Finnish for busy people

The Partitive Case – Partitiivi – Finnish Grammar

This article deals with the partitive case, which answers the questions “mitä?” and “ketä?”. It’s a topic that will continue to be challenging for a very long time while you’re learning Finnish. My advice is to take it little by little and not try to learn it all at once.

Table of Contents
  1. The Use of the Partitive Case
    1. After numbers
    2. After words that express quantity
    3. With indefinite amounts
    4. With negative sentences
    5. With irresultative phrases
    6. With partitive verbs
    7. With prepositions
  2. The Formation of the Partitive Case
    1. The partitive of the personal pronouns
    2. Words ending in a single vowel
    3. Words ending in a consonant
    4. Words ending in 2 vowels
      1. Words ending in two of the same vowel
      2. Words of one syllable ending in two vowels
      3. Adjectives ending in two different vowels
      4. Nouns ending in two different vowels
    5. Words ending in -i
      1. New words ending in -i
      2. Old words ending in -i
      3. Old words ending in -si
      4. Old words ending in –li, -ni, -ri
    6. Words ending in an –e
    7. Words ending in -nen
    8. Words ending in –us
  3. Consonant Gradation in the Partitive Case
  4. The Partitive Case in Spoken Finnish

1. Use of the Partitive Case (mitä, ketä)

The partitive has no equivalent in English and many other languages. That makes it hard to understand what its function is. In some cases, the use of the partitive coincides with the plural form in other languages, but it’s not the same as the plural.

When a group of words all belong together (say: a pronoun, an adjective and a noun), all three of them will be put in the partitive.

  • “There are three [beautiful young women] in the room.” becomes “Huoneessa on kolme [kaunista nuorta naista].
  • “I buy ten [playful cats].” becomes “Ostan kymmenen [leikkisää kissaa].
  • “I have two [crying unhappy children].” becomes “Minulla on kaksi [itkevää surullista lasta].

1.1. After numbers

The partitive is used in connection with the numbers. Because of that, many new language learners assume the partitive is the plural form. This is not the case. There is a separate plural (the plural nominative) and in addition there is also a partitive plural.

You don’t use the partitive after the number “yksi”, but you do use it after the number “nolla”.

Yksi Finnish English
yksi kuppi kaksi kuppia two cups
yksi olut kolme olutta three beers
yksi nainen neljä naista four women
yksi talo nolla taloa zero houses

1.2. After words that express a quantity

The words below express a quantity, an amount. They’re very much like numbers in that sense. You can find more words that express quantity here.

Finnish English
monta banaania many bananas
kuppi kahvia a cup of coffee
kulho mysliä a bowl of muesli
pullo viiniä a bottle of wine
tölkki olutta a can of beer
metri köyt a meter of rope
litra maitoa a liter of milk

1.3. With indefinite amounts

Most of the time, when translating this kind of sentences, you could use “some” in English. You don’t know how much it is exactly; just some amount. These are mainly object sentences.

Finnish English
Juon kahvia. I drink some coffee.
Ostan maitoa. I buy some milk.
Syön makkaraa. I eat some sausage.
Lasissa on mehua. There’s some juice in the glass.
Syön keittoa. I eat some soup.

1.4. With negative sentences

In almost all sentence types, you will have the partitive in a negative sentence. Exception: complement sentences (predikatiivilause).

Finnish English
En osta tä puseroa. I won’t buy this sweater.
En avannut ikkunaa. I didn’t open the window.
Minulla ei ole autoa. I don’t have a car.
Täällä ei ole uima-allasta. There’s no swimming pool here.

1.5. With irresultative phrases

Irresultative means the action is incomplete (versus resultative, which is complete). When an activity is currently taking place, you will put the object in the partitive. The result of the action hasn’t been achieved yet. The partitive might also be meant like in part 1.3., where you plan to read some of the book, but not all of it. You can find similar examples here.

Finnish English
Luen kirjaa. I’m reading some of the book.
Luen kirjaa. I’m currently reading the book.
Luen kirjan. I’m going to read the whole book.

1.6. With partitive verbs

Some verbs always require the object to appear in the partitive case. These are called “partitive verbs“. You will need to learn these by heart, because English doesn’t have anything comparable.

