Finnish for busy people

Vowel Harmony Exceptions – Vokaaliharmonia

The vowel harmony rules are fairly clear and apply to most Finnish words. However, there are certain groups of words that do not follow these rules. The confusion is mainly caused by loanwords that have been adopted into Finnish without being adjusted to follow the vowel harmony rules. In this article, we will look at the different groups of vowel harmony exceptions.

Table of Contents
  1. Meri and veri in the partitive
  2. Mixed vowel words
    1. Mixed vowels within derivations
    2. Mixed vowels within loanwords
  3. The inflection of mixed vowel words
      1. Kilometri-type words
      2. Appelsiini-type words
      3. Words with two options
      4. Words with a mixed spelling and pronunciation

1. Meri ja veri in the partitive

Meri and veri are two small exceptions, perfect to start this list about vowel harmony exceptions off with! The singular partitive of these two words will be different from their other inflective forms:

  • meri (sea): merta, meressä, merellä
  • veri (blood): verta, veressä, verestä

I don’t know why these two words behave that way!

2. Mixed vowel words

2.1. Mixed vowels within derivations

There is a fairly large group of Finnish words that will follow the vowel harmony rules in their root form, but will be an exception when derivated. These words have the neutral vowels E and I in their first syllable, and in their root form, the second syllable will abide the vowel harmony rule. However, when you derive a word from them, the rules are broken. For example:

  • heittää > heitto
  • siirtää > siirto
  • kiittää > kiitos
  • itkeä > itku
  • kerää– > keruu
  • lepää– > lepo

2.2. Mixed vowels within loanwords

When words get adopted from other languages, they sometimes retain the vowel sounds of the original language, despite the fact that they break the vowel harmony rules. In these words A, O and U mix with Ä, Ö and Y.

  • ana-lyysi – analysis
  • hya-sintti – hyacinth
  • o-lym-pialaiset – olympics
  • pa-py-rus – papyrus
  • po-lyyp-pi – polyp
  • sym-metria – symmetry
  • föö-nata – hair-drying
  • pas-tö-roida – pasteurize
  • konduk-töö-ri – conductor

3. The Inflection of Mixed Vowel Words

Words with mixed vowels can be real head-scratchers when you want to inflect them in the Finnish cases or add a suffix. Often there is no strict rule as to which vowels should be used in the suffixes. Both options can be allowed, and the way people pronounce the words can differ.

3.1. Kilometri-type words

Loanwords where you can clearly tell that they consist of two words will follow the vowel harmony rules, and have the suffix use the vowel that is in harmony with the second part of the compound word. When it’s not as clear, both vowels are usually possible. That’s why kilometri (kilo+metri) will always be kilometrejä, but hypoteesi can be either hypoteeseja or hypoteesejä.

Nominative Partitive
kilometri kilo-metriä
fotosynteesi foto-synteesiä

3.2. Appelsiini-type words

There is a fairly large amount of loanwords with four syllables or more which often have A, O or U in their first syllable, and will always get A, O or U when they are inflected (e.g. appelsiini, appelsiineja). This is true for most words ending in: ‑eeni, ‑beeni, ‑neesi, ‑teetti, ‑letti, -nelli, -mentti, ‑tentti, ‑kiini, -liini, ‑miini, -riini, -siini, -tiivi, -veri, ‑risti.

Nominative Inflected form
amuletti amuletteja
assistentti assistenteja
krysanteemi krysanteemeja
paralleeli paralleeleja
paraabeli paraabeleja
revolveri revolvereita
mannekiini mannekiineja
trampoliini trampoliineja
vitamiini vitamiineja
appelsiini applesiineja
adjektiivi adjektiiveja
bolsevikki bolsevikkeja
krusifiksi krusifikseja
pyramidi pyramideja
humoristi humoristeja
sosialisti sosialisteja
reumatismi reumatismia

 3.3. Words with two options

Nominative Option #1 Option #2
analyyttinen analyyttista analyyttistä
hieroglyfi hieroglyfeilla hieroglyfeillä
anonyymi anonyymia anonyymiä
parfyymi parfyymista parfyymistä
hypoteesi hypoteesia hypoteesiä

3.4. Words with a mixed spelling and pronunciation

There are words that have retained their original spelling, and in which the vowels can be pronounced in two ways.

