Finnish for busy people

Ainesanat – Uncountable Mass Nouns – Finnish Object and Complement

Both when studying the object and the complement (predikatiivi), you will run into the concept of mass nouns (ainesanat).

Table of Contents
  1. What is a mass noun?
  2. Why are mass nouns important in Finnish?
    1. Mass nouns as the object of a sentence
    2. Mass nouns as the subject of a complement sentence
  3. Types of mass nouns
    1. Liquids as mass nouns
    2. Other foods as mass nouns
    3. Substance nouns
    4. Product nouns
    5. Materials
  4. Word choice is important
  5. Part of whole – Don’t overuse it!
  6. Not mass nouns in Finnish!

1. What is a mass noun?

Some nouns are countable, while others can’t be counted. An example of an uncountable mass noun is kahvi. While you can count cups (kuppi), you can’t count the coffee itself. You can of course measure it in liters, but there is no such thing as one coffee, two coffees (at least not in the most stereotypical meaning).

Another way to think of it is through the idea of dividability. A mass noun is something that can be divided into multiple parts, yet still remain “the same”. If I cut a piece of fabric in two, I end up with two pieces of fabric. This makes fabric (kangas) a mass noun. In contrast, cutting a dress in two doesn’t give me two dresses.

Likewise, if I combine two glasses of water into a cup, the combination is still water; not “two waters”. In contrast, if I put two pens in a cup, I do end up with two pens.

Tests for mass nouns in English:

  • Mass nouns are quantified by an amount rather than a number (2 liters of water vs. 2 pens).
  • They have only one form (singular, no “milks”).
  • They cannot have “a”, “an”, or “one” before them as modifiers (“one milk”).

2. Why are mass nouns important in Finnish?

This is important in Finnish, because we will use the partitive case with mass nouns. You will see this in both object and complement sentences.

2.1. Mass nouns as the object of a sentence

When a mass noun like “coffee” is the object of a sentence, you will use the partitive case for it. This is because you’re using an undefined amount of it (#1). If you want to define the amount, you will use the container (eg. a cup, glass) as the object of the sentence. This container will appear in the genetive case because you use the whole container (#2).

# Finnish English
1 Juon kahvia. I drink coffee.
2 Juon kupin kahvia. I drink a cup of coffee.
1 Otan tee. I take tea.
2 Otan teepussin. I take a tea bag.

2.2. Mass nouns as the subject of a complement sentence

In sentences where the subject (eg. milk) is a mass noun, you will put the complement (eg. cold) in the partitive case (#1). In this situation it doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about “the milk” or “milk in general”. When the subject is countable (eg. a milk carton), your complement will appear in the basic form (#2).

# Finnish English
1 Maito on kylmää. (The) milk is cold.
2 Maitotölkki on kylmä. The milk carton is cold.
1 Hillo on makeaa. (The) jam is sweet.
2 Hillopurkki on pyöreä. The jam jar is round.

3. Types of Mass Nouns

Please note that the example sentences contain the default form used for each word. While this is the partitive case for all of these, there are situations where you could also use a different case. As a learner of Finnish, it’s often enough to be able to produce sentences similar to the examples. However, if you want a full view of what is possible, here’s a link to another article that contains more nuances. I advise against looking at the article until you are comfortable with the default case sentences.

3.1. Liquids as mass nouns

The most obvious group of mass nouns are of course the various liquids that exist. Some of these are very runny (eg. maito “milk”), while others are less so (eg. jogurtti “yoghurt”). In most situations, you will use the partitive form of these nouns in object sentences.

Please note that the example sentences contain the default form used for each word. While this is the partitive case for all of these, there are situations where you could also use a different case.

Finnish English Object sentence + Complement sentence
kahvi coffee Juon kahvia. Kahvi on kuumaa.
limsa lemonade Ostan limsaa. Limsa on makeaa.
maito milk Haluan maitoa. Maito on terveellis.
mehu juice Join mehua. Mehu on hapanta.
tee tea Juotko tee? Tee on hyvää.
kaakao cocoa Haluan kaakaota. Kaakao on kuumaa.
olut beer Ostan olutta. Olut on kylmää.
vesi water Juon vet. Vesi on raikasta.
öljy oil Tarvitsen öljyä. Öljy on tärkeää.
alkoholi alcohol Haluan alkoholia. Alkoholi on kallista.
likööri liquor Ostan likööriä. Likööri on makeaa.
viski whiskey Juon viskiä. Viski on pahaa.
neste liquid Tarvitset nestettä. Neste on kirkasta.
pesuaine detergent Ostan pesuainetta. Pesuaine on vihreää.
polttoaine fuel Tarvitsen polttoainetta. Polttoaine on tärkeää.
bensiini petrol, gas Tankkaan bensiiniä. Bensiini on kallista.
valkaisuaine bleach Ostan valkaisuainetta. Valkaisuaine on tehokasta.
puhdistusaine cleaner Ostan puhdistusainetta. Puhdistusaine on vahvaa.
väriaine dye Tarvitsen väriainetta. Väriaine oli kallista.
muste ink Otan mustetta. Muste on mustaa.
maali paint Ostan maalia. Maali on ruskeaa.
mahla sap Juon mahlaa. Mahla on juoksevaa.
melassi molasses Lisää veteen melassia. Melassi on paksua.
terva tar Tarvitsen tervaa. Terva on mustaa.
liemi stock Juon lien. Liemi on suolaista.
liima glue Ostan liimaa. Liima on tahmeaa.