Verb Finnish English
rakastaa Minä rakastan sinua. I love you.
odottaa Sinä odotat bussia. You wait for the bus.
pelata Hän pelaa tennis. She plays tennis.
ajaa Minä ajan autoa. I’m driving a car.
opiskella Te opiskelette suomea. You’re studying Finnish.
auttaa Me autamme hän. We help her.

1.7. With prepositions

Prepositions are fairly uncommon in Finnish, but they do exist. Read more about them on my Finnish prepositions page.

Preposition Finnish English
ennen Tulin kotiin ennen sinua. I came home before you.
ilman Tulin kotiin ilman takkia. I came home without a coat.

2. The Formation of the Partitive Case

The ending of the partitive can be -a, -ta or -tta, depending on what kind of word they are attached to. In order to correctly choose between -a and , you will need to first learn about vowel harmony.

2.1. The partitive of the personal pronouns

The partitive of personal pronouns goes as follows:

PP Partitive Finnish English
minä minua Minua ärsyttää. I feel annoyed.
sinä sinua En rakasta sinua. I don’t love you.
hän hän Odotan hän asemalla. I wait for her at the station.
me mei Etkö nähnyt mei? Didn’t you see us?
te tei Tei väsyttää. You (plural) feel tired.
he hei Älä kuuntele hei. Don’t listen to them.
kuka ke Ke sinä rakastat? Who do you love?

2.2. Words ending in a single vowel (-a/-ä, -u/-y, -o/-ö): add -a/-ä

Basic Partitive Basic Partitive
kala kalaa tyyny tyynyä
talo taloa seinä seinää
loma lomaa hylly hyllyä
melu melua sänky sänkyä
helppo helppoa homma hommaa

2.3. Words ending in a consonant: add -ta/-tä

Basic Partitive Basic Partitive
mies mies hius hiusta
askel askelta rikas rikasta
keskus keskusta lyhyt lyhyt

2.4. Words ending in 2 vowels

2.4.1. Words ending in two of the same vowel: add -ta/-tä

Basic Partitive Basic Partitive
sampoo sampoota filee filee
elokuu elokuuta vapaa vapaata
essee essee toffee toffeeta

2.4.2. Words of one syllable ending in two vowels: add -ta/-tä

This rule covers words with both two of the same vowel and two different vowels, as long at the word is one syllable.

Basic Partitive Basic Partitive
maa maata tie tie
syy syy t työ
puu puuta

2.4.3. Adjectives ending in two different vowels

Adjectives fairly regularly end in -ea/eä. In these cases, we can use both the ending -a/-ä and -ta/-tä. The single -a is much more common in current Finnish, so I would suggest using that form. In spoken language, you will hear vaikeeta, tärkeetä and nopeeta, with a long vowel sound.

Basic Partitive
vaikea vaikeaa / vaikeata
pim pimeää / pimeä
nopea nopeaa / nopeata
tärk tärkeää / tärkeä
haalea haaleaa / haaleata

2.4.4. Nouns ending in two different vowels

Nouns ending in -ia will get one -a/-ä added to their end in the partitive case. Nouns with other vowel combinations will get -ta/-tä

Basic Partitive Basic Partitive
allergia allergiaa valtio valtiota
arabia arabiaa kallio kalliota
italia italiaa radio radiota
asia asiaa video videota
fobia fobiaa selfie selfie

2.5. Words ending in –i

2.5.1. New words ending in -i: add -a/-ä

New words are often loanwords. Usually they’re recognisable because they resemble words in other languages, like pankki for “bank”, or paperi for “paper”. Loanwords are easier than Finnish words because they don’t undergo as many changes when you add endings.

Basic Partitive Basic Partitive
banaani banaania paperi paperia
kahvi kahvia pankki pankkia
posti postia maali maalia
tili tiliä adverbi adverbia

2.5.2. Old words ending in -i: replace -i with -ea/-eä

Old words are very often nature words. After all, nature has been around for so long that Finns have had names for them since the very beginning. Some words’ age can be confusing, for example äiti “mother” is actually a new Finnish word, even though mothers have been around since the beginning of time!

Basic Partitive Basic Partitive
suomi suomea ovi ovea
järvi järveä kivi kiveä
sormi sormea nimi nimeä
lahti lahtea lehti lehteä

2.5.3. Old words ending in -si: replace -si with -tta/-ttä

More old words, but this time with -si at their end. It’s also important that this rule is only for old words, which means new words like kurssi (kurssia) and marssi (marssia) are excluded from this rule.

