The Finnish Object – Objekti

The object is very important in Finnish. The lack of certain elements in the Finnish language is covered by the object.

For example, since Finnish doesn’t have a future tense, you can use the object to express whether something is going on right now, or sometime in the future. The object also is a way of differenciating between the English ”the” and ”a”; the definite and indefinite pronouns.

Table of Contents
  1. The Use of the Finnish Object
    1. Countables vs. uncountables
    2. Expressing completion vs incompletion
    3. Expressing intent
  2. The Different Finnish Object Types
    1. The Partitive Object
    2. The Total Object
    3. The Accusative: History and Controversy
  3. Comparison Between the Cases
    1. Partitive vs. Genetive
      1. Negative vs. affirmative sentences
      2. Partitive verbs
      3. Countable vs. uncountable objects
      4. Currently happening vs intention
    2. Genetive vs. Nominative
      1. The object of an imperative sentence
      2. The object of a necessity sentence
      3. The object of a passive sentence
    3. Plural Partitive vs. Plural Nominative

1. The Use of the Finnish Object

For many of these uses, we can use the same sentence as an example. This is due to the fact that the meaning of many of these sentences only becomes clear within the context of the sentence.

The functions of the Finnish object are often expressed by conjugating the verb in other languages, or by using pronouns.

1.1. Countables vs. Uncountables

Our first section is word-specific: countable and uncountable nouns will get a different grammatical case.

Finnish English Countable?
Me juomme viiniä. We are drinking wine. No: you drink SOME wine
Me juomme kupin kahvia. We are drinking a cup of coffee. Yes: you can count cups
Nainen syö juustoa. The woman eats cheese. No: she eats SOME cheese
Antti syö pihvin. Antti eats a steak. Yes: you can count steaks

1.1. Expressing Completion vs Incompletion

The object has is used to differentiate between whether an action was finished completely or left uncompleted.

Finnish English Complete?
Luin kirjaa. I was reading a/the book. Incomplete: still not done, or abandoned activity
Luin kirjan. I read the book. Complete: I finished the book
Katsoimme elokuvaa. We were watching a/the movie. Incomplete: still will continue, or abandoned activity
Katsoimme elokuvan. We watched the movie. Complete: we saw the movie until the end
Tähän rakennettiin taloa. A/the house was being built here. Incomplete: house is not done, abandoned project
Tähän rakennettiin talo. A/the house was built here. Complete: the house is ready, successful project
Ammuin karhua. I shot a/the bear. Incomplete: the bear is only wounded
Ammuin karhun. I shot a/the bear. Complete: the bear is now dead

1.2. Expressing Intent

Finnish doesn’t have a future tense. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t express future events or intent. You can learn the different ways to express intent more closely on our page about the future tense (1.3 covers the same thing as this page). On this page, we’ll just look at the object’s role in doing that.

Finnish English Intent?
Luen kirjaa. I’m reading a/the book. No explicit intent: currently happening
Luen kirjan. I will read the book. Intent: finishing the whole book
Katsomme elokuvaa. We’re watching a movie. No explicit intent: currently happening
Katsomme elokuvan. We will watch the movie. Intent: watching the whole movie
Tähän rakennetaan taloa. They’re building a house here. No explicit intent: currently happening
Tähän rakennetaan talo. A/the house will be built here. Intent: the house will be built completely

2. The Different Object Types

You will get a more detailed overview of when to use a partitive object and when a total object below. However, let’s first take a look at what both are.

2.1. The Partitive Object

The partitive is used for many things, eg. after numbers, in negative sentences and to express that something is incomplete. Our page on the partitive case should give you a nice overview about all these different situations.

2.2. The Total Object

The ”total object” (totaaliobjekti) has gotten that name because it expresses that something is happening to ”the whole” object (eg. syön omenan – I eat the whole apple). The total object can appear in several different forms. Depending on the sentence type, it can appear in the genetive case (omenan), the nominative case (omena) or the plural nominative (omenat).

