Finnish for busy people

Finnish Spoken Language Pronunciation

Finnish spoken language differs from written Finnish in many ways: there’s differences in the inflection of nouns, the conjugation of verbs, the formation of sentences and the pronunciation.

In this article, we’re looking at the Finnish spoken language pronunciation. We take a look at the phonology and phonotactics of Finnish spoken language and written Finnish and how they differ.

Table of Contents
  1. Omission in common short words
  2. Omitting the -i at the end of a word
    1. In the basic form
    2. In the translative case -ksi → -ks
    3. For the possessive suffix -si → -s
    4. In the imperfect tense -i → Ø
    5. In the conditional -isi → -is
  3. Omitting the -t at the end of a word
    1. The NUT-participle
  4. Omitting the -n at the end of a word
    1. In the basic form
    2. In the mihin form
    3. In the passive
  5. Omitting the -A at the end of a word
    1. In the location cases
    2. In the plural partitive
  6. Letters disappearing within a word
    1. Diphthongs (e.g. oi, ai, ui)
    2. The consonant -d-
    3. The consonant cluster -ts-
  7. Assimilation of vowels
    1. Vowel clusters in base words
    2. Assimilation in the partitive case
    3. Assimilation in verbs
  8. Assimilation of consonants
    1. Assimilation of -n
    2. Assimilation of -t
  9. Elision of sounds

The most obvious difference between Finnish spoken language pronunciation and its written cousin is that words are often shorter in spoken language. This often affects the final letter(s) of a word, but there are also situations where the middle of the word is affected.

We’ll go over the phenomenons called omission, assimilation and elision. Omission means that letters aren’t pronounced: they are just left unsaid. Assimilation is when instead of being left unsaid, the sound of a letter is changed into a different sound due to the presence of another sound next to it. Elision is a term that refers to many sounds being left out, which changes the syllable structure of the sentence. Those are the main causes of changes in the Finnish spoken language pronunciation compared to written Finnish

1. Omission in Common Short Words

First, there is a group of high-frequency words of two syllables that get reduce to one syllable in spoken language. You will hear these again and again, so better get acquainted with them!

Written Spoken Explanation
sitten sit “then”
mutta mut “but”
vaikka vaik “although”
että et “that”
kyllä kyl “yes, indeed”
vielä viel “still”

2. Omitting the -i at the end of a word

Most commonly, the last letter of a word is omitted when speaking Finnish. This is especially common with words and forms ending in an -i.

2.1. In the basic form

A select group of words ending in -i in their basic form will have this vowel omitted in spoken language. This is especially common in the numbers. You can read more about the numbers in spoken language here.

While I’m not sure what specifically makes these words eligible for losing their -i, it clearly follows the tendency of making common words of two syllables into one syllable words, as seen above.

Written Spoken Explanation
puoli puol “half”
ensi ens “next”
yksi yks “one”
viisi viis “five”
uusi uus “new”
täysi täys “full”

2.2. In the translative case -ksi → -ks

The translative case ending is very often shortened in spoken Finnish.

Written Spoken Explanation
anteeksi anteeks “sorry” (fossilized translative)
päiväksi päiväks “for a day”
huomiseksi huomiseks “for tomorrow”
lääkäriksi lääkäriks “to be a doctor”

2.3. For the possessive suffix -si → -s

In Finnish spoken language it is very common to omit possessive suffixes altogether. The second person singular possessive suffix -si, when used, can be shortened to -s.

Written Spoken Explanation
vaimosi vaimos “your wife”
takkisi takkis “your coat”
talossasi talossas “in your house”
päähäsi päähäs “onto your head”

2.4. In the imperfect tense -i → Ø

In the third person imperfect tense, we can omit the -i at the end of the verb when it creates a dipthong (e.g. oi, ai) or the ending is -si.

Written Spoken Explanation
sanoi sano “he/she said”
istui istu “he/she sat”
kysyi kysy “he/she asked”
tiesi ties “he/she knew”
halusi halus “he/she wanted”
lainasi lainas “he/she borrowed”

2.5. In the conditional -isi → -is

The conditional will lose its final -i in the third person singular. In addition, if there’s a vowel in front of the -isi like in siivoaisin or haluaisit, that first vowel will be omitted: siivoisin and haluisin (see section 6.1.).

Written Spoken Explanation
tulisi tulis “he/she would come”
lukisi lukis “he/she would read”
hakkaisi hakkais “he/she would beat”
tapaisi tapais “he/she would meet”

3. Omitting the -t at the end of a word

Apart from the word nyt (spoken: ny), I haven’t been able to come up with any regular words that get their -t omitted. However, there is one large group of words ending in -t that fall under this category:

3.1. The NUT-participle

The active past participle, which appears in the imperfect, perfect and plusquamperfect tenses will lose its final -t in spoken language.

