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Duolingo: Introduction of the partitive case

In the lesson named “Fridge”, Duolingo introduces the partitive case. While Duolingo does take a fairly slow approach to adding grammar to their sentences, the sudden use of the partitive case will definitely confuse some learners. On your phone, you don’t have access to the “tips” for the lesson, so you are likely to get confused.

In this article, I go over the contents of the lesson named “Fridge“.  This lesson’s focus is on countable and uncountable foods and how they behave in different sentence types.

Fridge – Level 1 – Lesson 1

In the first lesson, the partitive case is introduced in relation to the words “some” and “any”. The foods in this section are mass nouns, i.e. uncountable nouns. This lesson is called “fridge”, so you could use these sentences in the kitchen.

An uncountable noun is something you generally eat some of, something you can’t count, such as ketsuppi (ketchup) and maito (milk). The words juusto and kala in this section can be both countable and uncountable. Generally we eat some cheese or fish rather than a whole cheese or fish.

Finnish English
Onko meillä vielä juustoa? Do we have any cheese left?
Onko hänellä vielä ketsuppia? Does he have any ketchup left?
Onko tuo juustoa vai maitoa? Is that cheese or milk?
Onko sinulla kalaa? Do you have fish?
Onko tuo kalaa? Is that fish?
Meillä on kalaa kotona. We have fish at home.

Some remarks:

  • Onko tuo juustoa vai maitoa?” refers to the substances of “cheese” and “milk”, rather than one whole, specific object.
  • Onko sinulla kalaa?” refers to fish as an uncountable noun. If you’d want to know if someone had a fish as a pet, the question would be “Onko sinulla kala (lemmikkinä)?, which is translated as “Do you have a fish (as a pet)”?
  • Onko tuo kalaa?” can be a reasonable question in a restaurant where you might not be sure what kind of meat there is in a dish. If you’d just be looking at some fish swimming in an aquarium, the question “Onko tuo kala?” would be used: “Is that a fish?”.
  • Meillä on kalaa kotona” is used to inform someone of what type of food you have at home in your fridge. We don’t have “a fish”, we have “fish” or “some fish”.

Fridge – Level 1 – Lesson 2

In lesson 2, we jump to complement sentences. A complement sentence (predikatiivilause) is a sentence consisting of a subject, followed by the verb olla, and completed with an adjective or a noun describing the subject. In this lesson, we’re learning how to express what something is like: is it orange, strange or sweet. These sentences all have adjectives as their complement.

Finnish English
Tämä ruoka on outoa. This food is strange.
Tämä mehu on oranssia. This juice is orange.
Limonadi on oranssia. The soda pop is orange.
Sininen mehu on makeaa. The blue juice is sweet.
Tämä liha on outoa. This meat is strange.
Tuo kastike on outoa. That dressing is strange.
Mämmi on mustaa ja makeaa. The mämmi is black and sweet.
Miksi mehu on oranssia? Why is the juice orange?

This is not the first time Duolingo teaches you complement sentences. Earlier lessons have contained phrases like “Peruna on pyöreä” (the potato is round) and “Omena on punainen” (the apple is red).

This lesson, however, teaches you uncountable nouns, such as mehu (juice), kastike (dressing) and mämmi (a sweet rye dessert). When the subject of your sentence is uncountable, the complement (i.e. the word after the verb olla) will be inflected in the partitive case. So we will say “Omena on makea” but “Mehu on makeaa“.

Fridge – Level 1 – Lesson 3

While lesson 2 contained simple “subject + on + adjective” sentences, lesson 3 mixes things up and contains two types of sentences: possessive sentences and complement sentences.

For sentences expressing what someone has (#1), the object (at the end of the sentence) will be inflected in the partitive case when it is an uncountable noun. In complement sentences (#2), when the subject (at the beginning of the sentence) is an uncountable noun, the complement (at the end of the sentence) will be inflected in the partitive case.

# Finnish English
1 Teillä on ruokaa. You have food.
1 Onko sinulla tarpeeksi juustoa? Do you have enough cheese?
1 Onko meillä tarpeeksi ruokaa? Do we have enough food?
1 Meillä on yksi kilo lihaa. We have one kilogram of meat.
1 Meillä on litra maitoa. We have a liter of milk.
2 Tämä kana on outoa. This chicken is strange.
2 Kala on lihaa. Fish is meat.
2 Tämä on samaa ruokaa. This is the same food.
2 Tuo limonadi on samaa limonadia. That soda pop is the same soda pop.