2.3. The Accucative: History and Controversy

The case called ”the accusative” has been the cause of many arguments among linguists. Originally, the accusative was seen as a case that could have several different-looking endings based on the context. These endings were: -n (which looks like the genetive), -t (which looks like the T-plural) or no ending at all (which looks like the nominative). The reason these were all grouped under the accusative name was purely semantical: it was used to mark the total object of a sentence.

However, some linguists (and Finnish teachers) found that basing a case on its function was not the most logical way to look at it. Much easier would be to base it on its looks. Hence:

  • when a total object looks like a genetive (Ostan auton), we will the call the case the genetive
  • when a total object looks like the nominative (Osta auto), we will call the case the nominative
  • when a total object looks like the T-plural (Ostan autot), we will call the case the plural nominative.

This leaves the ”accusative” with a role that is much smaller than before. These days, the accusative is usually only used as a term to indicate personal pronouns, when they appear as a total object in a sentence.

  • Sinä kutsut minut juhliisi.
  • Minä kutsun sinut juhliini.
  • Me valitsemme hänet.
  • Pomo lomauttaa meidät.
  • Teidät on valittu meille töihin!
  • Hän näki heidät eläintarhassa.
  • Kenet valittiin puheenjohtajaksi?

3. Comparison Between the Cases

Let the battle of the cases begin! This is where the fun begins. If you have a very analytical mind, this will all make sense to you. However, don’t despair if you can’t grasp all of this at once. This is a complicated matter that will haunt you for a long time. Many immigrants will still be recognizable as non-native speakers by their object mistakes.

If you want to cheat a little bit, you could do what I did in the beginning, and just use the partitive whenever you’re not 100% sure which case is the right one. The partitive case is the most common form for objects to appear in, so you minimize your rate of error by going for the partitive in cases of doubt.

3.1. Partitive vs. Genetive

First and foremost: the partitive is the STRONGEST of all the case. By that I mean that — if there is any reason at all in the sentence to use the partitive, you should do so. It trumps all the other cases.

As such, the rules below should be seen as a HIERARCHY.

3.1.1. Negative vs. Affirmative Sentences

No matter what kind of an object sentence you are dealing with, it will have a partitive object as soon as the sentence is negative. This rule trumps over all the other rules.

Finnish English Negative?
En syö omenaa tänään. I won’t eat an apple today. Negative Sentence
Syön omenan. I’m eating an apple. Positive Sentence
Saara ei avannut ikkunaa. Saara didn’t open the window. Negative Sentence
Sami avasi ikkunan. Sami opened the window. Positive Sentence

3.1.2. Partitive Verbs

If the verb in your sentence is a partitive verb, you will put your object in the partitive case. This is true for both affirmative and negative sentences.

Finnish English Why?
Minä rakastan tä taloa. I love this house. Partitive verb: rakastaa
Minä ostan tämän talon. I buy this house. Object verb: ostaa
Liisa vihaa tietokonetta. Liisa hates the computer. Partitive verb: vihata
Liisa käynnistää tietokoneen. Liisa turns the computer on. Object verb: käynnistää

3.1.3. Countable vs. Uncountable Objects

If your sentence is a) affirmative and b) has an object verb, you will use the genetive for objects you can count (a cup, a chair, a glass or an apple). If the object is an uncountable (wine, cheese, rice or milk), you will use the partitive. Object verbs are for example: avata, sulkea, käynnistää, sammuttaa, ottaa, myydä, laittaa, antaa, syödä, juoda, ostaa, nostaa, and maalata.

For negative sentences refer to 3.1.1. and for partitive verbs refer to 3.1.2. — Eg. Me syömme pihvin vs Me emme syö pihviä.