Basic Partitive Basic Partitive
uusi uutta vuosi vuotta
si ttä kuukausi kuukautta
vesi vettä reisi reittä

2.5.4. Old words ending in -li, -ni or -ri: replace -i with -ta/-tä

This rule is not 100 % foolproof. There are words that end in -hi, like lohi for example, that become lohta in the partitive. It’s also important that this rule is only for old words, which means words like lääkäri (lääkäriä), jonglööri (jonglööria) and konduktööri (konduktööria) are excluded from this rule. Exceptional: lapsi > lasta; lumi > lunta.

Basic Partitive Basic Partitive
pieni pien meri merta
sieni sien suuri suurta
nuori nuorta hiiri hiir
kieli kiel tuli tulta

Find out more about the inflection of different types of words ending in -i!

2.6. Words ending in -e: add -tta/-ttä

Basic Partitive Basic Partitive
huone huonetta perhe perhettä
kappale kappaletta kirje kirjettä
lentokone lentokonetta taide taidetta
parveke parveketta koe koetta

There are some words that end in -e that are exempt to this rule. These include names (Ville → Villeä), and some other words (kolme → kolmea, itse → itseä, nukke → nukkea).

2.7. Words ending in -nen: replace the -nen with -sta/-stä

Basic Partitive Basic Partitive
nainen naista hevonen hevosta
suomalainen suomalaista eteinen eteistä
iloinen iloista ihminen ihmistä
sininen sinistä toinen toista

2.8. Words ending in -us/ys

Normally, words ending in -Us just fall under rule 2.3 and get -tA added to their basic form. However, there are some words ending in -Us that will behave differently. You can read more about the difference here.

Basic Partitive Basic Partitive
rakkaus rakkautta tarjous tarjousta
ystävyys ystävyyttä opetus opetusta
pimeys pimeyttä kysymys kysymys
mahdollisuus mahdollisuutta vastaus vastausta

Some guidelines for finding the right conjugation:

  • If the word is based on a verb (such as opettaa > opetus), it will generally follow rule 2.3 instead (add –ta to the basic form of the word).
  • If the word is based on an adjective (such as pimeä > pimeys), it will get –tta in the partitive.
  • If the word is based on a noun (such as ystävä > ystävyys), it will get –tta in the partitive.
  • If the word ends in –uus/yys (double vowel), you will get –tta.

3. Consonant Gradation in the Partitive Case

The partitive is complicated in many ways, but when it comes to consonant gradation it’s simple: the partitive form of each word will have the same consonants as the basic form. For wordtype A that means always strong, and for wordtype B always weak!

Wordtype A
Basic Partitive Basic Partitive
tyttö tyttöä pankki pankkia
puku pukua pöytä pöytää
hattu hattua kauppa kauppaa
silta siltaa kampa kampaa
hiekka hiekkaa apu apua

I have a separate article on wordtype A.

Wordtype B
Nominative Partitive Nominative Partitive
puhallin puhallinta tavoite tavoitetta
soitin soitinta savuke savuketta
keitin keitin opas opasta
rakas rakasta hammas hammasta
allas allasta allas allasta

I have a separate article on wordtype B.


4. The Partitive Case in Spoken Finnish

In spoken Finnish, the partitive ending –a can assimilate. This is only the case when adding the partitive ending to a word creates a diphtong (eg. -oa, -ia, -eä). The partitive’s -a will be replaced by another of the word’s final vowel.

Written Spoken Written Spoken
tyynyä tyynyy taloa taloo
kahvia kahvii tuolia tuolii
suomea suomee järveä järvee

Adjectives such as vaikea end in a diphtong (see section 2.4.3). There words’ partitive is also special in spoken Finnish. That’s because the basic form will already be different in spoken language: vaikea will be vaikee in spoken language. This is only the case for adjectives ending in -ea/eä.

When we want to make vaikee partitive, we are dealing with a word that ends in a long vowel (see section 2.4.1). Thus, we use the –ta ending for these words. In fact, even if written Finnish, we can say vaikeata, but it’s much less common than vaikeaa.

Written Spoken Written Spoken
vaikeaa vaikeeta pimä pimee
nopeaa nopeeta kauheaa kauheeta

 

That concludes the article on the partitive case!

