Learning Finnish Through Puns - Part 2

This post assumes a little bit of background in linguistics, and will not explain all of the generally used terms. However, terms specific to Finnish will be explained. I use the analysis of Iso suomen kielioppi from 2004.

Some quite important parts of Finnish grammar will be ignored here, as they are not needed to understand the comic in the question. For a more comprehensive overview, Wikipedia's article on Finnish grammar may be useful.

After the stellar success of the last post (read: at least one person has read it), I thought it would make sense to continue this series. The aim of this post is to teach enough Finnish for the reader to be able to understand the joke of this picture.

Vowel harmony

For a fuller overview, see the last post.

Most endings have two variants, a front one with ä, ö, y and a back one ith a, o, u. A, O, U are used to describe that the vowel can be either a, o, u or ä, ö, y depending on the vowel harmony.

Consonant gradation

Finnish has a process where the last word-medial consonant can change depending on whether the last syllable of the stem of the word is open (ends in a vowel) or closed (ends in a consonant)¹. Of the two different versions of a consonant the strong grade is used with open syllables and the weak grade is used with closed syllables². The notation used to describe gradation uses strong grade:weak grade

There are two kinds of gradation, quantity-based and quality-based. An example of the former is kk:k, for example in the work nyrkki ‘fist’ : nyrkit ‘fists’. An example of the latter is t:d, for example in the word katu ‘street’ - kadut ‘streets'.

All forms of Finnish consonant gradation involve one of p, t, k³. However, this is not always visible in the weak grade, e.g. the mp:mm gradation in lammas would be impossible to notice from just the nominative. For this reason I will note in the vocabulary section if a word undergoes gradation and the type of gradation involved.


The headline uses five Finnish cases: nominative, genetive, partitive, inessive, and adessive.

There are two kinds of stems a word can have in Finnish, a vowel stem and a consonant stem. If a word only has the vowel stem, it is used in the endings attaching to a consonant stem as well. Nominative can be based on either the vowel or consonant stem, and it has enough weirdness to warrant being treated specially.

Case name Ending Grade Stem Approximate English translation
Nominative - Strong⁴ - (basic word form)
Genitive -n Weak⁴ Vowel 's, of, (object case)
Partitive -(t)A Strong Consonant (object case), part of
Inessive -ssA Weak⁴ Vowel in, touching
Adessive -llA Weak⁴ Vowel on, at, near, with / by

Notice the additional function of adessive not covered in the last part, that is, of marking a tool. For example, "kirjoitan kynällä" doesn't mean "I write at a pen" but rather "I write with a pen".


The headline uses one postposition, kanssa ‘with’. It refers only to when you do something with someone or carry something with you. For use cases where you do something with something, you need to use adessive or käyttäen ‘using’.

Kanssa takes as an argument a noun phrase before it (because it is exclusively a postposition) in the genitive case. For example "with [a] friend" is "ystävän kanssa".

Finite verb forms

The headline uses only one finite verb form, active indicative preterite third person singular. Of these, all but preterite is unmarked.

Form Marker
Preterite -i-

The preterite marker will go before personal endings. It doesn't trigger gradation, since it contains no consonants.

Nonfinite verb forms

The headline likewise only uses one non-finite verb form, the nut-participle. It is a past participle, which means that it refers to a passed action (past) and transforms the verb into a nominal (participle).

Form Marker Grade
nut-participle -nUt-, -lUt-, -rUt-, -sUt-, (-nnUt-) Strong⁴

The reason for the large amount of different endings is due to assimilation. Nut-participle attaches to the consonant stem of verbs that have one, and if it ends in -l, -r, or -s the initial n of the marker assimilates into it. The last case, -nnUt-, is caused instead by the final consonant of a consonant stem of certain types of verbs assimilating to the initial n of the marker.

A nut-participle itself has both a vowel stem and a consonant stem, which are used with cases taking that stem. The consonant stem is just the marker as is, but in the vowel stem the -Ut- part is replaced with -ee-.

