Finnish for busy people

Finnish Prepositions – Finnish Grammar

There is a small amount of Finnish prepositions. These form – in comparison with postpositions – a much less regular and satisfying pattern.

Table of Contents
  1. The Use of Finnish Prepositions
  2. The List of Possible Prepositions
    1. Prepositions + partitive
    2. Pre- & postpositions
    3. Adpositions mixing the rules
    4. More exceptions

1. The Use of Finnish Prepositions

The English languages mainly has prepositions to express a thing’s relative location in relation to other things: a ball can be [next to the table], [under the cupboard], [close to the couch] or [inside the box]. The underlined words are prepositions because they’re positioned in the front of the phrase.

Finnish mainly has the opposite; postpositions, where the order of the elements is reversed: [pöydän vieressä], [kaapin alla], [sohvan vieressä] or [laatikon sisällä]. Finnish does have some prepositions, but the system is nowhere as neat as the postposition system.

The general rules for Finnish prepositions:

  • They appear in front of the word that they express the relative location of.
  • They require that word to occur in the partitive case.

However, this topic consists of more exceptions than rules, so perhaps we should just let go the term “prepositions” at all and call them adpositions or adverbs.

2. The List of Finnish Prepositions

2.1. Prepositions + Partitive

Finnish prepositions require the word they appear in front of to be put in the partitive case.

Preposition Example Translation
ennen Sain lahjan [ennen joulua]. I got a present [before Christmas].
ennen Hän saapui [ennen minua]. He arrived [before me].
ilman Osaan pyöräillä [ilman käsiä]. I can bicycle [without my hands].
vailla Lapsi on [vailla tekemistä]. The child is [without anything to do].
pitkin Kuljin [pitkin metsäpolkua]. I traveled [along the forest path].
pitkin Tapahtumia on [pitkin vuotta]. Events happen [all through the year].

2.2. Pre- & Postpositions

Some adpositions can be used both as prepositions and postposions, aka they can appear both before and after the word they’re expressing a relation to, and they can require both the partitive and the genitive case.

Adposition Postposition Preposition English
keskellä kylän keskellä keskellä kylää in the middle of the village
keskeltä kylän keskeltä keskeltä kylää from the middle of the village
keskelle kylän keskelle keskelle kylää to the middle of the village
lähellä kirkon lähellä lähellä kirkkoa near the church
läheltä kirkon läheltä läheltä kirkkoa from near the church
lähelle kirkon lähelle lähelle kirkkoa to near the church
vastapäätä hotellin vastapäätä vastapäätä hotellia across the road of the hotel

2.3. Adpositions Mixing the Rules

There is a whole group of words that work like prepositions and postpositions, but mix the rules of both. What makes these different is that they require the partitive (like prepositions), but are situated behind their complement (like postpositions).

Adposition Example Translation
alas Hän tuli [portaita alas]. She came [down the stairs].
alas Hän tuli [alas portaita]. She came [down the stairs].
ylös Hän kiipesi [tikapuita ylös]. She climbed [up the ladder].
päin Hän ajoi [päin puuta]. She drove [towards / into the tree].
päin Hän ajoi [puuta päin]. She drove [towards / into the tree].
varten Hän osti sen [minua varten]. She bought it [for me].
varten Ostin kakun [vieraita varten]. I bought a cake [for the guests].
kohti Hän tuli [meitä kohti / kohden]. She came [towards us].
kohti Hän kääntyi [valoa kohti / kohden]. She turned [towards the light].
kohti Hän kääntyi [kohti / kohden valoa ]. She turned [towards the light].
kohtaan Olit töykeä [hän kohtaan]. You were rude [to her].
kohtaan Tunnetko vihaa [hän kohtaan]? Do you feel anger [towards her]?
vastassa Olin asemalla [häntä vastassa]. I was at the station [facing her] (to pick her up).
vastaan Menin [häntä vastaan]. I went [towards her] (to pick her up).
vastaan He olivat [suunnitelmaa vastaan]. They were [against the plan].
vasten Hän nojasi [seinää vasten]. She leaned [against the wall].
vasten Hän nojasi [vasten seinää]. She leaned [against the wall].
edellä Hän oli [muita edellä]. She was [ahead of (the) others].
myöten Hän kulki [tie myöten]. She went [down/along the road].
myöten Seisoin [vyötäröä myöten] vedessä. I stood [up to my waist] in the water.
vailla Olen [viimeis tehtävää vaille] valmis. I’m ready [except for the last task].
vailla Kello on [viittä vailla] kaksi. The time is [five away from] two. (1:55)
vailla Odotin [vastausta vailla]. I waited [without a reply].
vailla Odotin [vailla vastausta]. I waited [without a reply].

2.4. More Exceptions

Of the prepositions above, there are multiple that – while they can be used as shown in the examples – they are more often than not used differently. This is important to know.

  1. The words alas and ylös appear much more often as adverbs on their own.
  2. The word päin is much more common with location cases attached to it.
  3. Vailla (or vaille) can also be used with the basic form.
Finnish English
Kiipeän [ylös]. I climb upwards.
Lentokone putosi [alas]. The airplane fell down.
Hän kääntyi [minuun päin]. She turned [towards me].
Tuulee [mereltä päin]. The wind’s coming [from the sea].
Kello on [viisi vailla] kaksi. The time is [five away from] two. (1:55)

Read more elsewhere

That concludes the article on prepositions!

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In the section 2.2 the examples in the column “Preposition” are actually for postpositions and the other way around.

Inge (admin)

Thanks, I switched the labels to their right place 🙂


I’m a complete beginner, so maybe I’m missing something, but in your final example, you have “Kello on [viisi vailla] kolme.” with the translation being “The time is [five away from] two. (1:45)”. But doesn’t “kolme” mean “three”? Shouldn’t it be “The time is [five away from] three. (2:45)”?

Inge (admin)

Nice catch! Not bad for a complete beginner 🙂 I’ve fixed it. You earned your first point by pointing out this mistake. Ten points will give you access to some extra content you might find useful!