// we are

Learning Finnish - Making Comparaisons

As I said in the previous article, I have dedicated a lot of my spare time on learning Finnish. It is by far the most complex and weird language I have ever encountered. To give you an example, I will explain what are the rules that I need to have in mind to write one word: cheaper.

Let’s start with the adjective in the nominative form:

The shirt is cheap: Paita on halpa (Shirt is cheap)

Now, let’s say this shirt is cheaper. To do so, you need to add the suffix -mpi to the stem of the word. In the case of halpa, the stem is … halva.

Why did the p become a v? Because the stem is in weak form while the nominative case was in strong form. Unfortunately, Finnish is very inconsistant and the nominative case and the stem may be in either the weak or strong form depending on … the word type. To go from the strong to the weak form, we need to change p->v, k -> nothing, t->d, kk->k, nt->nn, nk->ng,…. The “funny” thing is that there are more word types than I can remember, we are talking about ~20 (more information here). In the case of halpa, the p just becomes a v.

Let’s not get already depressed by how much we need to learn and keep on moving forward with our new word:

The shirt is cheaper: paita on halvempi

Wait, what? Why did the ‘a’ become an ‘e’? I thought we just had to add the suffix -mpi? Well, you would be right, but there is this lovely rule (that is not applicable to all the cases), that states that the last letter before -mpi should become an ‘e’ if it is an ‘a’ or ‘ä’. But beware, if you have -aa or -ää, the rule does not apply!

Still following? This was Suomi 3 material, but I am now in level 4 and, you know and I am still falling down the rabbit hole with no end in sight. So, it turns out that adjectives expressing a comparison should also have the same case applied to them as the noun they refer to. This is a common rule for adjectives. For example:

On the shirt: paidalla (the 't' became a 'd' as it went from the strong to week form)(the suffix -lla in Finnish means 'on top of')
On the small shirt: pienellä (pieni = small) paidalla

So, when we want to make a comparison, we need both the -mpi and the right case applied to it:

On the cheaper shirt: Halvemmalla paidalla

Why did the -mpi become -mma? Well, because it would have been too easy, wouldn’t it? Instead, we need to ask ourselves a few more questions:

  • Is the noun plural or singular? WARNING: saying 400 shirts in Finnish is considered as being singular… this was one of the most important teaching of the third level of Finnish…
  • What is the case of the noun? This is important to know whether we should use the weak or strong form of the ‘declination’ of the comparison.

If the noun is singular, use -mma/-mmä (read up on Finnish’s vocal harmony if you wonder about this) instead of -mpi for the weak form and use -mpa/-mpä for the strong form. There are 11 cases in my book right now (15 in reality), and the strong form is the one needed for the partitiivi (too much arguing here with Elisa to explain what it actually is, too complex for a parenthesis, check out the previous link if you care), illatiivi (getting inside of), essiivi (in the role of). For all the other cases, use the weak form.

If the noun is plural, use -mmi for the weak form and -mpi for the strong form. Yes, the latter case actually makes sense, good! The strong form needs to be used for the same cases as for the singular form … with an extra bonus one, the genetiivi (genitive, the idea of belonging, like the ‘s in English).

So, just to finish it up, here is:

On the cheaper shirts: Halvemmilla paidoilla

Trust me, you do NOT want to know why paidalla became paidoilla. I have many flowcharts for this, and in the last class, I failed 2 times out of 3…

Here it is, you now know what questions one needs to ask oneself when making a comparison in Finnish. I hope I managed to convey how everything has to be inter-connected and very difficult to master. Now, to my Finnish friends, bear with me until this becomes an automatism. Until then, let’s just stick to English ;)

PS: Thanks to Elisa for fixing all my mistakes in all these simple sentences!