Finnish for busy people

Duolingo: Haarukka on tuossa. Tässä on sininen kukka.

I find Duolingo’s introduction of the words meaning “here” and “there” (tuossa and tässä) pretty good! They are quite consistent with it in the beginning, so it really helps. It’s only in later lessons where things get super tricky.

The basics: Duolingo introduces the words “here” and “there” as follows: tässä “right here”, täällä “over here”, tuossa “right there” and tuolla “over there”. As you progress further into these lessons, eventually Duolingo also starts to accept plain “here” for täällä rather than “over here”.

You can read more about how to say “here” and “there” in Finnish in my separate article.

The article you’re reading right now contains two sections:

  1. Section 1 contains sentences with “here” and “there” at the end of the phrase.
  2. Section 2 contains sentences with “here” and “there” at the beginning of the phrase.

This is important, because the different word order conveys a different type of meaning in Finnish!

Section 1: “here” and “there” at the end of the phrase

1.1. Tässä – Right here

The word tässä can be translated to English as “here” or “right here”. When first introducing this word, Duolingo is very insistent on translating tässä as “right here”. This allows us to grasp the difference between tässä (referring to a small area) and täällä (referring to a larger area).

Finnish English Lesson name
Tämä veitsi on tässä. This knife is right here. Fridge
Pyöreä lautanen on tässä. The round plate is right here. Barbecue
Punainen mehu on tässä. The red juice is right here. Fridge
En halua istua tässä. I do not want to sit here. Family
Suola on tässä. The salt is right here. Barbecue
Ovatko ne tässä? Are they right here? Barbecue

1.2. Täällä – Over here

The word täällä can be translated to English as “here” or “over here”. In comparison with tässä, täällä refers to a larger area.

Finnish English Lesson name
Stadion on täällä. The stadium is over here. Sights
Pöllölä, museo on täällä! Pöllölä, the museum is over here! Sights
Professori ei ole täällä. The professor is not over here. Languages 2
Onko limonadi täällä? Is the soda pop over here? Fridge
Miikka, onko maito täällä? Miikka, is the milk over here? Fridge

1.3. Tuossa – Right there

The word tuossa can be translated to English as “there” or “right there”. The “right there” translation allows you to differentiate between tuossa and tuolla, which both refer to a place you can point at but not touch. They differ in what size the area is: tuossa is a small, specific spot while tuolla is a larger, general area.

Finnish English Lesson name
Haarukka on tuossa. The fork is right there. Barbecue
Mehu on tuossa. The juice is right there. Fridge
Kello on tuossa. The clock is right there. O’clock
Ovatko ne tuossa? Are they right there? Barbecue
Vanha tammi on tuossa. The old oak is right there. Outdoors 1
Iso kivi on tuossa. The big rock is right there. Wild

1.4. Tuolla – Over there

The word tuolla can be translated to English as “there” or “over there” and refer to an area you can point at but not touch. In comparison with tuossa, tuolla refers to a larger, less clearly defined area.

Finnish English Lesson name
Joki on tuolla. The river is over there. Outdoors 1
Ehkä kello on tuolla. Maybe the clock is over there. O’clock
Museo on tuolla. The museum is over there. Sights
Ehkä oikea puisto on tuolla. Maybe the right park is over there. Sights
Liha on tuolla. The meat is over there. Fridge

Section 2: “here” and “there” at the beginning of the phrase

Once the previous section has been thoroughly drilled in, Duolingo switches things up and adds existential sentences. The meaning of the words as such doesn’t change, but the translation to English undergoes a massive – and confusing – change.

Why? It’s because word order in Finnish conveys different meanings, and in English this requires a completely different construction. English and Finnish don’t match up, so this creates confusion.

In Finnish, word order can be used to convey which part of the sentence is the new information. The old information will be put at the beginning of the phrase, while the new information will be placed at the end of the sentence. In English, you generally use the articles “a” and “the” for the same purpose. In addition, for location sentences, English also uses a separate sentence construction which contains the words “there is a”.

2.1. “There is a…”

The following table contains pairs which include the words tässä, täällä, tuossa and tuolla. For each pair, I’m giving you two word order options.