Finnish English Why?
Me juomme viiniä. We are drinking wine. Uncountable: you drink SOME wine
Me juomme kupin kahvia. We are drinking a cup of coffee. Countable: you can count cups
Nainen syö juustoa. The woman eats cheese. Uncountable: she eats SOME cheese
Antti syö pihvin. Antti eats a steak. Countable: you can count steaks

3.1.4. Currently Happening vs. Intention

In a) an affirmative sentence with b) a countable noun, you will use the genetive when the sentence is referring to an intent to finish something, and the partitive when the action is currently happening.

Finnish English Why?
Luen kirjaa. I’m reading a/the book. Not completed: currently happening
Luen kirjan. I will read the book. Completed: intent is to finish the whole book
Katsomme elokuvaa. We’re watching a movie. Not completed: currently happening
Katsomme elokuvan. We will watch the movie. Completed: intent is to watch the whole movie

3.2. Genetive vs. Nominative

According to the old rule, a total object that looks like a genetive or a nominative, are both called the acccusative (see 2.3.). However, we will not use that term ”accusative”, as explained in 2.3.

In some sentence types where you would expect the object to look like a genetive (”Ostan auton”), the nominative (the basic form) trumps the genetive (”Osta auto!”). Let’s look at those situations below!

3.2.1. The Object of an Imperative Sentence

In imperative sentences, you will remove the -n from the object.

Genetive Imperative Type of Imperative
Minä ostin auton. Osta auto! ”Buy the car!” Singular imperative
Me avaamme oven. Avatkaa ovi! ”Open the door!” Plural imperative

3.2.2. The Object of a Necessity Sentence

There is a whole range of ways to express necessity. They all have in common that there object will not appear in the genetive.

Genetive Necessity
Minä ostin auton. Minun täytyy ostaa auto.
Me avaamme oven. Meidän on pakko avata ovi.
Sinä myyt tietokoneen. Sinun on myytävä tietokone.
Antti ottaa lasin. Antin kannattaa ottaa lasi.

3.2.3. The Object of a Passive Sentence

Passive sentences will also come with an object that looks like the nominative. You can learn more about the present passive, the past passive and the passive conditional elsewhere.

Genetive Passive
Minä ostin auton. Me ostettiin auto.
Me avaisimme oven. Ovi avattaisiin.
Sinä myyt tietokoneen. Myydään tietokone!
Antti ottaa lasin. Baarissa otetaan lasi.

3.3. Plural Partitive vs. Plural Nominative

When your object is a plural, you have two cases to choose from: the plural partitive (omenoita) and the plural nominative (omenat). Luckily, this is fairly easy: you use the T-plural when you’re talking about all the things and the partitive plural when you’re talking about many but not all.

In some cases you can also use the T-plural to refer to a plural subject you were talking about earlier. Eg. ”Ostan kaupasta vaatteet.” usually doesn’t mean that you buy ALL the clothes in the store, but rather that you buy the clothes you were talking about earlier.

One other trick to figure out which one of the two you should use: the T-plural will usually have ”the” in front of the object when translated to English.

Finnish English
Syön omenat. I eat (all) the apples.
Syön omenoita. I eat (several) apples.
Siirrän tietokoneet varastoon. I move (all) the computers to the storehouse.
Siirrän tietokoneita varastoon. I move (several) computers to the storehouse.
Tässä kaupassa myydään puhelimia. In this store they sell phones.
Tässä kaupassa myydään puhelimet. In this store they sell the phones (we talked about before).
Ostan kaupasta T-paitoja. I buy T-shirts from the store.
Ostan kaupasta T-paidat. I buy the T-shirts from the store.

PS: I don’t know how long this will be available online, but finteresting.net has a really helpful flow chart to help you figure out what case to use for the object!

That’s it for the Finnish object! Do you have any questions?

Let me know in the comments!

 

2 Comments

  • Can you explain on sinut, minut, hanet and so on?

    I would like to know when to use them

    • Hei Sebastian! You can read a little about the accusative (which is the minut, sinut, hänet thing) on this page in 2.3. I am planning to make a separate page for it as well, so you’ll see that eventually!

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