Finnish for busy people

Complications with Finnish Mass Nouns – Object and Complement

Mass nouns (ainesanat) will require the partitive case in both object sentences and complement sentences. That’s the main rule. Unfortunately, there are some complications with this rule.

Please get acquainted with the default rule first!

The cause of the complications is simple: occasionally these mass nouns will have an unsaid connotation. For example, Juon kahvin has the unsaid connotation that we’re talking about one coffee cup. This is, however, a deviation from the rule. The default case is and stays the partitive.

I hope the examples below will help you understand the difference between these case choices. Please do realize that you can’t go wrong with the partitive. Everything else is a stylistic choice, which isn’t necessary:

  • The main rule (the default form) for mass nouns as the object of a sentence is that they appear in the partitive case. The object, however, is quite forgiving and will sometimes allow you to deviate from the rule and use the genetive case to mean all of the uncountable noun.
  • The main form for mass nouns as the complement is also the partitive case. Here, you will generally not be able to use the basic form, even if you can do so in the object sentence. There are words where both the partitive and the basic form work, but these are much less common.
Table of Contents
  1. Food items
    1. The default rule
    2. Coffee and other drinks – Kahvi
    3. Butter – Voi
    4. Food – Ruoka
    5. Bread – Leipä
    6. Porridge – Puuro
    7. Chocolate – Suklaa
    8. Cake – Kakku
  2. Materials
    1. The default rule
    2. Glass – Lasi
    3. Paper – Paperi
    4. Fabric – Kangas
    5. Stone – Kivi
  3. Substances
    1. The default rule
    2. Sweat – Hiki
    3. Blood – Veri
    4. Smoke – Savu
    5. Snow – Lumi

1. Food items – Complications with Objects and Complements

1.1. The Default Rule

The word alkoholi is a good example of the default rules for the object and the complement. When we’re dealing with an uncountable food, we will use the partitive case. The word alkoholi and many other words like it don’t have the variation that the other words listed further down have.

# Description Finnish English
1 Object Juon alkoholia. I drink alcohol.
2 Complement Alkoholi on vaarallista. Alcohol is dangerous.

1.2. Coffee (and other drinks) – Kahvi

Related words that are countable: kahvikuppi “coffee cup”.

# Description Finnish English
1 Default Juon kahvia. I drink coffee.
2 All of it Juo kahvisi! Drink your coffee!
2 One Ostan kahvin. I buy a coffee.
2 One Ostan kupin kahvia. I buy a cup of coffee.
3 Complement Kahvi on kuumaa. The coffee is hot.
3 Complement Kahvini on kylmää. My coffee is cold.
  • The default form for drinks as the object of a sentence (eg. after the verbs ostaa or juoda) is the partitive case, because drinks are uncountable. You drink some coffee (#1).
  • However, we can use a regular total object when the unsaid connotation is that we’re talking about one cup of coffee (#2). Cups are countable, so we use the genetive case.
  • In complement sentences, however, we will use the partitive exclusively, even when we mean one cup of coffee (#3).

1.3. Butter – Voi

Related nouns that are countable: voipaketti “butter package”.

# Description Finnish English
1 Default Syön voita, en margariinia. I eat butter, not margarine.
2 Specific amount Säilytän voin jääkaapissa. I keep the butter in the fridge.
3 Specific amount Laitan voin sulamaan mikroon. I melt the butter in the microwave.
3 Specific amount Lisää voi taikinaan! Add the butter to the batter!
4 Complement Voi on terveellis. Butter is healthy.
4 Complement Voi oli kermaista. The butter was creamy.
  • The default form for butter as the object of a sentence (eg. after the verbs ostaa or juoda) is the partitive case, because butter is uncountable. You eat some butter (#1).
  • However, we can use a regular total object when the unsaid connotation is that we’re talking about one package of butter (#2). Packages are countable, so we use the genetive case.
  • In recipes, the ingredient list will specify the amount of butter needed. After that, we’re talking about the specific amount of butter mentioned before, so we use a total object (#3). Note how in an imperative sentence, we use the basic form (which is the regular object rule).
  • In complement sentences, however, we will use the partitive exclusively, even when we mean a specific amount of butter (#4).