For these, in spoken language, you’re more likely to hear the Finnish pronounciation with the suffix that follows the vowel harmony rules. For example the word “jet lag” will be pronounced “jet läg”. When adding the partitive marker, in spoken language, you will hear “jet lägiä“.

In contrast, in writing, it’s more likely for these words to follow vowel harmony based on how the words are written. For “jet lag” that means “jet lagia“.

Written form Pronunciation Option #1 Option #2
beagle biigle beaglea beagleä
cheerleader chiirliider cheerleaderia cheerleaderiä
jet lag jet läg jet lagia jet lagiä
lady leidi ladya ladyä
management mänägement managementia managementiä
quiche kish quichea quicheä
stuntman stöntmän stuntmania stuntmaniä

Hopefully this article helped you understand what the vowel harmony exceptions in Finnish look like and when they occur.

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Thanks for the article. However it doesn’t touch on one of the most mysterious features – words like “minkälainen” and “millainen” that you’d expect to use “-äinen” instead. Is “ainen” just a highly fixed morpheme and “äinen” doesn’t exist?

Inge (admin)

“Minkälainen” is indeed strange. I haven’t been able to find an explanation for it. It consists of the word “mikä” (genitive form = minkä) and the suffix -lainen (the same suffix you get in “suomalainen”). In spoken Finnish, people will often say “minkäläinen”, but it’s written as “minkälainen”.

“Millainen” is just a regular word, it doesn’t defy the vowel harmony rules. Simular to “kiva” (nice), “limsa” (lemonade) and “kihara” (curly).


According to Wiktionary, the suffix -lainen in “minkälainen” is different than that in “suomalainen” and is derived from the word “laji” meaning sort, kind. Therefore, the words that contain that suffix are more like compound words, where the vowel harmony applies only to each part of the word separately but not to the whole word. There is even a list of words suffixed with -lainen used for similarity as opposed to other usages where -lainen changes according to the vowel harmony.

Last edited 1 year ago by Marcin
Inge (admin)

I see! That list is very interesting.


I’ve heard the same explanation. On those disharmonic -lainen-words the first part is in genitive case, while in harmonic words the first part is in basic form or in so called composite case (saksalainen, oululainen, BUT suomalainen, venäläinen).
The disharmonic -lainen words have originally been two separate words: hyvän lajinen > hyvänlajinen > hyvänlainen. Minkä lajinen > minkälajinen > minkälainen. Even: tämän lajinen > tämänlajinen > tämänlainen > tänlainen > tällainen. Also minkälainen still shortened to millainen.


Thanks Marcin and Jukka. This “laji-nen” -> “lainen” derivation really explains a lot. I don’t even see the need for saying proto-Finnic had its own “-lainen” suffix already because that could have come from the same development (unless there was no “laji” in proto-Finnic I guess; I’m sure the scholars have their reasons). And the different structures of the compound words and their stems explains well why some get harmonized and some don’t.


Could konsertti be a kind of appelsiini-type word, even though it has only three syllables ?

I was wondering why one writes konsertissa and not konsertissä, but I could find no explanation for it except possibly that the o in the first syllable causes the a in -ssa to be open as well.

Thank you for this wonderful website !

Last edited 1 year ago by Bruno

Question please why do we use “a” instead of “ä” in heinäkuussa? Thanks.

Inge (admin)

It’s a compound word, consisting of heinä and kuu. For words like this, you will use -ssa when the last word has an A/O/U. The ä from heinä doesn’t influence the ending.


Oh…so good to know. You are the best. Thank you.


Question please. Why does “Itävallassa” use “ssa” instead of “ssä? I’m so confused. Thank you for your wisdom.

Inge (admin)

All of this is explained in the article I linked for your other comment: Vowel harmony
itä+valta see section 3, sekö see section 2 second table


One more please. The word “Etkö“, why don’t we use “o” instead of “ö“? Thanks.


No A, O, or U in the stem of the word.