Finnish for busy people

Hyllyllä or Hyllyssä? Pöydässä or Pöydällä?

If you’ve been studying the location cases for a while, you might notice some things that seem strangely inconsistent in the usage of them. Sometimes Finns deviate from what you’d think is correct. After all, you’ve been studying pöydällä, so what’s this pöydässä suddenly? Is it hyllyllä or hyllyssä? This article deals with this type of case differences.

Read this comparison of the location cases (missä mistä mihin) if you’re new to the topic!

Table of Contents
  1. Hyllyllä or hyllyssä?
  2. Pöydällä or pöydässä?
  3. Sängyssä or sängyllä?
  4. Kirjakaupassa or kirjakaupalla?
  5. Koulussa or koululla?
  6. Bussissa or bussilla?
  7. Katossa or katolla?
  8. Taivaassa or taivaalla?

1. Hyllyllä or hyllyssä?

The word hylly has two meanings that are nearly identical. A hylly can be a shelf, and it can be a bookcase. Of course a bookcase has several shelves in it. This double meaning is important when trying to decide between hyllyssä and hyllyllä.

The regular rule for inner and outer location cases states that –ssA is used for when you’re inside and –llA for when you’re on or at something (or outside). Compare that to a shelf and a bookcase. A book can be on a shelf (hyllyllä), but also in a bookcase (hyllyssä).

Finnish English
Kirja on hyllyllä. The book is on the shelf.
Otan kirjan hyllyltä. I take the book from the shelf.
Laitan kirjan hyllylle. I put the book on the shelf.
Kirja on kirjahyllyssä. The book is in the bookcase.
Otan kirjan hyllystä. I take the book from the bookcase.
Laitan kirjan hyllyyn. I put the book in the bookcase.

2. Pöydällä or pöydässä?

Of these two, pöydällä is probably the one you’re most familiar with: things are generally on a table. However, there is also a specific use for the form pöydässä. When people are sitting at a table, we will be using the –ssA form.

Yes, literally that means that we’re sitting in the table, but that’s a more accurate description than if we’d say on the table, because that already has its own meaning. The –ssA form is not just used for when something is inside, but also when things are really close or connected to one another. When you’re sitting at the table, you’re really close to it.

Finnish English
Kirja on pöydällä. The book is on the table.
Otan kirjan pöydältä. I take the book from the table.
Laitan kirjan pöydälle. I put the book on the table.
Istuimme pöydässä. We sat at the table.
Nousen pöydästä. I get up from the table.
Tulkaa pöytään! Come sit at the table (and eat)!

3. Sängyssä or sängyllä?

This one should be fairly straightforward when you think about the general rule of both cases: the -ssA form is used when you’re in some place, while -llA is used as on. At night, you sleep in your bed, but you can nap or read a book on the bed.

Finnish English
Nukuin sängyssä. I slept in the bed.
Hyppään sänkyyni. I jump into my bed.
Nousin sängystä. I got up from bed.
Makaan sängyllä. I’m laying on the bed.
Menen istumaan sängylle. I go to sit on the bed.
Nousin sängyltä. I got up from the bed.

4. Kirjakaupassa or kirjakaupalla?

When someone is near something, we can use -llA. If you’re meeting a friend kirjakaupassa, you’re meant to meet inside the store. In contrast, meeting them kirjakaupalla means you’re meeting them just outside of the bookstore, maybe near the front door or in the near vicinity of it.

Finnish English
Odotan sinua kirjakaupassa. I’ll wait for you in the bookstore.
Ostan kirjan kirjakaupasta. I buy a book from the bookstore.
Astun kirjakauppaan. I step inside the bookstore.
Odotan sinua kirjakaupalla. I’ll wait for you near the bookstore.
Saavuin kirjakaupalle. I arrived at the bookstore.
Lähdin kirjakaupalta. I left from the bookstore.

5. Koulussa or koululla?

Buildings that have a specific function (like an office or a school) can get both -ssA and -llA. The former is used to say that someone is performing the function, while the latter is just referring to the location. That may sound complicated but consider this example:

  • Äiti on toimistossa. “Mother is at the office (working).”
  • Äiti on toimistolla. “Mother is at the office (maybe just chatting, or taking care of affairs).”
Finnish English
Poika on koulussa. The boy is at (in) school (studying).
Poika pääsee koulusta. The boy gets out of school.
Poika menee kouluun. The boy is going to school.
Poika leikkii koululla. The boy is playing at the school building.
Poika lähtee koululta. The boy leaves the school building area.
Poika menee koululle. The boy goes to the school building area.