1.4. Food – Ruoka

Related words that are countable: ateria “meal”, annos “portion”, aamupala “breakfast”, lounas “lunch”, päivällinen “dinner”, illallinen “supper”, välipala “snack”.

# Description Finnish English
1 Default Syön hyvää ruokaa. I eat good food.
2 All of it Syön ruoan. I (will) eat the food.
2 All of it Syön ruoan loppuun. I finish eating the food.
3 All of them Laitan ruoat jääkaappiin. I put the foods in the fridge.
4 Complement Ruoka on herkullista. The food is delicious.
4 Complement Ruoka on kallista. Food is expensive.
  • The default form for food as the object of a sentence (eg. after the verbs ostaa or syödä) is the partitive case, because food is uncountable (#1).
  • When talking about a whole meal as the object, we generally use the word ateria: Syön aterian “I eat the meal”. We can also use the name of the meal: eg. aamupala “breakfast” or lounas “lunch”. Occasionally, the word ruoka can be used in lieu of the name of the meal. In that case it will have same form as the actual name of the meal: Söin aamupalan → Söin ruoan (#2).
  • When we’re talking about a multitude of foods (eg. multiple dishes or multiple packages) as the object, we can use the T-plural to express that we, for example, put all the foods in the fridge (#3).
  • In complement sentences, once again, we will use the partitive exclusively, even when we mean a specific amount of food (#4).

1.5. Bread – Leipä

Related words that are countable: voileipä “sandwich”, sämpylä “bun”, limppu “loaf”.

# Description Finnish English
1 Default Syön leipää. I eat bread.
1 Default Syön tuoretta leipää. I eat fresh bread.
2 Specific amount Söin leipäni loppuun. I ate my whole bread/sandwich.
3 One Söin leivän kokonaan. I ate the whole bread.
4a Complement Leipä oli tuore. The bread was fresh (specific loaf).
4b Complement Leipä on herkullista. Bread is delicious (in general).
  • The default form for bread as the object of a sentence (eg. after the verbs ostaa or syödä) is the partitive case, because bread is uncountable (#1).
  • Sometimes, you can come across cases when the word leipä is used in lieu on voileipä “sandwich”. Sandwiches can be counted, so in this case, we can use the genetive case (#2).
  • You will rarely eat a whole loaf of bread, but if you were to do so, we can use the genetive for this too (#3).
  • The word for “loaf” in Finnish is limppu, but it’s rare to come across this word. As such, Finnish utilizes the word leipä both for the mass noun “bread” (#4b) and for the countable “loaf” (#4a). That’s why you can have both the basic form and the partitive case for the complement.

1.6. Porridge – Puuro

# Description Finnish English
1 Default Söin puuroa. I ate porridge.
2 All of it Joku on syönyt puuroni! Somebody has eaten my porridge!
3 Complement Puuro on terveellis. Porridge is healthy.
3 Complement Puuro on kuumaa. The porridge is hot.
  • The default form for puuro as the object of a sentence is the partitive case: it’s an uncountable mass noun: you eat some porridge (#1).
  • When you want to stress that the whole (portion of) porridge gets eaten, we use the total object. Portions are countable, even if porridge isn’t (#2).
  • In complement sentences we will use the partitive case both when we’re talking about porridge in general and about a certain portion of porridge (#3).

1.7. Chocolate – Suklaa

Related words that are countable: suklaapatukka “chocolate bar”, suklaalevy “chocolate slab”, suklaapala “piece of chocolate”.

# Description Finnish English
1 Default Söin suklaata. I ate chocolate.
2 One Söin suklaapatukan. I ate a chocolate bar.
3 Complement Suklaa on makeaa. Chocolate is sweet.
  • The default object form for suklaa is the partitive case: it’s an uncountable mass noun: you eat some chocolate (#1).
  • Unlike porridge and bread (see above), eating “one portion of chocolate” isn’t really a thing. That’s why saying “Syön suklaan” doesn’t work. Instead, you will use something like suklaapalan (a piece of chocolate) or suklaalevyn (a bar of chocolate) (#2).
  • In complement sentences we will use the partitive case (#3).

