Cases in Finnish
has about fourteen or fifteen cases for nouns. They correspond
to English prepositions roughly as follows:
|#||case ||suffix ||English prep.
||sample word form ||translation of the sample
|1||nominatiivi ||– : t ||–|| talo : talot|| house
|2||genetiivi || -n : -jen …||of || talon : talojen|| of (a) house
|3||essiivi || -na : -ina||as ||
talona : taloina || as a house
|4||partitiivi || -(t)a : -ja …||- || taloa : taloja ||house (as an object)
|5||translatiivi || -ksi : -iksi||to (role of)||
taloksi : taloiksi || to a house
|6||inessiivi || -ssa : -ssa||in || talossa : taloissa|| in (a) house
|7||elatiivi || -sta : -ista||from (inside)|| talosta : taloista|| from (a) house
|8||illatiivi || -an, -en … :|
|into || taloon : taloihin|| into (a) house
|9||adessiivi || -lla : -illa||at, on || talolla : taloilla|| at (a) house
|10||ablatiivi || -lta : -ilta ||from || talolta : taloilta|| from (a) house
|11||allatiivi || -lle : -ille||to || talolle : taloille|| to (a) house
|12||abessiivi || -tta : -itta||without || talotta : taloitta|| without (a) house
|13||komitatiivi || -ine- ||together with|| taloine(ni) || with my house(s)
|14||instruktiivi || -n : -in ||with (the aid of)||taloin ||with
The translation given is for the singular, except for the last
two cases, which are normally used in plural only. The notation “…”
indicates that there are other variants of the suffix.
- Nominatiivi (nominative) is the case of a subject
and has no ending in the singular. In plural it has the ending
whereas in most
other cases, the plural suffix is
-i- which appears before
the case suffix (e.g.: taloissa).
- Genetiivi (genitive) indicates mainly relations
similar to those expressed using the genitive or the "of"
preposition in English. It is also one of the cases of
a grammatical object. In plural, it has several possible suffixes,
partly depending on the stem, partly in free variation, as i
nomena : omenien ~ omenoiden ~ omenoitten ~ omenain,
- Essiivi usually indicates some sort of role.
- Partitiivi indicates, among other things,
the partiality of a grammatical object.
E.g., the sentence söin omenaa has such an object and
it would normally be translated as
'I was eating an apple'. In contrast,
söin omenan contains a so-called
total object (with the object in genitive),
meaning that the entire apple was eaten,
and it could be translated as 'I ate an apple' or 'I ate the apple',
depending on the context. However,
in many situations, partitiivi is simply the grammatical
form "required" by the verb, as in
rakastan sinua 'I love you'.
It is also used (in singular!) with numerals, e.g.
kolme taloa 'three houses’.
- Translatiivi may indicate the result of a state
transition, e.g. tulla opettajaksi 'become a teacher'.
It has many other uses as well, e.g. suomeksi
- Inessiivi usually
refers to being within or in close
contact with something.
- Elatiivi typically
indicates movement from within (or from close contact with) something.
It is also used in more abstract meanings, as in
minusta 'in my opinion'.
- Illatiivi normally
indicates movement into (or to close contact with) something.
can refer to being near or on the surface of something. It has several
other uses as well, including the indication of instrument or method
or manner, as well as idiomatic expressions like minulla on
'I have' (literally, 'at me there is').
indicates movement from the neighborhood (or from the surface of) something.
indicates movement to the neighborhood (or to the surface of) something,
or indicates the recipient (of giving something, for example).
corresponds to English preposition "without". It is used rarely, except
in sayings and in nominal forms of verbs.
indicates company. The ending is followed by a possessive suffix
(except in adjective attributes).
It is used rarely and always grammatically in plural.
indicates in principle an instrument, but see below for
literary uses of the instruktiivi.
The singular forms, identical with the genitive form,
are almost exclusively adverb-like (e.g. jalan 'by foot').
Normally, an instrument is
expressed using adessiivi or other cases.
- Akkusatiivi (accusative, objective,
the case of a grammatical object)
is often listed as a case, too. Howeverm its form coincides with
the form of the nominative or the form of the genitive, except
for the personal pronouns that have specific accusative forms
(minut, sinut, etc.) and the interrogatory
pronoun kuka ~ ken (akkusatiivi: kenet).
Among the cases, the six cases
inessiivi, elatiivi, illatiivi, adessiivi, ablatiivi, allatiivi
form a rather orthogonal system of
locative cases, with the first
three referring to inner relations (in, from, into)
and the rest to corresponding outer relations. In practise, the
rules for selecting inner or outer locative case are complicated
and have a lot of exceptions. For instance, we say Helsingissä
'in Helsinki' but Tampereella 'in Tampere' with no easily
(Even Finns have problems in selecting the correct case when
using a less common municipality name. A
list of municipality names and their cases has been composed
for such purposes.)
Moreover, the cases essiivi and partitiivi
originally had locative meanings, too, and this is still preserved
in some adverbs and sayings (e.g. ulkona 'outside'). Translatiivi
can be regarded as an abstract locative case. Thus, in total nine
of the fourteen cases can be explained as referring to locality of
Frequency of usage
The cases can be roughly divided into three categories
- the common cases nominatiivi, genetiivi and partitiivi,
which cover about 76 % of all occurrences
- the nine locative cases in the broad sense, as explained above
- the rare cases abessiivi, komitatiivi and instruktiivi,
which mostly live in special phrases only.
