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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.

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

4. Limitations on Consonant Gradation

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 (mina tanssin, hän tanssii).

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.


Patron Perks

Would you like a printable version of this page to use offline? Consider signing up for Patreon! Patrons have access to a 19-page file about all the different kinds of consonant gradation that exist in Finnish. Don’t pass up this opportunity!

It contains all these topics:

  1. Wordtype A consonant gradation
  2. Wordtype B consonant gradation
  3. Verbtype 1 consonant gradation
  4. Verbtype 3 consonant gradation
  5. Verbtype 4 consonant gradation
  6. Why doesn’t siivota because “siipoan”?
  7. Verbtype 6 consonant gradation

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Michael Hämäläinen
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… Read more »

Inge (admin)
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
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?!