6. Bussissa or bussilla?

When using bussissa, you’re referring to the bus as a place you are inside of. In contrast, bussilla expresses that you are traveling by bus: it’s a mode of transportation. There is no clear concrete use for bussilta or bussille.

Finnish English
Minä istun bussissa. I’m sitting in the bus.
Minä jään pois bussista. I’m getting off the bus.
Minä nousen bussiin. I’m getting on the bus.
Matkustan bussilla. I’m traveling by bus.
Bussilta lähti rengas irti. A tire got off the bus.
Annan bussille tietä. I let the bus pass.

7. Katossa or katolla?

I think the difference between katossa and katolla two is neat! Finnish doesn’t have a separate word for ceiling and roof. When talking about the ceiling, we will use the inner location cases (katossa). When talking about the roof, we will use the outer location cases (katolla).

Finnish English
Katossa on lamppu. There’s a lamp on the ceiling.
Lamppu putosi katosta. The lamp fell from the ceiling.
Kiinnitän lampun kattoon. I attach the lamp to the ceiling.
Katolla on kissa. There’s a cat on the roof.
Kissa hyppää katolta. The cat jumps off the roof.
Kiipeän katolle. I climb on the roof.

8. Taivaassa or taivaalla?

This is another case of Finnish using the same word for two separate things: taivas can mean both “sky” (with –llA) and “heaven” (with –ssA).

Finnish English
Isä meidän, joka olet taivaassa. Our Father who art in heaven.
Mummo meni taivaaseen. Grandma went to heaven.
Raamattu ei tippunut taivaasta. The Bible didn’t fall from heaven.
Taivaalla on pilviä. There are clouds in the sky.
Taivaalta sataa hienoista lunta. Fine snow falls from the sky.
Musta savu nousi taivaalle. The black smoke rose to the sky.
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I don’t understand the difference between: Istun tuolilla / Istun tuolille.
From the information provided here, both would mean sitting on a chair.

Inge (admin)

This page deals with the difference between -ssa and -lla. Your problem is a little different (-lla and -lle). -lla means a static location, you are sitting down on a chair (tuolilla). -lle means you are moving to the chair, you were standing and now you’re in the process of sitting down (tuolille). I hope that helps!


“There is no clear concrete use for bussilta or bussille.”

Hain hänet bussilta. Tältä bussilta odotetaan ainakin kymmenen vuoden käyttöikää.

Vein hänet bussille. Tälle bussille tarvitaan huolto.

Inge (admin)

Hmmm, I wouldn’t call the second example of each of these concrete. Then again, maybe I’m nitpicking. I’m not sure why I specifically wanted concrete examples. I think my original reasoning was that this article is aimed at beginners. I love the hakea and viedä examples though!


It’s intersting that the difference between “katossa” and “katollla” in Finnish is analogous to the difference between “i taket” and “på taket” in Swedish. The word “tak” in Swedish also can mean either “ceiling” or “roof” depending on the preposition. I wonder if there was some influence in one direction or another. The words “katto” and “tak” are not related though. But sometimes languages that are unrelated but geographically close share some common features, which exist not only due to borrowing words.

Inge (admin)

Wow, that’s really interesting! Thanks for sharing this tidbit.


What is the difference between istua pöydässä and pöydän ääressä?


When ”istua pöydässä” there is some kind of happening going on, a meal or a company drinking wine etc. So a person takes part of that company and action around the table.
”Pöydän ääressä” is just an exact local expression, sitting there alone or with friends.


Also ”maassa” and ”maalla” have different meanings. You use ”maassa, maasta, maahan” when speaking about a country or state. And the triplet ”maalla, maalta, maalle” is used about countryside.
Same way ”maahanmuuttaja” means an immigrant while ”maallemuuttaja” is an urban person that moves to live in the rural environment.


What would be the difference between olen kaupungilla and olen kaupungissa?

Inge (admin)

Olen kaupungissa = I am in a/the city, just the location I’m in (rather than e.g. at the countryside or in a village)
Olen kaupungilla = I’m in the city e.g. running errants or shopping