g. työmaa, with -ta suffixed työ|maa|ta.

When a word contains only neutral vowels, its suffixes use front vowels. For example, when the postposition -lla or -llä is added to kieli, it becomes kielellä, not kielella.

As a consequence, Finnish speakers often have trouble pronouncing foreign words which do not obey vowel harmony. For example, some Finns may pronounce olympia as olumpia because of the difficulty in producing the sounds of o and y in a row.

Vowel harmony applies to foreign words, too. For example, chat is heard as tsät and consequently the frequentatitive verb "to chat" is tsättäillä (also spelled chattäillä, chattailla, chättäillä, etc.). (Note: chattäillä would lack harmony if it was pronounced as written. ch turns into ts because ch would be prononunced as sh(as in shut) or kh(as in khaki) by people unfamiliar with the word.)



e → i


You may have noticed that nimi (name) corresponds to nimesi (your name), and Suomi (Finland) corresponds to Suomesta (from Finland). This is because there is an e → i mutation. These roots end in an e which changes to i at the end of a word. When a root ending in e has a suffix, the e does not change.

Other roots have i both at the end and before a suffix, as in taksi (taxi) and taksissa (in a taxi). The rule is completely regular---a final e becomes i. However, since the mutation `neutralizes' the e/i distinction word finally, you need to remember whether the suffixed form has e or i. Most of the roots that end in e are "old" words like nimi and suomi. Recent borrowings like taksi don't show the e/i alternation because these roots just end in i.

The k, p and t mutation


Like the i to e mutation, when you put a suffix after a word, some consonants change when you agglutinate. For example Helsinki changes to Helsingissä after you put a suffix, here -ssä, after it. This is called consonant gradation and it mainly affects the consonants k, p and t. So words like pankki change to pankin. Here is a short, not a complete list:

initial ending new ending result
-kk: -k: pankki → pankista (bank → from the bank)
-pp: -p: kauppa → kaupasta (shop → from the shop)
-tt: -t: tyttö → tytön (girl → girl's)
-nk: -ng: Helsinki → Helsingistä (Helsinki → from Helsinki)
-uku/-yky: -uvu/-yvy: puku → puvusta (suit → from the suit)
-k: -: Turku → Turusta (Turku → from Turku)
-t: -d: katu → kadulta (street → from the street)
-p: -v: hupi → huvit (amusement → amusements)
-rt: -rr: murto → murron (break-in → of the break-in)
-ti -si löytää → löysi (to find → found)

End Note


Now there is a lot to go through, but take your time and hopefully this will help you to no end. But beware that there is more to go through, as we haven't covered the suffixes yet!