3.2. Other foods as mass nouns

Many mass nouns are liquid foods, but there are also plenty of other foods that fall under the category. What matters when you’re considering if a noun is a mass noun is that – if you divide it in pieces – each piece is still whatever the mass noun is. Puuro “porrige” is still porridge when you take a spoonful of the stuff.

Finnish English Object sentence + Complement sentence
voi butter Laitan voita pannuun. Voi on sulaa.
margariini margarine Ostan margariina. Margariini on halpaa.
hunaja honey Otan hunajaa. Hunaja on makeaa.
siirappi syrup Ostan siirappia. Siirappi on tummaa.
kookosmaito coconut milk Haluan kookosmaitoa. Kookosmaito on hyvää.
kerma cream Ostan kermaa. Kerma on kallista.
jogurtti yoghurt Syön jogurttia. Jogurtti on maustamatonta.
sinappi mustard Otan sinappia. Sinappi on mietoa.
majoneesi mayonnaise Ostan majoneesia. Majoneesi on paksua.
ketsuppi ketchup Haluan ketsuppia. Ketsuppi on terveellisempää.
etikka vinegar Tarvitsen etikkaa. Etikka on hapanta.
hillo jam Syön hilloa. Hillo on makeaa.
keitto soup Syön keittoa. Keitto on herkullista.
riisi rice Syön riisiä. Riisi on terveellis.
juusto cheese Tarvitsen juustoa. Juusto on rasvaista.
puuro porridge Syön puuroa. Puuro on paksua.
spaghetti spaghetti Söin spaghettia. Spaghetti oli huonoa.
pasta pasta Syön pastaa. Pasta on herkullista.
jäätelö icecream Ostan jäätelöä. Jäätelö on kallista.
toffee taffy Haluan toffeeta. Toffee oli pehmeää.
kinuski butterscotch Haluan kinuskia. Kinuski on makeaa.
marsipaani marzipan Syön marsipaania. Marsipaani on hyvää.
sokeri sugar Tarvitsen sokeria. Sokeri on myrkyllis.
suola salt Ostan suolaa. Suola on epäterveellis.
jauhe powder Tarvitsen jauhetta. Jauhe on hienoa.

3.3. Substance Nouns

The following nouns refer to a substance. These are another interesting group because they don’t fit into the general pattern of countable versus uncountable nouns.

Things like dust, blood and sweat are definitely mass nouns. However, you’re generally wiping away the sweat, not just some sweat. This makes “the sweat” a total object; and object sentences require the genetive case.

Many of these substances are not the type of things you generally use with normal object verbs such as ostaa “to buy”, avata “to open”, ottaa “to take” or tarvita “to need”. If they were, we would theoretically use the partitive case: Ostan limaa “I buy mucus”, which would follow the general rule. Where possible, I have given an example of the partitive.

Finnish English Example
rasva grease Pyyhin rasvan pois. Rasva on kiiltävää.
lika dirt Poistan lian. Lika on sitkeää.
hiki sweat Pyyhin hien otsaltani. Hiki on kylmää.
lima mucus Pyyhin liman pois. Lima on vihreää.
räkä snot Pyyhin rään nenästä. Räkä on ällöttävää.
sylki saliva Pyyhin syljen pois. Sylki on paksua.
muta mud Pyyhin mudan saappaista. Muta oli pehmeää.
kura mud Pyyhin kuran pois. Kura oli kosteaa.
oksennus vomit Löysin oksennusta. Oksennus on vihreää.
veri blood Löysin verta sohvalta. Veri on punaista.
ruoste rust Löysin ruostetta katossa. Ruoste on ruskeaa.
home mold, mildew Löysin hometta kellarista. Home oli vihreää.
hiekka sand Tarvitsen hiekkaa. Hiekka on hienoa.
ruoho grass Kissa syö ruohoa. Ruoho on vihreää.
lumi snow Syön lunta. Lumi on valkoista.
sade rain Katsoin sadetta. Sade on märkää.
kaasu gas Haistan kaasua. Kaasu (polttoaine) oli halpaa.
happi oxygen Tarvitsen happea. Happi on välttämätön.
höyry steam, vapor Hengitin höyryä. Höyry on kuumaa.
löyly steam Heitin löylyä. Löyly oli kuumaa.

