In summer 2015, I was overjoyed when our holiday plans in the Baltic worked out pretty darn well and we got to spend a day in Helsinki towards the end of the trip.
I was under no pressure to learn Finnish to any decent level. After all, it was only a day, right?
But more importantly, if 9 out of 10 language memes are to be believed, it’s one of the hardest languages in the world. Yikes. No thank you.
However, strolling around Helsinki on that hot August day, I was pleasantly surprised at the Spanish sounding conversations going on all around me, I was intrigued by the Swedish bilingual signs, and I was happy to be exposed to a new language.
Before my trip, I’d asked Irina Pravet, Finnish coach and all-round general life inspiration, if she had any tips for a day in her hometown of Helsinki. Girl did good.
So naturally, it wasn’t long before I asked her if she’d like to share some of the language too. It took us a while to pair up our busy schedules but we managed it recently and sat down to talk about one of the more notoriously “difficult” aspects of the Finnish language: cases.
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Because I learnt something here too, I want to share that with you so I made a little travel phrases guide for you. Irina has checked this for me so it’s all legit. Woop!
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Irina started her talk with me by saying that Finnish has 15 cases altogether, but that 3 of them are nothing major to worry about. Nice.
I like grammar and all, but I like it when grammar is made easier even more so.
To make it even easier, as scary as cases may seem at first, it’s always worth remembering that they tend to replace words and language points that can be complicated in other languages. For example, when it comes to Finnish, there’s no articles or gender to worry about. Woohoo!
The First Six
From the remaining 12 cases, we discuss 6 in the video. These 6 are known as ‘local cases’.
Irina explains this SO WELL so I’ll let her do most of the talking here but I also want to give you a little overview too based on what I learnt.
Three of these cases are used when talking about ‘enclosed’ spaces and three when talking about ‘open’ spaces.
There’s also some crossover in the other direction. We’re talking ‘going in’, ‘being inside’, and ‘going out’. And then those three locations work for each space.
To give you an overview before we get started, I made a little table to explain this:
Like I said, Irina does this much better than me in the video. I’ll let her do the rest of the work here.
The Other Six
The cases are:
(in Finnish – nominatiivi)
This is the basic form of words and doesn’t have any case endings to add. We’re starting simple. Woop!
For direct objects and completed actions.
To indicate the possessive.
Cutting down that initial number of cases we were quivering about, both Accusative and Genitive look the same. You add an +n after the basic form in most situations.
For parts of a whole, such as uncountable/indefinites, and actions which have not ended and numbers (including 0 so negatives).
This is where things began to get a little less familiar for me. But Irina still put me at ease!
Interestingly, it’s also used to wish people things. For example, good night or happy birthday or good luck.
You add +a/ä, +ta/tä or +tta/ttä depending on the word. Basically add +a/ä unless something prevents you from doing it, which is why +ta/tä and +tta/ttä are alternatives.
Good = hyvä
Night = yö
Good night! = hyvää yötä
Cup = kuppi (kupin is Accusative)
Coffee = kahvi (kahvia is partitive, uncoutable)
Direct= I’d take a cup of coffee, thank you.
Loose= I’ll have a cup of coffee, please.
Ottaisin kupin kahvia, kiitos.
Book = kirja
I’m reading a book. = Luen kirjaa. (Partitive, unfinished/ongoing action)
This one is ‘as a’ – it’s not super common but it’s common enough. The essive ending is +na/nä.
Car = auto
As a car….= Autona…
Denotes a change of state. For example, a change of emotions, or becoming something, or changing to something. You’ll recognise this by the +ksi ending.
Angry = vihainen
Don’t get angry = Älä tule vihaiseksi.
Black = musta
I’m painting the wall black. = Maalan seinää mustaksi.
And there we go. Finnish cases aren’t the deathly horror story 9 out of 10 internet memes would have us believe.
I have to admit, when I first spoke to Irina about this I was nervous that our chat would go right over my head. Murmurs of the difficulty of Finnish blurred my vision and I was expecting to understand nothing beyond the genitive.
However, I was so pleasantly surprised by how simply Irina explained the first 6 Finnish cases to me…AND how much I understood!
You can find out more about Irina, Finnish, Finnish language coaching, and life in Finland over at IrinaPravet.com.
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If you missed it up top, I’ve made a Travel Phrases page for you to download, print, and keep forever! Click below to get it sent to your email straight away.
Are you learning Finnish? What has helped you to understand the cases? Share your thoughts in the comments!