Letters in Finnish

The letters used in Finnish texts can be classified as follows, roughly in descending order by conventionality and familiarity:
  1. The letters that are needed for writing purely and originally Finnish words: a, d, e, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, r, s, t, u, v, y, , . Among these, d is somewhat special, since it has been intentionally introduced into standard Finnish. There is no acceptable way to dispense with and in Finnish texts. In particular, the convention (used in German for example) of replacing them by ae and oe is not acceptable for Finnish, although this replacement method is generally known by Finns due to its application in international texts.
  2. Letters that appear often in (relatively new) loanwords: b, f.
  3. Base letters that are conventionally regarded as part of the Finnish alphabet, yet appear only in words of foreign origin that have exceptionally preserved their original spelling and, naturally, in foreign names, and derivations of such words: c, q, w, x, z, .
  4. The letters š and ž. They are officially regarded as part of Finnish orthography, although they occur relatively rarely and only in loanwords, foreign names, and their derivations and although they are often omitted when listing the Finnish alphabet. For the official position, see Finnish orthography and the characters s caron and z caron. However, in newspapers, informal texts, and even in many books, these letters are very often replaced by the letter pairs sh and zh, respectively, or, less often, the diacritic is omitted.
  5. Letters that appear relatively often in names of foreign origin, their derivations, or loanwords that have been taken directly from another language (foreign words, Finnish sitaattilaina). This group is difficult to specify, but it is probably adequate to count at least the following letters:
  6. The letters and due to their frequency in Norwegian and Danish names. Probably often replaced by and , respectively.
  7. The letter due to its appearance in Estonian names. Probably often confused with .
  8. Other Latin letters that appear relatively often in names, but hardly in foreign words. The diacritics used in these letters are omitted far more often than for the previous group, and readers may fail to notify the diacritics. This group too is hard to list down, but it might be regarded as containing the following Latin letters: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . (These are the letters with diacritic that belong to ISO Latin 1 and have not been listed above. Among these, those commonly used in French and Italian, such as , are probably more widely used and recognized than the rest.)
  9. The additional letters used in the Northern Smi language: č, đ, ŋ, ŧ. They appear in personal, geographic, and company names in Finland relatively often in Northern Finland. Since they are often unavailable in fonts and difficult to produce on keyboards, it is common (but not correct) to omit the diacritic.
  10. The additional letters used in other Smi languages spoken in Finland: ʒ, ǥ, ǧ, ǩ, ǯ.
  11. Letter ȟ (h with caron), which is used in the Romani language spoken in Finland. It is rarely used, since it is usually unavailable in currently available fonts and difficult to produce on keyboards.
  12. The letters ð and þ (used e.g. in Icelandic) which are classified as Latin letters and available in the ISO Latin 1 repertoire but not widely recognized in Finland. In Icelandic names, they are often replaced by d (or dh) and th, respectively.
  13. Combinations of Latin letters a–z with diacritic marks not listed above, such as ć (c with acute, used e.g. in Croatian). In actual practice in Finland, these are very often written without the diacritic mark. These, and characters in the following classes, only appear in proper names and literal quotations. Among these characters, those that appear in official languages of the European Union (especially Polish, Lithuanian, and Latvian) can be expected to be, or to become, more common and widely recognized than the rest. The distinction drawn here between this group and the preceding group is largely based on technical considerations such as the widespread support to ISO Latin 1 repertoire in software used in Finland.
  14. Other letters classified as Latin letters in the broad sense, most importantly ð and þ (used e.g. in Icelandic).
  15. Letters used in non-Latin writing systems, such as Cyrillic or Greek. These occur basically in scientific texts only, mostly in linguistics (in the rare cases when transliteration or transcription is not used) and in mathematical and scientific notations. The only such letter in common use is Ω, which is used as the ohm symbol in the international system of units; however first few lowercase letters of the Greek alphabet, α, β, γ etc., might be seen even in newspaper texts (in astronomical, chemical, and other terms).


Historical note: In a book on Finnish phonetics and orthography, Suomen kielen nne- ja oikeinkirjoitusoppi (published in 1949), Aarni Penttil wrote about the alphabetic order as consisting of “a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, q, r, s, (š), t, u, v, x, y (), z, (ž), , , (), ()”. According to him, this list constitutes the “Finnish-Swedish alphabet” (“suomalais-ruotsalainen aakkosto”) when the letters in parentheses are omitted. He described the letter w essentially as an allograph of v and as a holdover from Gothic fonts.

This document does not discuss the use and recognizability of compatibility characters that are classified as letters or as compatibility equivalent to a letter. For example, the masculine ordinal indicator  is technically a letter.

For links to some material on the Finnish language on the Internet, please check my page The Finnish language.