3.4. Product Nouns

The following is a special group of words that tend to diverge from the main rule, but for understandable reasons. All of these words are uncountable mass nouns. As such, you will say “I take medication, I buy perfume and I apply nail polish” using the partitive case for the object.

However, when describing what these substances are like, we typically use the basic form for the complement; not the partitive. You’re more likely to say that the perfume you bought was expensive than that perfume in general is expensive. However, while this seems logical, it makes these words different from – for example – coffee. For coffee, you will use the partitive case no matter if it’s a specific coffee or not.

Finnish English Example
lääke medicine Otan lääkettä. Lääke on kallis.
käsivoide cream, salve Ostin käsivoidetta. Käsivoide on hajusteeton.
hajuvesi perfume Ostin hajuvettä. Hajuvesi oli kallis.
hiuslakka hair spray Ostin hiuslakkaa. Hiuslakka oli hajusteeton.
kynsilakka nail polish Ostin kynsilakkaa. Kynsilakka oli punainen.
deodorantti deodorant Ostin deodoranttia. Deodorantti on liian tahmea.
aurinkovoide sun screen Ostin aurinkovoidetta. Aurinkovoide on vedenkestävä.
saippua soap Ostin saippuaa. Saippua on hyväntuoksuinen.

Note how suuvesi “mouth water” does have a partitive complement: Suuvesi on karvasta. This difference seems to be due to the fact that you take larger amounts of mouth water than you would of perfume. Perhaps this makes it more like “coffee”?

3.5. Materials

Another group of mass nouns are materials: eg. wood, plastic, aluminum. For these words, I’m not offering an object sentence like in the previous sections. Situations where you’ll for example buy raw metal, silicon or plastic are rare. Much more interesting are the complement sentences.

In Finnish, you can make two types of complement sentences with materials. Below, you will find an example of both types of complement sentences for each noun.

  • Firstly, you can describe what the material is like (eg. “paper is thick” or “gold is soft”). In these sentences, the material will be the subject of your complement sentence. The adjective describing it will be in its partitive form.
  • Secondly, you can describe that something is made out of the material. In these cases, the subject will be a concrete noun, while the complement is the material in its partitive form. This is for many learners of Finnish the more difficult, because English does not have a similar sentence construction. For example, the sentence tuoli on muovia will require you to use the words “is made of” in English.

Note how the first words in this list can also be used as regular nouns (glass vs. a glass). The examples provided are sentences about the material.

Finnish English Two types of complement sentence
lasi glass Lasi on haurasta. Maljakko on lasia.
paperi paper Paperi on paksua. Raha on paperia.
kipsi plaster Kipsi on valkoista. Muotti on kipsiä.
puu wood Puu on tummaa. Pöytä on puuta.
muovi plastic Muovi on kovaa. Tuoli on muovia.
kumi rubber Kumi on joustavaa. Saappaat ovat kumia.
silikoni silicone Silikoni on kestävää. Tutti on silikonia.
bambu bamboo Bambu on ekologista. Kahva on bambua.
laminaatti laminate Laminaatti on kestävää. Lattia on laminaattia.
vinyyli vinyl Vinyyli on halpaa. Lattia on vinyyliä.
betoni concrete Betoni on edullista. Lattia on betonia.
metalli metal Metalli on lujaa. Rikkalapio on metallia.
teräs steel Teräs on kovaa. Miekka on teräs.
kupari copper Kupari on myrkyllis. Kuori on kuparia.
hopea silver Hopea on kovempaa. Sormus on hopeaa.
kulta gold Kulta on pehmeää. Sormus on kultaa.
alumiini aluminum Alumiini on kevyt. Oluttölkki on alumiinia.
asetoni acetone Asetoni on vaarallista. Poistoaine on asetonia.
tina tin Tina on vaarallista. Kulho on tinaa.
savi clay Savi on haurasta. Lattia on savea.
kivi stone Kivi on haurasta. Ulkoseinä on kiveä.
kangas fabric Kangas on kestävää. Verho on kangasta.
sametti velvet Sametti on pehmeää. Matto on samettia.
nahka leather Nahka on kallista. Takki on nahkaa.
pellava linnen Pellava on lämmin. Pyyhe on pellavaa.
puuvilla cotton Puuvilla on valkoista. Lakana on puuvillaa.
villa wool Villa on lämmin. Sukat ovat villaa.
polyesteri polyester Polyesteri on kestävää. Teltta on polyesteria.
lateksi latex Lateksi on joustavaa. Pinta on lateksia.
silkki silk Silkki on kevyt. Lakanat ovat silkkiä.