Phrases marked with #1 start with the subject and end with “here” or “there”. When putting the subject first in the sentence, we are conveying that this is the old information. For example, in the sentence “Kivi on tässä” (The rock is right here), this sentence serves the purpose of telling us where the rock is. We already knew that there was a rock but now, we learn the location of said rock.

In contrast, the sentence “Tässä on kivi” (There is a rock right here) serves the purpose of informing us of something I located. The sentence contains the new information that there is a rock here.

# Finnish English
1 Pieni kivi on tässä The small rock is right here.
2 Tässä on pieni kivi. There is a small rock right here.
1 Kukka on tuossa. The flower is right there.
2 Tuossa on kukka. There is a flower right there.
1 Suuri vihreä kuusi on tuossa. The large, green spruce is right there.
2 Tuossa on suuri vihreä kuusi. There is a large, green spruce right there.
1 Turvallinen silta on täällä.
The safe bridge is over here.
2 Täällä on turvallinen silta. There is a safe bridge over here.
1 Pörröinen orava on täällä. The fluffy squirrel is over here.
2 Täällä on pörröinen orava. There is a fluffy squirrel over here.
1 Ehkä kello on tuolla. Maybe the clock is over there.
2 Ehkä tuolla on kello. Maybe there is a clock over there.

2.2. “It has a…”

Here is where the real trouble starts! Duolingo’s approach here is definitely not beneficial for new learners. The thing that trips up most learners is that the word tässä starts being translated as “it has”.

The problem is that “it has” doesn’t actually tell us what the subject is of the sentence. Even when we see the English translation, we are left wondering “What thing has a few raspberries?” and “Which thing has a blue flower?” This could have been avoided if Duolingo had first introduced sentences such as “Kasvissa on sininen kukka” (The plant has a blue flower) or “Pensaassa on vain muutama vadelma” (The bush has only a few raspberries). You do get a couple of sentences such as this, but they are only introduced later on.

Finnish English
Tässä on muutama vadelma. It has a few raspberries. / There are a few raspberries here.
Tässä on pieni kivi. It has a small rock. / There is a small rock here.
Tässä on sininen kukka. It has a blue flower. / There is a blue flower here.
Tässä on kaksi kukkaa. It has two flowers. / There are two flowers here.
Kasvissa on vain yksi ruskea lehti. The plant only has one brown leaf.
Kasvissa on viisi pientä kukkaa. The plant has five little flowers.
Miksi tässä ei ole mikrofonia? Why does it not have a microphone?
Montako lehteä puussa vielä on? How many leaves does the tree still have?

So, “tässä on” can be translated as “it has a…“. However, it can also be translated as “There is a…”. For example, “Tässä on kaksi kukkaa” could be translated both as “There are two flowers here” and “It has two flowers”. For the latter sentence, the “it” could refer to a plant or a tree – any object that can have flowers.

Why is Duolingo so set on translating these sentences with “it has”? I suspect Duolingo really wants to teach you possessive sentences at this point. In English, there is no problem with “it has”: it follows the same pattern as “I have, you have, he has”. Unfortunately, Finnish doesn’t have a verb that by itself means “I/you/we have”. Instead, we use the “minulla on” sentence construction.

Finnish English
Minulla on ruotsalainen nimi. I have a Swedish name.
Hänellä on oranssi kissa. He/she has an orange cat.
Hänellä on hyvä televisio. He/she has a good television.
Sillä on kaksi pentua. It has two kittens/puppies. (“it” = a cat, a dog)
Sillä on pieni lehti.
It has a small leaf. (“it” = a bird, an ant)

The caveat here is that when things have something, you do not use the same ending. Instead of the -lla form (the adessive case) you use the -ssa form (the inessive case).

Finnish English
Autossa on neljä rengasta. The car has four wheels.
Tässä on neljä rengasta. It has four wheels. / There are four wheels right here.
Asunnossa on ikkuna. The apartment has a window.
Tässä on ikkuna. It has a window. / There is a window right here.

Duolingo is not perfect. There’s one glaring mistake here that can’t be explained away: the sentence “Tässä on pieni pöllö“. Duolingo translates this as “It has a small owl”. However, finding a context where a thing has a small owl is difficult. I suppose it could be natural to say that an animal has a small owl. This sentence would be translated as “Sillä on pieni pöllö“.

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