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Nauraa Hohotti – Colorative Descriptive Verb Chains

When we want to express in what manner or with what emotion an action is done in Finnish, we have multiple ways to do so. We can add adverbs for example (e.g. nauraa iloisesti) or use the essive case (nauraa surullisena). In addition, there is the nauraa hohotti -sentence construction.

Verb chains like nauraa hohottaa (“to belly laugh”) and kuolla kupsahtaa (“to die suddenly”) are typically only used in novels and other works of fiction. It’s a style choice. We call this type of expression a colorative construction. This is because it adds color to a neutral verb by letting us know more about the manner in which it is done.

If you’re only a beginner, it is definitely too soon to learn these expressions. Even if you’re an intermediate learner, you will find little use for these. As an advanced learner, you should be able to understand these, but unless you’re going to write novels in Finnish, you will have limited use for them.

1. General Construction

In this article we will be looking at verb chains (e.g. nauraa hohotti), where

  1. one neutral verb expresses an action (e.g. nauraa “to laugh”) – the main verb,
  2. while the other descibes the quality of that action (e.g. hohottaacrude and boisterous laugh”) – the colorative verb

These two verbs have to be located right next to one another. The main verb is usually not conjugated. It appears in its infinitive, while the descriptive verb will be conjugated. Many of the examples below have been conjugated in the past tense because that’s how they’re mostly found in literary works.

Phrase Main verb Additional meaning
Me [nauraa hohotimme]. We laughed. Crude and boisterous
Isä [nauraa hörötti]. Dad laughed. With a deep voice
Me [nauraa hekotimme]. We laughed. Happily, pleased
Tyttö [nauraa kihersi]. The girl laughed. Quietly, giggling
Nuoret [nauraa räkättivät]. The youths laughed. Ugly, mocking
Ystäväni [itkeä pillittää]. My friend cries. Bawling, blubbering
Vauva [itkeä vollotti]. The baby cried. Loud, wailing, blubbering
Mies [seisoa toljotti]. The man stood. Gaping, goggling
Olemme [istua nököttäneet]. We’ve been sitting. In one place, not moving a lot
Me [istua kyyhötimme]. We sat. Squatting, in a small, sad way
Karhu [kävellä löntystää]. The bear walked. Slowly, clumsily, lazily
He [juosta vilistivät]. They ran. Quickly, small steps, scuttle
Hän [juosta laputtaa]. He runs. Quickly
Me [mennä jolkutimme]. We went. Jogging, running slowly
Hän [kulkea tömisti] ohi. He passed by. Loudly, stomping his feet
Linnut [lentää laapottivat]. The birds flew. Flapping their wings quickly
Hän [lyödä läimäyttää]. She hits. Creating a slamming sound
Isä [tulla harppoi]. Dad came. Walking in big strides
Isä [tulla tarpoi]. Dad came. Trudging, slogging
Akka [puhua lavertelee]. The hag talked. Blabber loudly
Naiset [puhua pälpättivät]. The women talked. Blabber quickly, excitedly
Lumipallo [pudota lätsähti]. The snowball fell. Creating a soft, wet sound
Puu [pudota mätkähtää]. The tree falls. Large object, fairly quiet sound

2. Diversions from the General Rule

2.1. Conjugating both verbs

It is also possible to have both verbs be conjugated. We can say both “Hän mennä jolkutti” and “Hän meni jolkutti” (He ran slowly, jogged). However, it is good to know that this is a deviation from the general rule. This happens especially common in some dialects.

Interesting is that, when someone has died suddenly (“pop off”), we regularly use the phrase hän kuoli kupsahti with both verbs conjugated. The examples below can also appear with the main verb in its infinitive and the colorative verb conjugated.

Phrase Main verb Additional meaning
Te [istutte nolotatte] tässä. You sit here. Embarrassed, ashamed
Se [on juossut hölköttänyt]. It has run. Trotting, jogging
hän [juoksi vilisti]. He ran. Scurrying, fast with small steps.
Hän [kuoli kupsahti] He died. Suddenly, whoops!

2.2. Changing the order of the verbs

Usually the main verb (the one that is conjugated) will appear after the infinitive verb (e.g. nauraa hohotti). However, in Savonian dialects (maybe influenced by Estonian) the main verb can come first (e.g. vilistää juosta or juosta vilistää “they ran with quick small steps”).

2.3. Using the colorative verb on its own

The descriptive verbs can also appear independently without a main verb. There are certain verbs that sound more natural in the colorative construction and others that sound better when used alone. For example, the verb hihittää (to giggle) can be used as part of a colorative construction (Hän nauraa hihittää), but it is arguably much more natural on its own (Hän hihittää).

Phrase Main verb
Avanto [tupsahti] täyteen lunta. The ice hole was softly filled with snow
Hän [kaatua tupsahti] hankeen. He fell softly, in e.g. the snow.
Hän [kihertää] ujosti. She giggled shyly.
Hän [nauraa kihertää]. She laughed in a shy, quiet way.

3. Learn More

As always, Google is your friend, so you find more sources to read more about this topic if you want to. Here are the terms you could be using to do so:

  • colorative verbs / serial verbs / descriptive verbs / colorative construction
  • koloratiiviverbi / koloratiivikonstruktio / koloratiivirakenne

The sources I used myself are:

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