What is Derivation? – Finnish Derivational Suffixes
In this article, I want to take a closer look at what derivation means in the Finnish language. Linguists use a lot of grammatical terms to describe how language works. For a casual learner of a language, this will generally be needlessly complicated. As a general rule, I try to replace many grammar terms on my website with easier terms, and I attempt to describe the terms I do use in each article. However, not all grammar terms can be avoided, and you benefit from knowing at least a selection of them.
Derivation is a way of forming new words. Basic words can get a suffix (kirja -> kirjasto) or a prefix (kohtelias > epäkohtelias) and, thus, get a new meaning – related to the meaning of the base word but no longer the same.
1. Terms related to derivation
You do not have to remember all these terms! I’m listing them below but – as long as you understand the base concept – you should be fine reading this article.
- Derivation: the act of forming new words from existing words (Finnish: johtaminen, johto)
- To derive: to form new words from existing words (Finnish: johtaa)
- Derivational element: an element added to a word to create a new word (Finnish: johdin, johtopääte)
- Suffix: a derivational element glued to the end of a word (Finnish: suffiksi, takaliite)
- Prefix: a derivational element glued to the beginning of a word (Finnish: prefiksi, etuliite)
- Derivative: a new word that has been formed from an existing word (Finnish: johdos)
In addition, you will need to have an understanding of the terms below, which I’m only describing in their prototypical meaning:
- Noun: a word that refers to a thing, place or person (Finnish: substantiivi)
- Adjective: a word that describes the quality of a noun (Finnish: adjektiivi)
- Adverb: a word that describes the quality of a verb (Finnish: adverbi)
- Verb: a word that refers to an action, a “doing word” (Finnish: verbi)
2. Derivational elements in English
If this concept is completely new to you, you might benefit from learning that English also has derivational elements. Some common elements in English are:
- Suffixes: -ly (as in quickly), -ness (as in weakness), -ship (as in friendship), -er (as in writer)
- Prefixes: un- (as in unhappy), re- (as in rewrite), dis- (as in disagree)
Because not all of us are linguists, we could also add -ing (e.g. singing, dancing, killing) to this list. Technically, this is an inflection of a verb, but since it looks like a suffix, it can be useful to also acknowledge its existence here. There is not just one translation for -ing in Finnish, but two verb forms that often correspond to the English -ing are -minen (laulaminen, tanssiminen, tappaminen) and -massa (laulamassa, tanssimassa, tappamassa).
3. Derivational elements in Finnish
There are a lot of derivational elements in Finnish. My intention is to include the most common ones. You should keep that in mind while looking at this page: this is not an exhaustive list. If you want to get a more complete overview of all the elements used in Finnish to create new words, you should see if you can find the book Miten sanoja johdetaan, suomen kielen johto-oppia by Anna-Liisa Lepäsmaa, Anneli Lieko and Leena Silfverberg.
If I currently have an existing article that goes into more detail about an element, I’ve added a link to said article. The ones currently missing will probably be the topic of a new article at some point.
3.1. Noun > Adjective
By adding a suffix, you can make an adjective out of noun. Many of these suffixes are very common and productive. When an element is productive, this means it can be used to create new words, even today.
|onni||happiness||onneton||unhappy||Derivational suffix -ton/tön|
|Suomi||Finland||suomalainen||Finn(ish)||Derivational suffix -lainen/läinen|
|väri||color||värillinen||colored||Derivational element -llinen|
|ruoho||grass||ruohikko||lawn||Derivational element -kko/kkö|
|kulta||gold||kultainen||golden||Derivational element -inen|
|kala||fish||kalaisa||fishy||Derivational suffix -isa/isä|
|lahja||gift||lahjakas||gifted||Derivational suffix -kas/käs|
3.2. Noun > Adverb
Derivational elements that make nouns into adverbs are less common and usually unproductive. When an element is unproductive, this means you can’t add the suffix to just any word. Rather, it’s based on certain, already existing nouns only.
|tunti||hour||tunneittain||hourly||Derivational suffix -ttain/ttäin|
|silmä||eye||silmikkäin||eye-to-eye||Derivational suffix -kkain/kkäin|
|aamu||morning||aamuisin||every morning||Derivational suffix -isin|
|kirje||letter||kirjeitse||by letter||Prolative derivational suffix -tse|
3.3. Verb > Noun
There are many suffixes that can be used to turn verbs into nouns. Many of these word types are productive, ie. you can create new nouns following this pattern.