Frequency of usage of cases in Finnish
|35.24 %||nominatiivi |
|15.69 %||genetiivi |
| 9.89 %||nominatiivi pl.|
| 7.65 %||partitiivi |
| 3.85 %||genetiivi pl.|
| 3.79 %||illatiivi |
| 3.50 %||partitiivi pl.|
| 3.31 %||inessiivi |
| 2.55 %||elatiivi |
| 2.30 %||adessiivi |
| 2.25 %||instruktiivi pl.|
| 1.73 %||essiivi |
| 1.40 %||elatiivi pl.|
| 1.23 %||translatiivi |
| 0.95 %||allatiivi |
| 0.93 %||inessiivi pl.|
| 0.74 %||illatiivi pl.|
| 0.73 %||adessiivi pl.|
| 0.58 %||allatiivi pl.|
| 0.51 %||essiivi pl.|
| 0.47 %||ablatiivi |
| 0.31 %||abessiivi |
| 0.17 %||ablatiivi pl.|
| 0.14 %||translatiivi pl.|
| 0.04 %||komitatiivi pl.|
| 0.04 %||akkusatiivi |
| 0.01 %||akkusatiivi pl.|
| 0.01 %||abessiivi pl.|
The table gives the distribution of cases in
the texts of the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper
during the first half of 1997 (N = 2,515,113).
The entries with the text "pl." indicate the frequency of plural forms, while
the entries without such text are for singular.
Thus, for example, nominatiivi alone accounts for about
45 % of all occurrences.
The table is based on automated analysis, which in known to produce
some incorrect results, due to the impossibility of disambiguating
some word forms without semantic analysis. For example, the singular
forms of instruktiivi coincide with those of genetiivi and are counted under
it; this however does not cause much distortion, since instruktiivi is very
rare in singular.
In the table, "akkusatiivi" refers to those forms of personal pronouns
that are morphologically distinguishable as
akkusatiivi, e.g. "minut".
The variation in the number of cases in different sources
of information about Finnish is mostly explained by the inclusion
or exclusion of akkusatiivi
as a separate case. Otherwise there is
little disagreement about the matter, but for completeness I mention
a few issues:
- One might regard instruktiivi
as vanished, remaining
only in sayings and adverbs. However, it has some modern literary
use (often regarded as artificial style)
where it means 'together with' or 'including' rather 'with the aid of'.
- Sometimes a case called
prolatiivi, with ending -tse
and corresponding to English prepositions 'through' or 'via',
is suggested, but most linguists
regard -tse simply as an adverbial suffix.
Kirjeitse annettu määräys. Suomen kielen prolatiiveista.
- Sometimes a case, eksessiivi,
with ending -nta
(combined from the -na of essiivi and
-ta of partitiivi)
is suggested, meaning
'from the role of', thus making the system of
cases more orthogonal. It has been reported to have been used
in a few dialects, but many
references to occurrences
of eksessiivi in dialects seem to be based on
misinterpretations. In some dialects, adverbs like
luonta occur, but just as dialectal variants
of luota (which is morphologically a partitiivi form
and is purely locative in meaning).
- A case ending with -nkaa,
with a meaning corresponding to
actually exists in some dialects, possibly due to influence of
Estonian -ga case. However
it is explainable as simple contraction:
talon kanssa > talonkaa.
- In composite words the first word often undergoes changes:
hevonen 'horse' + voima 'power' >
One might argue that this means that there is a separate
case, kompositiivi. See
Suomen kielen yhdyssanamuodot
- A case called
latiivi, with endings such as -s
and a generic
locative meaning 'to', has actually existed in the language
but only survives in some adverbs (e.g. ulos)
and in peculiar
derivations which are between
adverbs and cases of nouns (!) in the
comparative form, e.g.
rannemmas (from ranta 'beach, coast' + comparative suffix +
indicating movement to nearer a beach or coast
and synonymous with rannemmaksi (with the translatiivi
ending). Note that similar forms,
e.g. rannempana and rannempaa, are used,
with clearly locative meanings for essiivi and partitiivi.
- There are several very productive suffixes for deriving adverbs,
such as -sti. It is sometimes suggested that some of them
might be interpreted as case endings.
has included such cases into his
list of Finnish cases. He regards e.g. -sti as
a suffix for multiplikatiivi, obviously due
its use with numbers, e.g. kolme 'three' -
kolmesti 'three times, thrice'. However, a much more
common use for that suffix is to derive adverbs from adjectives,
with the generic meaning 'in a ... manner',
or corresponding to the English suffix -ly.
iloinen (stem: iloise-) 'happy, joyful' - iloisesti
'happily, with joy'. Often the adessiivi of a noun is used
in a similar meaning,
e.g. ilolla (from ilo 'happiness, joy')
though purists may not regarded this as fully
correct, since it reflects the influence
of other languages (mainly Swedish). Since the -sti ending often has
the same function as the -lla suffix, which is undeniably a case
ending, and since it can be formed from all numerals and most
adjectives, it looks like a good candidate for a case suffix.
However no grammar seems to take such a position.
Confused? That's understandable. Please notice that none of the
suggested cases in the list above passes the following
in Finnish, an adjective attribute (almost always) complies in its form
with the noun, e.g. isossa talossa,
isoilla taloilla etc. That is,
the case (and number) is expressed both in a noun and in an attached
adjective attribute. And none of the proposed cases can take such
an attribute, so they are more adequately regarded as classes of
adverbs or as other constructs than cases.