Finnish for busy people

Finnish Question Words – Interrogative Pronouns

Interrogatives are words used to make a question. They’re, simply put, Finnish question words.

For beginning learners of Finnish, they’re important in a way you might not realize right away. These Finnish question words will give you a clue to what kind of answer is expected. Unlike English, where question words only direct you semantically, in Finnish, question words will also give you a morphological clue: what form should the answer be in? If someone asks you “Millä sinä matkustit Espanjaan?“, the question word “millä” will reveal that the answer will also have to have -lla at the end of the word (eg. Matkustin bussilla/autolla).

Using the clues the Finnish question words give you will help you form answers that appear in the right case. That’s one step closer to fluent Finnish!

1. Kuka? Who?

Singular
Finnish English
Kuka pelaa? Who is playing?
Kuka osaa auttaa meitä? Who can help us?
Kuka hän on? Who is he/she?
Plural
Finnish English
Ketkä soittavat? Who are playing?
Ketkä osaavat auttaa meitä? Who can help us?
Keitä he ovat? Who are they?

As a beginner, that’s all you have to know for now.

Ignore this if you're a beginner!

I’m serious. Please ignore this if you’re a beginner. You don’t need this confusion right now.

While the singular “who” is “kuka” in most situations, that’s not always the case. It depends on what function the “who” serves in the sentence.

  • As the subject of the sentence, it will almost always be in the “kuka” form.
  • As the object in the sentence, the singular “who” can be both “ketä” and “kenet“.
  • The plural “ketkä” is used when the “who” is the subject of the sentence
  • The plural “keitä” is used when the “who” is the object of the sentence.
  • In addition, these words can also be inflected in, for example, the location cases.
  • You can also find out more about the “kuka” question word and its inflections.

2. Mikä? What?

Singular

Finnish English
Mikä puhelin sinun kannattaa ostaa? What phone should you buy?
Mikä on Suomen suurin uhka? What’s Finland’s greatest threat?
Mikä asuntotyyppi sopii sinulle parhaiten? What type of home fits you best?

Plural

Finnish English
Mitkä kuulokkeet sinun kannattaa ostaa? What headphones should you buy?
Mitkä ovat Suomen suurimpia uhkia? What are Finland’s greatest threats?
Mitkä asuntotyypit sopivat sinulle parhaiten? What types of homes fit you best?

In addition, it would be good for you to check out the following:

The Difference Between Mikä and Mitä

The usage of mikä and mitä is unfortunately an issue that pops up right at the beginning of your Finnish studies. You can’t really ignore this, even if it is complicated and will become clearer once you’ve studied more.

Read more about the difference between mikä and mitä!


3. Missä? Where?

The singular and the plural of the missä-question both look the same. The question gets translated as either “where” or “in what”. The missä-question can be answered both with -ssa (kaupassa, hotellissa) and -lla (torilla, bussipysäkillä).

Finnish English
Missä sinä asut? Where do you live?
Missä maissa olet käynyt? In what countries have you been?
Missä juna-asema on? Where is the train station?
Missä kaupungissa asut? In what city do you live?
Missä kaupungeissa olet asunut? In what cities have you lived?

In addition to referring to locations, this case can also have more abstract uses, which are called rections. You can also learn more about some special differences between the -ssa and -lla here.


4. Mistä? From where? From what?

The singular and the plural of the mistä-form both look the same. The question gets translated as either “from where” or “from what”. The mistä-question can be answered both with -sta (kaupasta, hotellista) and -lta (torilta, bussipysäkiltä).

Finnish English
Mistä sinä tulet? Where do you come from?
Mistä väristä tykkäät? What color do you like?
Mistä väreistä tykkäät? What colors do you like?
Mistä hyllystä nämä ovat? From what shelf are these?

In addition to referring to locations, this case can also have more abstract uses (eg. the verb tykätä in the table above), which are called rections.


5. Mihin? Minne? To where? To what?

There are two question words that are synonyms here: mihin and minne. There is no difference in meaning between them. The singular and the plural of the question word mihin both look the same. The question gets translated as either “to where”, “where to” or “to what”. The mihin-question can be answered both with the regular mihin-form (kauppaan, hotelliin) and the allative, -lle (torille, bussipysäkille).

Finnish English
Mihin sinä menet? Where are you going (to)?
Mihin kauppaan menit? What store did you go to?
Mihin jumalaan uskot? What god do you believe in?
Mihin jumaliin uskot? What gods do you believe in?

In addition to referring to locations, the mihin-question can also have more abstract uses (eg. the verb uskoa in the table above), which are called rections.


6. Millä? By what?

The question word “millä” is used fairly rarely in Finnish. The most important function it fulfills is to inquire by what or with what someone does something, eg. by train, by bus, with a spoon, with scissors, with a can opener.

