(Most recent update: January 2006.)
Finnish belongs to the Finno-Ugric family of languages, which is not related to any branch of the Indo-European language family. (That, at least, is the general linguistic opinion. There are a number of odd similarities that suggest some Indo-European influence, but these may be only random coincidences.)
Finnish has a relatively simple relationship between spelling and pronunciation: generally, each letter corresponds to exactly one sound, and a letter is doubled to indicate a long sound. The alphabet is essentially the same as the English alphabet, with the letters 'ä' and 'ö' added. (And 'q', 'w', and 'z' are only used for foreign words. Further, "f" and "b" never occur in native Finnish words, although they do appear in a few loanwords.)
Finnish words always have the primary stress on the first syllable. Compound words can also have secondary stress on the first syllable of each following part of the compound.
Finnish inflections take on a regular sound change known as "vowel harmony". Effectively, each vowel falls into exactly one of three categories: a-o-u, ä-ö-y, or e-i. Vowels in the e-i group are neutral, and can be combined with any other vowels within the same word. The other two groups cannot be combined with each other, which forces a number of suffixes to have two forms, one that can be combined with a-o-u words, and one that can be combined with ä-ö-y words. The forms are usually identical, except that vowels are shifted: a<->ä, o<->ö and u<->y.
Nouns are inflected by number (singular or plural) and case. Finnish has an unusually large number of cases, although many of them are equivalent to the use of a preposition in many other languages. Several of these cases are also so regular that they may be considered enclitic particles added to the bare stem of the word (sometimes causing a slight phonetic mutation).
|accusative||-t, -n, -||-t, -it, -in, -i|
|partitive||-A, -tA||-iA, -itA|
|illativ||-*n, -h*n, -seen||-iin, -???|
The capitalized vowels above are subject to "harmony shifts" when the stem has an ä-ö-y vowel in it, i.e. 'a' becomes 'ä', 'o' becomes 'ö', and 'u' becomes 'y'. They usually also undergo the shift even if the stem only contains neutral vowels ('e' and 'i'). For the noun case suffixes, only forms using "a/ä" exist, but there are verb suffixes and derivation suffixes that contain "o/ö" and "u/y". More about this in later sections below.
'*' marks a duplication of the stem vowel. The illative suffix is typically -*n for words ending in short vowels, -h*n for words ending in long vowels, and -seen for other words.
The prolative case is almost completely defunct in modern Finnish, and is usually not included in the list of case forms, but rather tends to be viewed in other ways, such as a suffix for adverb derivation. It occurs in a few words, such as "meritse" (by sea), "postitse" (by mail) and "puhelimitse" (by phone).
The instructive (a k a instrumental) is also largely defunct, but is still used for a few nouns, e.g. "silmin" (with the eyes), and all adjectives used to qualify such inflected nouns follow the noun in case, making the instructive case somewhat more alive than the prolative.
In many cases, the suffixes are just added to the noun stem, but in quite a few cases the stem undergoes changes as part of the inflection. In most cases, the changes are predictable given a small number of basic phonetic principles, but some words are more complicated, e.g. 'vesi' ("water"), whose stem changes to 'vede-', 'vete-', 'vet-', and 'ves-' depending on case.
Although the exact form of the change is somewhat variable, the circumstances when it occurs is basically regular: the change occurs if the last syllable of the noun stem becomes closed (i.e. ends in a consonant sound), which happens for suffixes that only consist of consonants (e.g. -n), and for suffixes that begin with a long or double consonant sound (e.g. -lle and -ksi). However, some of the reductions don't happen in new words, and in some words where two syllables have been contracted into one, or into a diphtong, the reduction still doesn't occur even though the syllable becomes closed.
One relatively regular kind of stem mutation is the consonant reduction of 'p', 't' and 'k' sounds.
|Basic form||Reduced form||Example|
|(1)||-pp-||-p-||kaappi "cupboard" - kaapi-ssa|
|(2)||-tt-||-t-||matto "rug" - mato-lla|
|(3)||-kk-||-k-||kukka "flower" - kuka-n|
|(4)||-p-||-v-||tupa "cabin" - tuva-ssa|
|(5)||-Vt-||-Vd-||katu "street" - kadu-lla|
|(6)||-ht-||-hd-||lähte-ä "to depart" - lähde-n|
|(7)||-lk-||-l-||jalka "foot" - jala-n|
|(8)||-lt-||-ll-||kulta "gold" - kulla-n|
(V = any vowel.)
Finnish adjectives are inflected as nouns, and many forms serve both as adjective and noun.
Verbs are inflected by person, number, tense, and voice. There are three persons (1st - I, we; 2nd - you; and 3rd - he, she, it), and two numbers (singular and plural).
The suffixes are added directly to the present-tense stem. The words in parentheses are the corresponding pronouns.
|1st person||(minä) --n||(me) --mme|
|2nd person||(sinä) --t||(te) --tte|
|3rd person||(hän) --||(he) --vat/--vät|
In third person singular, where there is no added suffix, the final vowel of the verb is lengthened if it is not already a long vowel or part of a diphtong.
The simple past (imperfect) uses the same suffixes as the present tense, but inserts an "i" between the verb stem and the inflection suffix. If the verb stem already ends in a long vowel sound, the vowel sound is shortened before adding the "i".
Finnish has no word for 'not' for the purpose of negating a verb. Instead, there is an auxiliary verb used for negating the meaning of another verb. It is inflected in the following way:
|1st person||(minä) en||(me) emme|
|2nd person||(sinä) et||(te) ette|
|3rd person||(hän) ei||(he) eivät|
Finnish has a number of enclitic particles that, when needed, are suffixed to a word after all other suffixes have been added. The sentence 'Pyörä irtosi autosta' ("The wheel fell off the car") will be used as an example in this section.
-ko, -kö: interrogative particle, suffixed to the word the question concerns, e g:
-kin. This particle means roughly "also", when added to a noun or adjective. When added to a verb, its meaning is more vague, usually meaning that the event was expected, e g:
-kaan, -kään. This is the negative counterpart of -kin, meaning "neither" when added to a noun or adjective, and suggesting the event was unexpected when added to a verb.
|1st person||(minä) -ni||-mme|
|2nd person||(sinä) -si||-nne|
|3rd person||(hän) -nsA, -*n||-nsA, -*n|
* is a duplication of the final vowel of the stem.