1.8. Cake – Kakku

Related words that are countable: kakkupala or kakkupalanen “piece of cake”.

# Description Finnish English
1 Default Söin kakkua. I ate cake.
2 All of it Söin kakun. I ate the cake.
3 One Söin kakkupalan. I ate a piece of cake.
4a Complement Kakku on epäterveellis. Cake is unhealthy. (in general)
4b Complement Kakku on pyöreä. The cake is round. (a specific cake)
  • The default object form for kakku is the partitive case: it’s an uncountable mass noun: you eat some cake (#1).
  • If you eat the whole cake all by yourself, you can use the genetive case (#2). This does mean the whole cake though, not just a piece of cake.
  • In contrast, the word kakkupala is countable (eg. I eat two pieces of cake). As such, the genetive case is used (#3).
  • In complement sentences we will use the partitive case for cake in general, or a piece of cake (#3a), while we will describe whole cakes with the basic form (#3b).

2. Materials – Complications with Objects and Complements

2.1. The Default Rule

Generally, material will appear in the partitive no matter what. Gold (kultaa) is a good example of this. We will use the partitive case in all circumstances.

# Description Finnish English
1 Object Ostin kultaa. I bought gold.
2 Object Tarvitsen kultaa. I need gold.
2 Complement Kulta on painavaa. Gold is heavy.
3 Complement Sormus on kultaa. The ring is made of gold.

2.2. Glass – Lasi

# Description Finnish English
1 Object Ostin lasin. I bought a/the glass.
1 Material Ostin lasia. I bought glass (?).
2 Complement Lasi on painava. The glass is heavy.
2 Material Lasi on haurasta. Glass is delicate (in general).
3 Material Ovi on lasia. The door is made of glass.
  • Lasi can be both a countable object (eg. a whine glass) and a material (eg. a glass roof). When we are referring to the object, we will use the genetive case. When we mean the material, we use the partitive. For glass, it’s fairly unusual to buy the substance, unless you’re a glass blower or something (#1).
  • In complement sentence, we will use the basic form when we’re referring to the object, and the partitive when we’re describing the material in general (#2).
  • Thirdly, we can use complement sentences to explain what material something is made of. You will always use the partitive case for this (#3).

2.2. Paper – Paperi

# Description Finnish English
1 Object Otin paperin. I took a/the piece of paper.
2 Some Otin paperia. I took some paper.
2 Unspecified Tarvitsen paperia. I need paper.
3a One Paperi on paksu. The specific piece of paper is thick.
3b Some Paperi on paksua. The paper is thick. (stack of it)
3c In general Paperi on kallista. Paper is expensive.
4 Material Raha on paperia. Money is made of paper.
  • Paper can refer to a specific piece of paper. If so, we will put it in the genetive case when it appears as the object of the sentence (#1).
  • In contrast, if you take some paper or need paper in general, you will put the object in the partitive case (#2).
  • For complement sentences, we can describe the quality of one specific piece of paper (#3a). We can also descibe the quality of a specific pile or stack of paper (#3b). Thirdly, we can talk about paper in general (#3c).
  • We can also use complement sentences to explain what material something is made of. You will always use the partitive case for this (#4).

2.3. Fabric – Kangas

# Description Finnish English
1 Object Ostin kankaan. I bought the fabric / a piece of fabric.
2 Unspecified Ostin kangasta. I bought fabric.
3a One Kangas on laadukas. The piece of fabric is high-quality.
3b Some Kangas on laadukasta. The fabric is high-quality (roll of it).
3c In general Kangas on kallista. Fabric is expensive.
4 Material Verho on kangasta. The curtain is made of fabric.
  • Fabric can refer to a specific piece of fabric. If so, we will put it in the genetive case when it appears as the object of the sentence (#1).
  • In contrast, if you buy some fabric, you will put the object in the partitive case (#2).
  • For complement sentences, we can describe the quality of one specific piece of fabric (#3a). We can also descibe the quality of a specific roll of fabric (#3b). Thirdly, we can talk about fabric in general (#3c).
  • We can also use complement sentences to explain what material something is made of. You will always use the partitive case for this (#4).