Some remarks:

  • “Teillä on ruokaa” could be translated both as “You (plural) have food” and “You (plural) have some food”. We’re using the partitive case because we’re talking about an unspecified amount of food. The noun ruoka is always uncountable, as is also the case in the sentence “Tämä on samaa ruokaa” (note how the adjective sama also gets inflected in the partitive case).
  • Tämä kana on outoa” refers to the meat rather than the bird. Perhaps it tastes weird or looks strange. If there was an actual chicken hopping around, we’d say “Tämä kana on outo“. In English, both of these can be translated as “This chicken is weird”.
  • The phrases with “litra maitoa” and “kilo lihaa” in this lesson are related to another usage of the partitive case. You will use the partitive after a unit of measurement such as litra (liter) and kilo (kilogram). This is the only way we can count milk: we can’t say “one milk, two milks”, but “one liter of milk, two liters of milk” works.
  • Kala on lihaa” is our first contact with a complement sentence where the word at the end is a noun rather than an adjective. We’re using the partitive case here just like we would if we say “Kala on kylmää/hyvää/mustaa“.
  • The sentence “Tuo limonadi on samaa limonadia” is a strange and useless sentence. I suppose the context might be something like a blind taste test, for example, where you taste several soda pops and come to the conclusion that two of them are the same type.

Fridge – Level 1 – Lesson 4 and 5

Lessons 4 and 5 don’t contain many new things: we mainly have more complement sentences (#1) and Minulla on -sentences (#2). We’re dealing with uncountable nouns here.

# Finnish English
1 Hyi! Tämä juusto on mustaa! Yuck! This cheese is black!
1 Tämä jäätelö on melko makeaa. This ice cream is pretty sweet.
1 Hyi! Tämä kastike on makeaa. Yuck! This dressing is sweet.
2 Meillä on kanaa kotona. We have chicken at home.
2 Heillä on liikaa ruokaa. They have too much food.
2 Onko teillä tarpeeksi salaattia? Do you have enough lettuce?
2 Onko meillä vielä juustoa? Do were have any cheese left?
2 Meillä on taas samaa ruokaa! We have the same food again!
3 Onko tuo salaattia? Is that lettuce?
4 Minulla on pullo oranssia limonadia. I have a bottle of orange soda pop.

Some remarks:

  • Compare: “Meillä on kanaa kotona” to “Meillä on kana kotona“.
  • The Finnish word salaatti can be both used to refer to lettuce (which is often called lehtisalaatti) and to a prepared salad (e.g. a caesar salad or potato salad). In this lesson, only the “lettuce” meaning of salaatti is used. Lettuce is normally an uncountable noun: you eat some lettuce or you have some lettuce at home. In the sentence “Onko tuo salaattia” (#3) we are perhaps looking inside the fridge and wondering if what’s in a certain container is lettuce or maybe something else like cabbage or spinach.
  • Minulla on pullo oranssia limonadia” contains the word pullo. In this case, “bottle” is used as a quantity (much like litra and kilo in the previous section). We use the partitive case when we have a measurement in front of an uncountable noun. The same would be the case, for example, for “lasi maitoa” and “purkki jäätelöä“. Note how the adjective oranssi gets inflected in the same case as the word it is connected to!

Fridge – Level 2 – Lesson 1

The first lesson of the second level is a throwback to older lessons with countable nouns. Some of the sentences are just a brief respite before we return once again to the partitive case. However, a new sentence type is added here: locational sentences. You practice the words tässä (right here), täällä (over here), tuossa (right there) and tuolla (over there). In these sentences the food is seen as a concrete thing: we’re talking about the location of a specific thing. This is visible in the English sentence because we use the definite article “the”.

Finnish English
Tämä tomaatti on oranssi. This tomato is orange.
Tämä omena on makea. This apple is sweet.
Hänellä on makea punainen omena. She has a sweet red apple.
Onko limonadi täällä? Is the soda pop over here?
Miikka, onko maito täällä? Miikka, is the milk over here?
Missä maito on? Where is the milk?
Punainen mehu on tässä. The red juice is right here.

Some remarks:

  • When the subject of the sentence is countable (tomaatti, omena), the complement will be in its basic form (oranssi, makea). Compare this to “Mehu on oranssia” and “Limsa on makeaa“.
  • In a possessive sentence as well, when the thing some has is countable, you will use the basic form: she has one, whole sweet red apple.
  • The other examples in this lesson just state (or ask) where something is. In these sentences, the uncountable thing (maito, limonadi, mehu) is the subject of the sentence, so it appears in its basic form.

Fridge – Level 2 – Lesson 2

After the throwback to the good old basic form in the previous lesson, we return to sentences with the partitive case. In addition to “minulla on” sentences (#1), we get examples of sentences with a pronoun as the subject (se, tämä, tuo) and an uncountable noun as the complement (#2).