4. Word choice is important

Sometimes there are several concrete, countable nouns that you can use in addition to the mass noun. Depending on the situation, you might want to diverge from calling all food ruokaa and use a different noun instead. Especially as your Finnish improves, it’s important to branch out and utilise a more varied vocabulary.

Finnish English Object sentence + Complement sentence
ruoka food Söin hyvää ruokaa. Ruoka on valmista.
annos portion Söin ison annoksen. Annos oli iso.
ateria meal Söin hyvän aterian. Ateria oli herkullinen.
aamupala breakfast Söin aamupalan. Aamupala oli terveellinen.
iltapala evening snack Söin iltapalan. Iltapala on epäterveellinen.
päivällinen dinner Söin päivällisen. Päivällinen oli lämmin.
illallinen supper Söin illallisen. Illallinen oli kylmä.
välipala snack Söin välipalan. Välipala oli liian pieni.
liha meat Ostan lihaa. Liha on kallista.
pihvi steak Ostan pihvin. Pihvi on kallis.
kyljys cutlet, chop Söin kyljyksen. Kyljys oli mehukas.
kala fish Ostan kalaa. Kala on tuoretta.
kalafilee fish fillet Ostin kalafileen. Filee oli tuore.
kalapuikko fish finger Söin kalapuikon. Kalapuikko oli hyvä.
leipä bread Söin leipää. Leipä oli tuoretta.
voileipä sandwich Söin voileivän. Voileipä oli tuore.
sämpylä bun Söin sämpylän. Sämpylä oli hyvä.
suklaa chocolate Söin suklaata. Suklaa on makeaa.
suklaapatukka chocolate bar Söin suklaapatukan. Suklaapatukka oli hyvä.
suklaalevy chocolate slab Ostin suklaalevyn. Suklaalevy oli iso.
suklaapala piece of chocolate Söin suklaapalan. Suklaapala oli makea.

5. Part or Whole – Don’t overuse it!

There are a few nouns that can be used both as concrete nouns and as mass nouns. I eat some cake (mass noun), but I buy the cake (countable noun). Sausage and bread can also be eaten both as a whole and in part.

Finnish English Object sentence + Complement sentence
makkara sausage Söin makkaraa. Makkara oli hyvää.
makkara sausage Söin makkaran. Makkara oli halpa.
kakku cake Söin kakkua. Kakku oli herkullista.
kakku cake Ostin kakun. Kakku oli pieni.
leipä bread Haluan leipää. Leipä on tuoretta.
leipä bread Ostan leivän. Leipä on pyöreä.

The tricky thing for you as a language learner is to know which nouns can be used like the words above and which ones can’t. For example, as said before, chocolate will be used with the partitive case.

A flexible mind could consider it both as a mass noun and a countable noun. However, this is generally not the case in Finnish: chocolate will not be used as a countable noun like the words in the table below. At least not normally. We will use suklaalevy or another similar countable noun in that case.

6. Not Mass Nouns in Finnish!

Last but not least, not all words that are mass nouns in English are automatically mass nouns in Finnish. For most of these, you will simply use a plural term.

For example, when English says “I will buy furniture”, the word furniture is a mass noun. In Finnish, the same phrase will generally be “Ostan huonekaluja” (I buy pieces of furniture). The word kalusto is a singular noun which you could see as the Finnish equivalent of “furniture”. However, the word kalusto doesn’t refer to any single piece of furniture, it’s always the collection.

English Plurals Singular
equipment laitteet, välineet, varusteet välineistö, varustus
furniture kalusteet, huonekalut kalusto
luggage, baggage matkatavarat pakaasi
trash, garbage roskat, jätteet
hair hiukset tukka
fruit hedelmät
silverware pöytähopeat, hopeat
cutlery ruokailuvälineet, aterimet
housework kotityöt, kotiaskareet

There are also nouns that are plural in both Finnish and English, but which are from a linguistic point of view not comparable. For example, sää “weather” could be seen as a mass noun, but it’s in fact not, as you can see from the example complement sentence.

Finnish English Singular
sää weather Sää on hyvä. Sää on pilvinen.
taivas sky Taivas on sininen. Taivas on kaunis.
avaruus space Avaruus on ääretön. Avaruus on pimeä.
ilmasto climate Ilmasto on kylmä. Ilmasto on uhattu.

Please also check out this!

The object and complement of mass nouns have more complications than this article shows. Learn more! Complications with Finnish Mass Nouns – Object and Complement

Read more elsewhere

 

This article doesn’t contain abstract nouns, which are the other important type of words that you need in order to make correct object and complement sentences. You will be able to find those in another article I plan to publish soon!

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