Written Spoken Explanation
en sanonut
en sanonu “I didn’t say” – Imperfect
olin laulanut
olin laulanu “I had sung” – Plusquamperfect
en tullut
en tullu “I didn’t come” – Imperfect
ei ole pessyt
ei oo pessy “he/she hasn’t washed” – Perfect
on halunnut
on halunnu “he has wanted” – Perfect
ei ollut auennut
ei ollu auennu “it hadn’t opened” – Plusquamperfect

4. Omitting the -n at the end of a word

4.1. In the basic form

Written Spoken Explanation
sitten sitte “then”
niin nii “so”
vähän vähä “little, few”
ainakin ainaki “at least”
muuten muute “by the way”

4.2. In the mihin form

The final -n at the end of the mihin-form is also prone to being omitted. This happens in the plural as well.

Written Spoken Explanation
kahvilaan kahvilaa “to the café”
maahan maaha “to the ground”
kouluun kouluu “to school”
isompiin isompii “to larger x:s”
papereihin papereihi “to papers”
töihin töihi “to work”

4.3. In the passive

While the final -n in the passive and the past passive can be omitted, it’s often also assimilated. See more about assimilation below!

Written Spoken Explanation
puhutaan puhutaa “to talk” in the present passive
tullaan tullaa “to come” in the present passive
puhuttiin puhuttii “to talk” in the past passive
mentiin mentii “to go” in the past passive

5. Omitting the -A at the end of a word

5.1. In the location cases

The missä and mistä location cases are very commonly shortened in spoken Finnish, either by removing the -A, or two letters from the end of the case.

In addition, in several dialects, you will also come across missä-forms when the -s- is pronounced as a short sound. For example, tässä talossa could in some dialects appear as täsä talosa, while in regular spoken language you will hear täs talos.

Written Spoken Explanation
talossa talos “in the house” – Inessive case
puistossa puistos “in the park” – Inessive case
talosta talost “from the house” – Elative case
puistosta puistost “from the park” – Elative case
asemalla asemal “at the station” – Adessive case
autolla autol “by car” – Adessive case
asemalta asemalt “from the station” – Ablative case

5.2. In the plural partitive

With words that have the -ja/-jä ending in the plural partitive, the last letter will often be dropped, which leaves the word with a -j- or -i- sound at the end. These are also often the target of assimilation.

The final -A will also be omitted from plural partitives ending in -ita/-itä, which leaves us with just a -t at the end of the word.

Written Spoken Explanation
katuja katui “streets”
taloja taloi “houses”
tulitikkuja tulitikkui “matches”
kirjeitä kirjeit “letters”
i it “work”
opiskelijoita opiskelijoit “students”

6. Letters disappearing within a word

6.1. Diphthongs

Diphthongs ending in -i (e.g. oi, ai, ei) will in spoken language often lose their -i, even in the middle of words. This happens in both nouns and verbs. For verbs, this is especially clear in conditional forms, where -isi gets added to a vowel.

Written Spoken Explanation
punainen punane(n) “red” – Basic form
iloinen ilone(n) “happy” – Basic form
kotoisin kotosi(n) “originally” – Basic form
takaisin takas(in) “back” – Basic form
viimeinen viimene(n) “the last” – Basic form
punaisessa punases(sa) “in the red” – Inessive case
viimeisellä viimesel(lä) “on the last” – Adessive case
tarkoittaa tarkottaa “to mean” – Basic form
tarkoitan tarkotan “I mean” – 1sg present tense
istuisin istusin “I’d sit” – 1sg conditional
lähettäisit lähettäsit “You’d send” – 2sg conditional
ottaisitko ottasitko “Would you take” – 2sg conditional

6.2. The consonant -d-

I have a whole separate article about the pronunciation of the consonant -d- in Finnish here.

Written Spoken Explanation
pöydällä pöyvällä, pöyrällä, pöylällä “on the table”
tehdään tehään, tehhään, tehrään “let’s do”
lähden lähen, lähhen, lähren “I leave”
meidän meiän, meijän, meirän “our, ours”

6.3. The consonant cluster -ts-

The consonant cluster -ts– will be replaced with either one or two t’s in spoken language. Often (though not always) the weak and strong forms will follow the general consonant gradation rules. For example, of the verb katsoa, the infinitive because kattoa, but when conjugation you will generally hear mä katon, sä katot, se kattoo with the weak grade in the first and second person.