2.4. Kivi – Stone

# Description Finnish English
1 Object Nostan kiven maasta. I lift a stone from the ground.
2 Unspecified Laitan kiveä etureunaan. I put stone at the leading edge.
3a One Kivi on sileä. The stone is smooth.
3b In general Kivi on pehmeää. Stone is soft.
4 Material Seinä on kiveä. The wall is made out of stone.
  • Generally, when kivi is the object of your sentence, you’re referring to an actual stone, which is a countable thing. In these cases, we will use the genetive case for the object (#1).
  • However, in construction or yard design, you might talk about stone as a building material. That’s when you’ll use the partitive case (#2).
  • The same counts for complements: we can talk of a specific stone (#3a) and use the basic form, or about stone as a substance (#3b) and use the partitive case.
  • We can also use complement sentences to explain what material something is made of. You will always use the partitive case for this (#4).

3. Substances – Complications with Objects and Complements

3.1. The Default Rule

The word home “mold” is a great example of a typical substance noun. Mold is a mass noun, uncountable and will, thus, require the partitive case.

# Description Finnish English
1 Object Huomasin hometta kellarissa. I noticed mold in the basement.
2 All of it Home on vaarallista. Mold is dangerous.
3 In general Home oli mustaa ja vihreää. The mold was black and green.

3.2. Blood – Veri

# Description Finnish English
1 Default Huomasin verta vedessä. I noticed blood in the water.
2 All of it Pesin veren vaatteistani. I wash the blood from my clothes.
3 In general Veri on punaista. Blood is red.
  • Generally, blood is a mass noun, which will get the partitive form.
  • However, if we’re talking about all the blood on eg. a shirt, you can also come across the genetive case when the it is the object of your sentence. This is, however, exceptional.
  • In complement sentences, you will always use the partitive when describing what the blood is like (be it a specific portion of blood or blood in general).

3.3. Smoke – Savu

# Description Finnish English
1 Default Huomasin savua ilmassa. I noticed smoke in the air.
2 All of it Huomasin savun. I noticed the smoke.
3 In general Savu on vaarallista. Smoke is dangerous.
4 Specific Savu oli sakea. The smoke was dense.
  • Generally, smoke is a mass noun, which will get the partitive case (#1).
  • If we’re telling the events of how I noticed a fire, we can say that I noticed the smoke (savun) coming from a specific room (#2). However, in most cases, you will use the partitive case even if you mean specific smoke in object sentences.
  • In complement sentences, we can talk about smoke in general and its qualities, which will require you to use the partitive case (#3).
  • We can also speak about a specific occurance of smoke and its qualities. For example, the smoke you were trying to get away from was dense. In that case, the complement of your sentence will appear in its basic form (#4).

3.4. Snow – Lumi

# Description Finnish English
1 Default Keräsin lunta muovipussiin. I collected snow into a plastic bag.
1 Default Lapsi söi lunta. The child ate snow.
2 All of it Sulatin lumen. I melted the snow.
2 All of it Aurasin lumet pihalta. I plowed the snow from the yard.
3 Complement Lumi on valkoista. Snow is white.
3 Complement Lumi oli ruskeanhamaata. The snow was brown-grey.
  • Snow is an uncountable mass noun. As such, we will generally use the partitive with it (#1).
  • When we mean all the snow, it is possible to use the genetive case or T-plural in object sentences. Both mean the same, but lumet gives this idea that there’s a lot of it (#2).
  • In complement sentences, we will always use the partitive case.

Read more elsewhere:

That’s all for this article with more details of how the cases for mass nouns can have some complications.

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