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This was the best online source for learning Finnish. Now it looks “modernized”, energetic and motivating. Thank you for all your efforts. All the best…

Inge (admin)

Thank you! 🙂

AyeBoushaba

This is by far the easiest Finnish grammar explanation I have encountered. Thank you for explaining everything in its most simple form. God bless you and keep doing what you do.

Michael Hämäläinen

Below are a few other partitive uses I’ve found in my notes and reading of other pages on this site:

[Comparisons – in place of kuin (than)]

cf. 2.2. Comparative: using the partitive case

[Cause or reason: old idiomatic use]

I don’t have much knowledge of this, but Korpela writes:

In old idiomatic use, the partitive may express cause or reason, especially when it is a state of mind or trait in a personality, e.g. Hän teki sen ilkeyttään (He did it out of malice) [note: ilkeyttä is partitive of ilkeys; –än is 3rd-person possessive suffix]. This applies to verbs describing actions. In such contexts, the word may have an attribute, e.g. pelkkää ilkeyttään (out of mere malice). It is also possible to use the elative, without a possessive suffix, e.g. pelkästä ilkeydestä.

[Use with prepositions and postpositions]

cf. Finnish Prepositions – Finnish Grammar

[Archaic locational case]

The original locational use (corresponding to “from”) of the partitive is reflected in some adverb-like words like alempaa (from below, from a lower position) and for comparatives of nouns, e.g. rannempaa (from closer to the shore).
cf. my comment on Adverbs of Location: Täällä, Kaikkialla, Ylhäällä

Shanna

Any advice for -ki words? Lokki and harkki become lokkia and harkkia, but hanki and hauki become hankea and haukea, and I don’t believe any of those are considered loan words. Is it because of the double k that they are different?

Inge (admin)

I didn’t know the answer, but you’re definitely onto something with your guess! I went through Kielitoimiston sanakirja to hunt down enough words to be able to compare.

Here’s the result: All words ending in -kki become -kkia except for kaikki! Words ending in -ki don’t always reveal right away whether they become -kia or -kea.

Old words with -ki
arki : arkea
hanki : hankea
hauki : haukea
henki : henkeä
hetki : hetkeä
hiki : hikeä
joki : jokea
jälki : jälkeä

New words in -ki
aski : askia
koti : kotia
kuski : kuskia
laki : lakia
hoki : hokia
huki : hukia
kaki : kakia
konki : konkia

Obvious -kki loanwords
blokki : blokkia “block”
breikki : breikkiä “break”
bulkki : bulkkia “bulk”
drinkki : drinkkiä “drink”
feikki : feikkiä “fake”

Surprising new words
These three are words that refer to old things, but are nevertheless new. They support that the rule for -kki words is to always have -kkia for the partitive.
liekki : liekkiä “flame”
lokki : lokkia
mökki : mökkiä

The only old word ending in -kki
kaikki : kaikkea

Thanks for the interesting question!

Michael Hämäläinen

Hi Shanna and Inge,

I also tried investigating myself by filtering the KOTUS word list, as described here. Short answer is that there are 499 entries belonging to KOTUS type risti, 45 entries of KOTUS type ovi, plus a handful of rare foreign-derived exceptions (example).

The example words lokki and harkki are KOTUS type risti words, which follow the rule in 2.6.1. New words ending in –i: add –a/-ä. Also included are words with –kki suffix (Wiktionary entry and listing), which include some verb-derived nouns like lemmikki (“pet” from <lempiä (to love) +‎ –kki ) (VISK) and slang/colloquial terms like karkki (candy) (VISK), as well as most foreign loanwords (as mentioned in the article).

The example words henki and hauki are KOTUS type ovi words, which follow the rule in 2.6.2. Old words ending in –i: replace –i with –ea/-. The 45 entries are all 2-syllable old Finnish words ending in –Vki or –V{l/n/r/s/t}-ki, as well as kaikki.

So, a pragmatic approach might be to learn to recognise the ovi-type words and apply the risti rule in all other cases.

Hope that helps!

Kathy

How do I print something? Thanks

Inge (admin)

Hei Kathy! You can’t easily print something, but you CAN suggest pages you’d like to get a printed version of. I can then make a print friendly version of them. Is the partitive case a subject that you’d like to have a printed version of?

The topics that currently have been put together in PDF files are here: https://uusikielemme.fi/patreon/patron-perks-printable-pdf-themed-pages-5/