Participle phrase and "clause-equivalents"

A participle phrase is type of modifier you can use for nouns. It corresponds roughly to subclauses with "which" or "who" in English, e.g. "kirjaa lukeva opiskelija" - "[a] student who is reading a book". Since it has the same function as a subclause, these kinds of structures are often called called clause-equivalents in pedagogical grammars. However, that is not a term used by Iso suomen kielioppi.

The word order of a participle phase is adverbials - object - verb. For example, "a worm that ate apples in the yard" is

pihalla omenoita syönyt mato
piha.ADE omena.PL.PART syödä.NUT.NOM mato.NOM
at yard apples (object) eaten worm

If a noun is put into some case, a participle phrase before it will also have its verb put into that case. For example, "In a shed that burned yesterday" is

eilen palaneessa vajassa
eilen palaa.NUT.INE vaja.INE
yesterday in burned in shed

Notice the use of the vowel stem of the nut-participle, -nee-, there.

Transitive sentence with a partitive object

Last time we looked we looked at a total object. This time we will look at the other kind of object you can have in transitive sentences, a partitive object. Unlike total objects, which can use three different cases, a partitive object is always in the partitive case.

Most verbs can take both a partitive object or a total object, in which case partitive object generally refers to an action that didn't complete which didn't lead to an expected consequence⁵. Due to the fact that present actions are generally thought to be ongoing, partitive object is somewhat of the default object to use in present tense:

Kirjoitan blogipostausta
kirjoittaa.1P.SG blogipostaus.PART
I write blog post

Cultural knowledge

S-market is a store chain operated by the Finnish retailing coöperative S group.

Mikkeli is a town in Eastern Finland. It is not really nationally significant in any way nowadays.


Nominative is the dictionary form of the nouns.

Word Vowel stem Consonant stem Gradation Meaning
poliisi poliisi- - - police
ampua ampu- - mp:mm to shoot
terä terä- - - blade
ase asee- asex-⁶ - weapon
teräase teräasee- teräasex-⁶ - bladed weapon
kanssa with
liikkua liikku- - kk:k to move (around)
mies miehe- mies- - man
S-market S-marketti- - tt:t S-market
Mikkeli Mikkeli- - - Mikkeli

Additionally, all the endings and markers:

Ending / Marker Usage
-(t)A Partitive case
-i- Preterite tense
-llA Adessive case
-n Genitive case
-nUt-, -lUt-, -rUt-, -sUt-, (-nnUt-) nut-participle
-nee-, -lee-, -ree-, -see-, (-nnee-) nut-participle (vowel stem)
-ssA Inessive case


¹ Some words end with a vowel in standard Finnish but their final syllables are considered to be closed, since in a previous stage of the language they used to end in consonants. If they experience consonant gradation, it's said to be reverse consonant gradation. None of the words in the news headline have reverse consonant gradation.

² There are some endings (chiefly possession suffixes) that do not trigger gradation even when they close a syllable.

³ Also b, g in some newer loans, like gg:g in blogata ‘to blog’ : bloggaan ‘I blog’.

⁴ This is reversed for words with reverse consonant gradation¹.

Additionally, foreign loans ending in p, t, k, b, g (say internet) may have a vowel stem that has the end consonant doubled (internetti), which makes the nominative resemble a weak grade. However, the consonant gradation of those words is not reverse (internetin, not internettin).

⁵ In some cases the verb has quite different meaning depending on whether you use total or a partitive object. For example, the verb lyödä can mean both ’hit’ (partitive) and ‘defeat’ (total) and the verb naida can mean both ‘to marry’ (total) and ‘to have sex with’ (partitive).

⁶ 'x' is used to mark the syllables that are closed even if they end in a vowel in modern Finnish. It can also be considered a consonant that assimilates to the next consonant it finds. This is how the -nnUt- form of the nut-participle is formed.