Suomen kieli ulkomaalaisille/Sisältö/Nominaalien taivutus

The Conjugation of Nominals

What are Nominals? edit

In Finnish Grammar, nominals are those words that can take a case form (sijamuoto) usually in either singular or the plural.

These words are in the following word groups

  • Nouns - the names of things (physical or conceptual) e.g. car, factory, love, wonder.
  • Adjectives – words that add description to nouns e.g. big, green, deep, dark, heavy.
  • Numbers – one, two, three, hundred, thousand, etc.
  • Pronouns – me, you, she, they, it etc.

What are case forms? edit

Case forms in Finnish add extra description according to the situation. Each case is explained in a different section of this book. The grammatical term for adding a case to a word is known as “inflection”. The Finnish word for this is “taivutus” derived from the word ‘’taivuttaa’’ ‘to bend’. Finnish is a highly inflected language. There are as many as 15 different case forms in Finnish although not every case form can be applied to every word. English by comparison has very few case inflections. The most common in English is the plural s (so cat > cats) and the genitive ‘s (cat > cat’s) and the plural genitive s’ (cat > cats’).

Nominative – the Dictionary Form edit

Because Finnish has so many case forms, dictionaries usually show just one case form for each word. In the case of NOMINALS, this case form is the NOMINATIVE SINGULAR. It is sometimes called the citation form because it is the declarative form.

If in Finnish we ask "what is this?", and the answer is "a table", the word for table come back in the NOMINATIVE or citation form.

  • Mikä tämä on? Se on pöytä.
    • What is this? It is a table.
      • Pöytä table (nominative singular)

Because the nominative singular has no special ending and is the citation form, it is the basic form found in the dictionary.

Stems and endings edit

Most words when modified according to case (or situation), the word can be thought of as having two parts. The first part called the stem (in Finnish: vartalo), and the second part called the ending (in Finnish: pääte).

Some words have stem forms that are identical to their citation form. For example, the imported word auto meaning car or automobile.

Auto (nominative singular case) car

Autot (nominative plural case) cars

Auton (genetive singular case) car's

Autossa (inessive singular case) In the car

Here we can see that this word has a stem form


onto which the case form ending is added. The nominative plural ending for example is -t and is simply added to the stem.

Plural Stems edit

In the preceding section we saw that the nominative plural is made by adding the -t ending is added to the stem. But oddly enough, this stem is in fact the singular stem. Most nominals in fact, also have a plural stem. For example if we wanted to say "in the cars" we cannot mix the -t nominative plural ending with the -ssa inessive case. Only one case ending can be added to a word. So instead we add the -ssa case ending to the plural stem.

The plural stem is usually formed by adding the letter i to the singular stem.

Autoissa (inessive plural case) In the cars

  • Auto + i + ssa

So car has a singular stem auto- and a plural stem autoi-. In fact this word has an alternate plural stem autoj- because when the letter i appears between two vowels its pronunciation is more like the y in the word yellow, which in Finnish morphology is written as j. Because Finnish has a letter for this sound, the transcription of the written form of the word follows this pattern.


Autoja (partitive plural case) = auto + i + a > autoja (because the i in oia is pronounced as j and is therefore spelled that way.

Stem modifications edit

Because of phonetic modifications, especially the effect known as Consonant Gradation, some words have more than one stem form, though with practise it is usually easy to determine what they are.

tehdas (nominative singular case) factory (tehdas)

tehtaat (nominative plural case) factories (tehtaa- + -t)

tehdasta (partitive singular case) factory (tehdas + -ta)

tehtaan (genitive singular case) factory’s (tehtaa- + -n)

tehtaiden (genitive plural case) factories’ (tehtai- + -den)

tehtaasta (elative singular case) from the factory (tehtaa- + -sta)

tehtaista (elative plural case) from the factories (tehtai- + -sta)

    • Note that despite appearances, tehdasta is a partitive form and not an elative form!

So we can see that the Finnish word meaning factory basically has a stem tehtaa- in the singular and tehtai in the plural, but an alternative stem form tehdas- which is only seen in the nominative and partitive singular.

In other words, the behaviour of this word is seemingly quite unlike auto.

Do I have to learn the inflections of words? edit


Consider a sentence in English like 'yesterday I bought some expensive new boots'. You will probably find all these words in an English dictionary. If it is a very small dictionary, you may not find the word bought because it is an inflected form of the verb buy. So if you were learning English, you would need to learn the inflections of the verbs, but most nominals would be easy as they are easily recognised even if they are inflected. Not so Finnish. Eilen mä ostin uudet kalliit saappaat. You will only find eilen in the dictionary. Mä is not inflected but is in a common abbreviated form and all the other words are in inflected forms. It is only when you understand how words "bend" into these forms that you can effectively learn to "unbend" them. Eventually you will get the hang of it.

How do I know how to inflect nominals correctly? edit

This is a good question!

The answer in part is that many words like tehdas follow a pattern, and once you have learned to recognise the pattern, you can follow the rule and apply it to other words of the same type. In the case of tehdas , the rule affects all nominals ending in –is or –as. Most of the sections under the heading of Inflection of Nominals in this book detail the patterns you need to recognise and how to inflect the words.

The bad news is that there are some classes of words where it is completely impossible to tell from looking at the nominal or dictionary form how it will behave. The biggest class of these are words ending in –i, of which there are rather a lot. Most of them fall under one of two headings and which of the two they belong to is a matter of sheer learning and familiarity. It is possible to buy dictionaries that show the correct form (For example the Nykysuomen Keskeinen Sanasto ISBN 951-20-6686-6 or when you find a new word in a text and see how it is used, just remember the way that it was inflected so that you yourself can inflect it correctly the next time you need to use it. So it is not so bad.

Now read on to see how the various types of word inflect.

Good luck!