Written Spoken Explanation
katso kato “Look!”
katson katon “I watch”
katsoa kattoo “to watch”
en viitsi en viiti/viitti “I can’t be bothered”
etsin etin “I search”
itse ite, itte “(my)self”
seitsemän seittemän “seven”

7. Assimilation of Vowels

All combinations of vowel clusters ending in -a can be the subject of assimilation, where the last vowel changes into the same sound as the vowel before. So, -oa- with become -oo-, -yä- will become -yy- and -ia- will become -ii-. While this is most common at the end of a word, you can also see it in the middle of words.

7.1. Vowel clusters in base words

Most commonly, you will find the vowel cluster -ea/-eä at the end of adjectives, but other vowel clusters also assimilate. Note how these words will have the assimilated vowel also when you put the word in a case.

Written Spoken Explanation
hirv hirvee “terrible”
vaikea vaikee “difficult”
kip kipee “hurts”
ainoa ainoo “the only”
oikeastaan oikeestaan “actually”
hirvsti hirveesti “terribly, horribly”
vihrssä vihreessä “in the green” – Inessive case
tärkn tärkeen “of an important” – Genitive case

7.2. Assimilation in the partitive case

When the singular partitive is added to a noun ending in a single vowel, the -a/-ä will assimilate to the vowel it was attached to.

The partitive ending for words like tärkeä (see 6.1.) will become -ta/-tä because they end in two vowels in spoken language (tärkee + tä).

The plural partitive will also be subject to assimilation (-ia will become -ii).

Written Spoken Explanation
autoa autoo “car” – Partitive singular
sivua sivuu “page” – Partitive singular
leht lehtee “newspaper” – Partitive singular
tärkä tärkee “important” – Partitive singular
tahmeaa tahmeeta “sticky” – Partitive singular
kenk kenkii “shoes” – Plural partitive
sukkia sukkii “socks” – Plural partitive
kananmunia kananmunii “eggs” – Plural partitive

7.3. Assimilation in verbs

You will also find assimilation in verbs, especially in the basic form of verbtype 1 (e.g. sanoa, kysyä, istua) and in the conjugated forms of verbtype 4 (e.g. haluan, siivoaa, tajuat).

Written Spoken Explanation
itk itkee “to cry” – Basic form
läht lähtee “to leave” – Basic form
inhoan inhoon “I detest” – sg1 present tense
en halua en haluu “I don’t want” – sg1 present tense
et siivoa et siivoo “you don’t clean” – sg2 present tense
se aukeaa se aukee “it opens” – 3sg present tense

8. Assimilation of Consonants

Less clear than the assimilation of vowels is the assimilation of consonants. For some reason, it’s harder to hear when two consonants get assimilated. Another difficulty to recognize them is related to where these consonants are situated: often it’s the last consonant of a word and the beginning consonant of the next one.

8.1. Assimilation of -n

Cases that end in -n are the genitive and the mihin-form. In both of these cases, you can notice assimilation. The -n can also appear at the end of the passive.

Written Spoken Explanation
minun vaimo minuv vaimo “my wife”
sateen jälkeen sateej jälkeen “after the rain”
tavan mukaan tavam mukaan “as usual”
uuteen ravintolaan uuteer ravintolaan “to the new restaurant”
en mä em mä “I don’t”
mennään meille mennääm meille “let’s go to my place”
juodaan viiniä juodaav viiniä “let’s drink wine”

8.2. Assimilation of -t

The final -t of the NUT-participle can just disappear in spoken language, but if it’s followed by another word that starts in a consonant, it’s often also likely that the second consonant will be doubled.

Written Spoken Translation
En sanonut mitään. En sanonum mitään. I didn’t say anything.
Et tullut kotiin. Et tulluk kotiin. You didn’t come home.
En saanut sitä. En saanus sitä. I didn’t get it
En halunnut puuroa. En halunnup puuroo. I didn’t want porridge.

9. Elision of Sounds

Last but not least, in spoken language we can sometimes skip a whole bunch of letters. For example “Minulla ei ole” can become “Mulla ei ole“, but through the use of elision, we can still make it shorter until we get “Mull‿eioo“.

Written Spoken Translation
mulla ei ole mull‿eioo “I don’t have”
tämä on mun tää‿ommun “this is mine”
täällä on tääll‿on “over here is”
siellä oli sielloli “there was”
minä olen moon “I am”

Just reading these examples won’t give you the whole picture unfortunately. What’s so interesting about these is that they break up the stress rhythm. Through elision, we remove the second syllable of the first word. In a regular sentence the secondary stress would have been on the second word (e.g. mulla EI ole; tämä ON mun), but because a syllable gets dropped, the neutral stress is now on the next word (e.g. mulleiOO; tääomMUN). We can of course change the stress while speaking as needed, but it’s interesting to see how elision changes the pattern.

Read more elsewhere

That’s it for this article on Finnish spoken language pronunciation! I will be working on other spoken language articles in the future, so check back then!

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