|keksiä||to invent||keksintö||invention||Derivational suffix -nto/-ntö|
|kunnioittaa||to respect||kunnioitus||respect||Derivational suffix -us/ys|
|elää||to live||elämä||life||Derivational suffix -ma/mä|
|kertoa||to tell||kertomus||tale||Derivational suffix -mus/mys|
|laulaa||to sing||laulaja||singer||Derivational suffix -ja/jä|
|paahtaa||to toast||paahdin||toaster||Derivational suffix -in|
|piirtää||to draw||piirros||drawing||Derivational suffix -os/ös|
|aikoa||to intend||aie||intention||Derivational suffix -e|
|leipoa||to bake||leipomo||bakery||Derivational suffix -mo/mö|
|tulla||to arrive||tulo||arrival||Derivational suffix -o|
3.4. Adjective > Verb
An adjective can be made into a verb.
|helppo||easy||helpottaa||to ease up||Emotive causative verbs with the suffix -ttaa/-ttää|
|vaikea||difficult||vaikeutua||to become (more) difficult||Translative verbs with the suffix -utua/ytyä|
|pimeä||dark||pimetä||to become dark(er)||Translative verbtype 6 verbs|
3.5. Adjective > Noun
I could only think of one derivational suffix that turns an adjective in a nouns, but there might be more!
|harmaa||grey||harmaus||greyness||Derivational suffix -us/ys|
3.6. Adjective > Adverb
The suffix -sti is very common. I’m currently looking at a very long article based on this derivational element, so that’s something to look forward to.
|kaunis||beautiful||kauniisti||beautifully||Derivational element -sti|
3.7. Verb > New verb
Verbs can also be made into new verbs by adding a derivational suffix. I have fairly many articles on this subject already, but more are to come.
|pukea||to dress||pukeutua||to dress oneself||Reflexive verbs with derivational suffix -utua/ytyä|
|korjata||to fix||korjautua||to be fixed||Automative verbs with derivational suffix -utua/ytyä|
|löytää||to find||löytyä||to be found||Automative verbs with derivational suffix -ua/yä|
|syntyä||to be born||synnyttää||to give birth||Causative verbs with derivation suffix -ttaa/ttää|
|pyörtyä||to faint||pyörryttää||to feel faint||Emotive verbs with derivational suffix -uttaa/yttää|
|odottaa||to wait||odotuttaa||to make wait||Verbs causing others to do something -ttaa/ttää|
|kiertää||to go around||kierrellä||to wander||Frequentative verbs with derivational suffix -ella/ellä|
|seisoa||to stand||seisoskella||to stand around||Frequentative verbs with derivational suffix -skella/skellä|
|lukea||to read||lukaista||to skim, scan||Momentaneous verbs with derivational suffix -aista/äistä|
|katsoa||to watch||katsahtaa||to glance||Momentaneous verbs with derivational suffix -ahtaa/ähtää|
3.8. Noun > Noun
Nouns can also be made into new nouns. These derivational suffixes are usually not productive, ie. you can’t just add it to a random word and assume that it works.
|kirja||book||kirjasto||library||Derivational element -sto/stö|
|laulaja||singer||laulajatar||femal singer||Derivational element -tar/tär|
|ranne||wrist||ranneke||wrist band||Derivational element -ke|
|ravinto||nutrition||ravintola||restaurant||Derivational element -la|
|tyttö||girl||tyttönen||girlie||Derivational element -nen|
3.9. Adjective > New adjective
Some adjectives can get epä- added to their beginning to make the meaning negative. The suffix -hko/hkö is similar to the English -ish.
|kohtelias||polite||epäkohtelias||impolite||Derivational prefix epä-|
|pieni||small||pienehkö||smallish||Derivational suffix -hko/hkö|
4. Word families
The concept of “word families” (sanaperhe) is one neat concept in Finnish. Taking into account all the different ways, you can create new words based on existing words, you can claim words to belong to a “family” of sorts. Derivation helps us do this.
Take the word kirja for example. The “word family” of kirja contains derived words such as kirjasto, kirjain, kirjaimisto, kirjaimellinen, kirjaimellisesti, kirjoittaa, kirjata, kirjoitus and kirjailija. All these words are derivatives of the noun kirja, created with different kinds of suffixes.