Finnish English
Millä sinä tulet kouluun? How do you come to school? (what transportation)
Millä matkustat Ruotsiin? With what mode of transportation do you travel to Sweden?
Millä syöt riisiä? With what tool do you eat rice? (eg. chopsticks or a spoon)

You can read more about means of transportation here.


7. Miltä? Of what? Like what?

Finnish English
Miltä täällä haisee? What does it smell of here?
Miltä poikaystäväsi näyttää? What does your boyfriend look like?
Miltä ideani kuulostaa? How does my idea sound?

The question word “miltä” (the ablative case) also has a fairly limited use. It’s mostly used in combination with the perceptional verbs aka verbs that tell something about the senses (eg. to feel, look, smell).


8. Mille? To what? At what?

Finnish English
Mille te nauratte? What are you laughing at?
Mille olet allerginen? What are you allergic to?
Mille sinä haiset? What do you smell of?

The question word “mille” is another one of those with very little use. There are some rections that require specifically the -lle form but those are pretty rare (eg. nauraa, itkeä, hurrata). The most common use is — just like with miltä — with the perceptional verbs.


9. Miksi? Why?

Finnish English
Miksi olet taas myöhässä? Why are you late again?
Miksi suomen kielessä on niin monta sijamuotoa? Why are there so many cases in Finnish?
Miksi kana meni tien toiselle puolelle? Why did the chicken cross the road?

10. Millainen? Minkälainen? What kind?

Finnish English
Millainen mies hän on? What kind of a man is he?
Millaiset kengät sinulla on? What kind of shoes do you have?
Millaisesta teestä tykkäät? What kind of tea do you like?
Millaisista naisista tykkäät? What kind of women do you like?
Millaista työtä teet? What kind of work do you do?
Millaisia ruokia teet? What kinds of foods do you make?

Millainen” is a question word that can be inflected in all the cases (eg. “in what kind of”, “from what kind of”, “as what kind of”). The same is the case for “minkälainen“, which means the exact same as “millainen” and also inflects in the same way.

Case Singular Plural Example
Nominative millainen millaiset Millainen perhe sinulla on?
Genetive millaisen millaisten Millaisten ihmisten kanssa viihdyt?
Partitive millaista millaisia Millaisia jälkiruokia rakastat?
Inessive (Missä?) millaisessa millaisissa Millaisissa vaatteissa hölkkäät?
Elative (Mistä?) millaisesta millaisista Millaisista kukista tykkäät?
Illative (Mihin?) millaiseen millaisiin Millaiseen tyttöön ihastuit?
Elative (Millä?) millaisella millaisilla Millaisilla tuloilla pärjäät?
Ablative (Miltä?) millaiselta millaisilta Millaiselta haluat näyttää?
Allative (Mille?) millaiselle millaisille Millaiselle kurssille sinulla on tarve?
Illative (Mihin?) millaiseen millaisiin Millaisiin juhliin menet tänään?
Translative (-ksi) millaiseksi millaisiksi Millaiseksi haluat lapsesi kasvavan?
Essive (-na) millaisena millaisina Millaisena ystävänä näet häntä?

The answer to the question “millainen” or “minkälainen” is usually an adjective, a color or something else that describes a quality of a thing.


11. Milloin? When?

Finnish English
Milloin tulet käymään? When will you visit me?
Milloin Suomen itsenäisyyspäivä on? When is Finland’s independence day?
Milloin talvi alkaa? When does winter start?

You can use these expressions of time to answer to the question “milloin“.


12. Mihin aikaan? At what time?

Finnish English
Mihin aikaan tulet käymään? At what time will you visit me?
Mihin aikaan koulu alkaa? At what time does school start?
Mihin aikaan palaat kotiin? At what time do you get home?

Another way to ask about that time besides “mihin aikaan” would be “moneltako“. Learn more about asking and telling the time in our article.


13. Kuinka? Miten? How?

Finnish English
Miten menee? How is it going?
Miten voin auttaa sinua? How can I help you?
Kuinka voit sanoa niin? How can you say that?
Kuinka monta tuntia tämä kestää? How many hours does this last?
Kuinka paljon se pusero maksoi? How much did that sweater cost?
Kuinka nopeasti voit päästä tänne? How quickly can you be here?

There is no difference in meaning between “kuinka” and “miten“. Some phrases (like “Miten menee?“) are pretty established to use specifically “miten“, but in most cases both are used as equal synonyms.

That’s it for the Finnish question words!

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aleksandr
aleksandr

I guess in section 10 the word “mies” remains untranslated: “Millainen mies hän on? – What kind of a mies is he?” 🙂