Compound verbs – Yhdysverbit

Finnish has quite a wide arrange of compound verbs. These are verbs which have a verb at the end but some other part in front of them. For example “koeajaa” consists of the word “koe” (test) and the verb “ajaa” (to drive). Just like in English, this verb means “to test drive”. Here are some other examples:

Please note that I’m translating most of these verbs in a fairly literal way, which may not be the established way to express the action in English. I’m doing this to make sure you can understand how these verbs work.

You can divide the Finnish compound verbs into five groups, ranging from well-established compound verbs to one-time use only verbs.

1. Well-established compound verbs

There are many actions that can be expressed with a compound verb. Some of them are completely accepted and can be conjugated in all the tenses and moods. Below are some examples. Some of these are built the same way as in English, while others aren’t.

Compound Verb Literally Meaning
allekirjoittaa “to under write” to sign
ensiesittää “to initial present” to premiere
esipaistaa “to pre bake” to soft-bake
esipestä “to pre wash” to prewash
hiekkapuhaltaa “to sand blow” to sand-blast
hienosäätää “to fine adjust” to fine-tune
koeajaa “to test drive” to test drive
myötäelää “to with live” to empathize
pahoinpidellä “to bad treat” to brutalize
pakkolunastaa “to forced redeem” to expropriate
peruskorjata “to base fix” to renovate
salakuljettaa “to secret transport” to smuggle
salakuunnella “to secret listen” to eavesdrop
valokuvata “to picture shoot” to photograph
yliarvioida “to over estimate” to overestimate

2. Partly established compound verbs

2.1. Verbs that only appear in one form

The first group of partly established compound verbs are only considered proper Finnish in certain forms. Fairly often, the compound verb is a specialist term. The accepted form it appears in is most often a TU-participle or the instructive conjugation of the verb.

For example “aurinkokuivattu” (sun-dried) and “tuoresuolattu” (fresh-salted) won’t get conjugated in other forms than the passive past participle.

Compound Verb Accepted Form English
ennakkoilmoittautua ennakkoilmoittautuminen advance registration
esitäyttää esitäytetty pre-filled
kiinniottaa kiinniotettu the apprehended
kuviopainaa kuviopainettu pattern-printed
mallisuojata mallisuojattu design projected
ohimennä ohimennen casually
silminnähdä silminnähden visibly

2.2. Verbs that have two options

Some verbs can appear both as a compound verb and as a word chain. Sometimes both ways are equally common (see #1). In other cases, one has been replaced by the other over time (see #2). For example, the verb anteeksiantaa was changed to antaa anteeksi in the bible in the year 1642.

# Compound Verb Verb Chain English
1 vastaanottaa ottaa vastaan to receive (reception)
1 laiminlyödä löydä laimin to neglect
1 aikaansaada saada aikaan to achieve
1 irtisanoa sanoa irti to terminate, denounce
1 ylläpitää pitää yllä to maintain, preserve
1 poissulkea sulkea pois to excluse
2 anteeksiantaa antaa anteeksi to forgive
2 huomioonottaa ottaa huomioon to take into account

3. Not-preferred compound verbs

While it is handy to have a way to describe actions in a compact way, sometimes they are considered unnecessary. In fact, sometimes they’re even considered right-out “bad Finnish”.

Sveticisms are grammatical construction or loanwords originating from the Swedish language. Not everyone likes how common these are in Finnish. They’d rather keep the Finnish language free from the influence of other languages.

Some compound verbs are not “bad”, but are better avoided. It’s not a mistake to use them. However, it’s not advised because there is a better word of phrase to say the same thing. This is the case for eg. sisäänkirjoittaa (better: kirjautua) and kuntourheilla (better: kuntoilla).

4. Temporary, jokingly used compound verbs

Finnish is a language in which you can play with elements fairly freely and arrive at words that actually make sense in the context. This means that you can create your own compound verbs that make sense in the conversation you’re using it in – even if they’re not exactly established words. You won’t find the following verbs in the dictionary:

Finnish English
Mäntsälässä “kuumailmapalloillaan” sunnuntaina. In Mäntsälä they’re “hot-air-ballooning” on Sunday.
Hän “pätkätyöskentelee” yliopistossa. She “temporary-job-works” in the university.
Neljä autoa “ketjukolaroi” Kekkostiellä. Four cards “chain-car-crashed” on Kekkostie.
Me “savusaunoimme” taas. We “smoke-sauna’ed” again.
Sairaalat “saattohoitivat” satoja vuosittain. The hospital “terminal-cared” hundreds a year.
Jouduin “äkkijaruttamaan” ruuhkassa. I had to “sudden-break” in the traffic jam.

5. New compound words

It’s possible that some of these temporary words might become widely accepted words if they catch on and people start using them in different contexts. New words like this are born all the time, e.g. to fill gaps in the vocabulary that new developments have created.

Finnish English
biohajata to biodegrade
geokätkeä to “geocache-hide”
videoblogata to “videoblog”, to vlog
nettishoppailla to “internet-shop”
kantoliinailla to “sling-carry”, to babywear
uudelleentwiitata to “again-tweet”, to retweet
ennakkoäänestää to “advance-vote”, early voting
rauhanturvata to “peace-secure”, peacekeeping
taaperoimettää to “toddler-breastfeed”

That’s all for today on compound verbs! Let me know in the comments if you like this kind of random articles about Finnish grammar and vocabulary that’s not strictly tied to Finnish lesson coursebooks etc!

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