These complement sentences are used to state or ask what a food stuff is. The question “Onko tuo ketsuppia?” can be used to ask what the condiment on top of your fries is, or what’s in the bottle in the fridge. The statement “Se on limonadia” can be a viable answer when someone is wondering what’s in your glass. We’re using the partitive case because these food stuffs are uncountable. We can count bottles of juice and liters of milk, but not multiple milks (at least not typically).

# Finnish English
1 Meillä on kalaa kotona. We have fish at home. (Compare to “We have a fish at home”)
1 Onko teillä ketsuppia kotona? Do you have ketchup at home?
1 Onko meillä vielä kalaa? Do we have any fish left?
1 Onko hänellä vielä ketsuppia? Does he have any ketchup left?
1 Onko meillä limonadia kotona? Do we have soda pop at home?
1 Minulla on mehua. I have juice.
2 Se on limonadia. It is soda pop.
2 Onko tuo juustoa vai maitoa? Is that cheese or milk?
2 Onko tuo mehua vai limonadia? Is that juice or soda pop?
2 Onko tuo ketsuppia? Is that ketchup?
2 Onko tämä juustoa? Is this cheese?

Fridge – Level 2 – Lesson 3

This lesson takes us back to complement sentences with an uncountable noun as the subject. In these sentences, the subject will appear in the basic form, while the adjective will be inflected in the partitive case.

Just as an interesting tidbit, it’s nice to compare the following two sentences, where the word order of complement sentences is especially clear.

  • Sininen mehu on makeaa. “The blue juice is sweet.”
  • Makea mehu on sinis. “The sweet juice is blue.”
Finnish English
Mämmi on mustaa ja makeaa. The mämmi is black and sweet.
Tämä ruoka on outoa. This food is strange.
Limonadi on oranssia. The soda pop is orange.
Tuo kastike on outoa. That dressing is strange.
Sininen mehu on makeaa. The blue juice is sweet.

Overview of all the sentence types in “Fridge”

The Fridge lesson in Duolingo deals with foods and introduces you to the concept of countable and uncountable nouns as well as how the partitive works in certain sentence types. Below, you can find a couple of examples from each type:

  1. [Countable subject] + on + [an adjective in the basic form]
  2. [Minulla on] + [uncountable object in the partitive case]
  3. [Uncountable subject] + on + [an adjective in the partitive case]
  4. [Location] + on + [uncountable subject in the basic form]
  5. [A measurement] + [uncountable noun in the partitive case]
  6. Sentences identifying the identity of an uncountable food
# Finnish English
1 Makea omena on punainen. The sweet apple is red.
1 Oranssi tomaatti on pyöreä. The orange tomato is round.
1 Tämä tomaatti on makea. This tomato is sweet.
2 Minulla on mehua. I have juice.
2 Meillä on maitoa kotona. We have milk at home.
2 Onko meillä lihaa kotona? Do we have meat at home?
3 Tuo salaatti on outoa. That lettuce is strange.
3 Mämmi on mustaa. Mämmi is black.
3 Tämä mehu on melko makeaa. This juice is pretty sweet.
3 Hyi! Miksi tämä liha on makeaa? Yuck! Why is this meat sweet?
4 Missä liha on? Where is the meat?
4 Ehkä liha on tuolla. Maybe the meat is over there.
4 Mehu on tässä. The juice is right here.
4 Juusto on tuossa. The cheese is right there.
4 Onko maito täällä? Is the milk over here?
5 Meillä on yksi kilo lihaa. We have one kilogram of meat.
5 Se on pullo mustaa limonadia. It’s a bottle of black soda pop.
5 Tämä on pullo mehua. This is a bottle of juice.
6 Tämä on sinappia. This is mustard
6 Se on ketsuppia. It is ketchup.
6 Onko tuo kalaa? Is that fish?

Slowly but surely, Duolingo starts mixing sentences which require the basic form and the partitive case. I think they do a pretty good job at keeping each lesson focused on one or two things only.

This lesson is definitely not the only one which includes important partitive sentences. It is, however, where this article ends. I plan on continuing this series and discuss where and how Duolingo introduces other uses of the partitive and the inflection of words in the case. Let me know if you liked this article!

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That was really good! It’s a pity that Duolingo no longer has a message board and the sentence discussions are read-only now. One could post a link to your article as it was done in the past. Though I guess many Finnish learners on Duolingo are aware of your website. It was indeed quite confusing when I was doing this lesson and it was not so obvious when to use partitive and when nominative. It’s great that you are going to continue this series about Duolingo lessons. I remember this sentence from one of the later lessons:

Ruotsalainen pitsa, jossa on banaania, on outoa.

When I got this sentence for the first time and I had to translate from English to Finnish, I wrote “outo” and it was considered as a typo and corrected to “outoa”. I was surprised because pizza is countable. But I guess that partitive indicates here that one talks about the Swedish pizza with banana in general, not about one specific pizza. However, now both are accepted, I think, as it should be.