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Verbtype 1 Consonant Gradation

This article focuses on verbtype 1 consonant gradation. It’s the reason behind why nukkua becomes minä nukun, and leipoa becomes minä leivon.

1. What is Consonant Gradation?

Consonant gradation is something you’re going to run into all the time when learning Finnish. It’s something that affects both nouns and verbs, though in different ways. It’s called gradation, because words can have a “strong” grade and a “weak” grade. This change takes place when we add an ending to a word. For verbs this can be the personal endings (eg. -n, -t) or any of the tense modifiers.

Consonant gradation only affects certain consonants (K, P and T). When conjugating a verb, the K, P and T in the middle of the word can change. Different verbtypes undergo a different system of consonant gradation.

In this article, we will only be looking at verbtype 1 consonant gradation. Find out more about the other verbtypes here.

2. When Do You Use Consonant Gradation?

For verbtype 1, the infinitive of the verb (the basic form) will always be strong. Minä, sinä, me and te will become weak when you add the personal ending, while hän and he will remain as they were in the basic form. The present and past tense for verbtype 1 will follow this same pattern.

We could rephrase this by saying that verbtype 1 consonant gradation takes place when you add the following personal endings: -n, -t, -mme, -tte. As you can see, this leaves the third person forms out.

Other tenses and moods:

  • The past participle of verbtype 1 verbs will always be strong:
    en laittanut, olen ottanut, emme ole tappaneet
  • The passive of verbtype 1 verbs will always be weak:
    laitetaan, otetaan, laitettiin, otettaisiin
  • The conditional of verbtype 1 verbs will always be strong:
    ottaisin, laittaisimme, tappaisitko
  • The singular imperative will be weak and the plural imperative strong:
    Laita! Laittakaa! Ota! Ottakaa!

3. Which Consonants Change?

Consonant gradation only happens with the following consonants.

Strong Weak Infinitive Weak forms Strong forms
kk k nukkua minä nukun, sinä nukut
me nukumme, te nukutte
hän nukkuu
he nukkuvat
pp p tappaa minä tapan, sinä tapat
me tapamme, te tapatte
hän tappaa
he tappavat
tt t soittaa minä soitan, sinä soitat
me soitamme, te soitatte
hän soittaa
he soittavat
nt nn antaa minä annan, sinä annat
me annamme, te annatte
hän antaa
he antavat
nk ng tink minä tingin, sinä tingit
me tingimme, te tingitte
hän tinkii
he tinkivät
mp mm ampua minä ammun, sinä ammut
me ammumme, te ammutte
hän ampuu
he ampuvat
lt ll kieltää minä kiellän, sinä kiellät
me kiellämme, te kiellätte
hän kieltää
he kieltävät
rt rr kiertää minä kierrän, sinä kierrät
me kierrämme, te kierrätte
hän kiertää
he kiertävät
t d tietää minä tiedän, sinä tiedät
me tiedämme, te tiedätte
hän tietää
he tietävät
k Ø lukea minä luen, sinä luet
me luemme, te luette
hän lukee
he lukevat
k v
p v sopia minä sovin, sinä sovit
me sovimme, te sovitte
hän sopii
he sopivat
lke lje sulkea minä suljen, sinä suljet
me suljemme, te suljette
hän sulkee
he sulkevat
rke rje rkeä minä särjen, sinä särjet,
me särjemme, te särjette
hän särkee
he särkevät

4. Limitations on Consonant Gradation

4.1. Consonant type limitations

If a certain consonant combination is not included in the list above, they’re not subject to consonant gradation. For example: -ss- is not in the list, so you will never consonant gradate -ss- to -s-, such as for the verb tanssia (minä tanssin, hän tanssii).

It’s also important to understand that the consonant gradation of verbtype 1 will always have a strong infinitive.

Infinitive Conjugation
tanssia minä tanssin
marssia minä marssin

4.2. Syllable limitations

Consonant gradation can only take place at the border between the last and the one-but-last syllable. This means that certain longer verbs won’t be subject to consonant gradation.

For example, the verb vääntäytyä has -nt-, but we won’t have a weak minä-form because the -nt- isn’t situated at the penultimate (second-to-last) syllable. The -t- at the latter part of this word will undergo consonant gradation of course.

Infinitive Conjugation In contrast with
vääntäytyä minä vääntäydyn vääntyä > minä väännyn
kieltäytyä minä kieltäydyn kieltää > minä kiellän

4.3. Consonant clusters

Generally, consonant gradation does not happen when there is an -s-, -h- or a -t- next to the consonants that normally change. This is the case for example with the verb maksaa. Because there is an -s- next to the -k-, you don’t get consonant gradation. Other verbs in this category: etsiä, katsoa, itkeä, kytkeä, leuhkia.

Infinitive Conjugation
maksaa minä maksan
itk minä itken
katsoa minä katson
leuhkia minä leuhkin
todistaa minä todistan
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Michael Hämäläinen

Fred Karlsson’s Finnish: An Essential Grammar lists ‘särkeä‘ (to break) > ‘minä särjen‘ (I break) as an example of ‘rke>rje’ consonant gradation in verbs. ‘Särkeä‘ belongs to KOTUS type 58 (laskea), which includes many verbs with consonant gradation (k → ∅|p → v|t → d|nk → ng|k → j).
He notes that ‘k>v’ gradation (e.g., ‘puku‘ > ‘puvun‘) is rare and limited to a few nominals in which ‘k’ is both proceeded and followed by ‘u/y’ (i.e., -UkU-) such as ‘suku‘ (family, relatives), ‘luku‘ (number) and ‘kyky‘. This observation is mirrored in Iso Suomen Kielioppi, which says that k>v gradation occurs when the ‘k’ is surrounded by identical short round vowels (the 4 round vowels being -o-, -u-, -ö- and -y-), although the examples provided all follow the -UkU- pattern (including ‘myky‘ (dumpling)).
For an interesting take on consonant gradation:

Inge (admin)

Ahh, särkeä! Of course. I’m adding that one.

Isn’t it strange how k-v gradation hasn’t disappeared from Finnish over time? Things that are so extremely rare often just stop happening over time. Then again, the most likely consonant gradation type they would have gotten redirected to would be k → ∅. The result would be lu’un, pu’un, su’un, which (while not impossible in Finnish, eg. rei’itin) isn’t all that pretty.

Michael Hämäläinen

Perhaps there is some underlying principle of phonotactics, or some merged words which needed to be distinguished in their inflected forms? The ‘k’ sound is so overrepresented in Finnish, plus there is that vestigial glottal stop…maybe there is some special connection?!

Jose P

Shouldn’t the 3rd person plural form of “tappaa” be “tappavat” instead of “tappaavat”? I thought that to conjugate the verb you had to obtain the stem by deleting the last -a / -ä of the infinitive form (tappa-) and then adding the personal suffix to conjugate it (-vat/-vät).

Last edited 2 months ago by Jose P
Inge (admin)

You are 100% correct! Thanks for pointing it out. 🙂