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In the wilds of the Finnish grammar

Week 11, Episode 22

If learning the Swedish language for an English speaker is like a pleasant walk in a parallel universe, the Finnish grammar falls under overwhelming kill-me-now or head-about-to-explode category. These two languages share only alphabets which are identical—English alphabet plus letters Å/å, Ä/ä, and Ö/ö at the end. grammar rules though differ considerably.

Letter Å/å (read as "oh") comes from Swedish and appears mostly in last names or names of some places. Letter Ä/ä is close to "a" in "cat", and Ö/ö to "i" in "bird". Letters B/b, C/c, F/f, G/g, Q/q, W/w, X/x, Z/z are not Finnish per se, but adopted and are used only in words borrowed from other foreign languages. Genuine Finnish words never begin with a d or end in a d, and not in b, f or g, either.

Some concepts make Finnish easy for reading. For example, the stress normally lies on the first vowel of every word and every letter is a representation of a sound of its own. Sure, there is a couple of exceptions, but this part is easy. To make a sound long (vowel or consanant) it is just written twice: "jo" (yo)—already, "joo" (yo:)—yes; "kuka" (koo-kah)—who, "kukka" (kook-kah)flower. 16 diphthongs more—and you can read in Finnish!

And now the deadly part of the language:

In Finnish language prepositions are not used as widely as in English, instead they have cases. Declensional case is a form of a word with a special ending for each case. And when I say "word", I mean a noun, a pronoun, an adjective, a numeral or a participle! Moreover, cases have singular and plural forms! Suffixes add up one after another making words longer and longer.

The variety of cases is mind-blowing, especially when you realize that one case is used for an action in process and another—for a completed action; one to identify movement inside of something and another—outside of something; one for things laying on the surface, and another—for things detaching off the surface, etc.

The situation with tenses in Suomi is relatively simple: one present tense and three past tenses (preterite, perfect and pluperfect). Yes, the Finnish language has no particular future tense (!), it is usually expressed through the present tense and in other 8 different ways.

And all this madness is only compensated with total absence of articles and gender. There is no masculine or feminine gender of the nouns, as there is no separate forms for "he" and "she"—both are "hän" (heh-n). But adjectives do change by case and person, and every verb has 6 different forms for each of the 6 pronouns.

Add to all this vowel harmony laws, stem changes (consonant change), special negative particle for each (!) pronoun, verb forms for different moods and voices and you've got a sense of KMN concept :)

Is it so bad? Yeah, it is. If your native language is English, learning Finnish will be quite a challenge. Challenge, I say, but not impossible! Let's see more of it in the next episode.

Hei hei! (Hey hey) Bye-bye! Moi moi! (Moy moy) Bye-bye!

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