Finnish for busy people

Reduplication: Vuosi vuodelta – Askel askeleelta

Reduplication is a phenomenon that happens in quite many languages. In English, for example, we have choo-choo, night-night and bye-bye. In Finnish you can say ruokaruoka to mean “real food” and pikapikaa means “really quickly”.

The function of reduplication is different in different languages. There are languages, for example, that express plurality by repeating a word twice. In English (tree : trees) and Finnish (puu : puut) you do this with a suffix. You can read more about reduplication in different languages on the Wikipedia page.

In this article, we will look at examples of reduplication where the words don’t appear as a compound word. This list contains word chains where the reduplicated form is often inflected in a different case. You can also read about reduplication within one word.

I’m sticking to the most common and widely used of these phrases. You can find other lists online with more niche examples.

1. Päivä päivältä – Progression

First, let’s take a look at word chains where the first iteration appears in its basic form and the second in the miltä-form. Often, these phrases are centered around time or stage progression: things progress little by little.

Finnish English
Hän eteni [sekunti sekunnilta]. He progressed [second by second].
[Minuutti minuutilta] -lähetys. [Minute by minute] broadcast.
Sää [tunti tunnilta]. The weather [hour by hour].
[Päivä päivältä] kylmenee. It gets colder [day by day].
Raskausvaiheet [viikko viikolta]. Pregnancy stages [week by week].
Vatsani kasvaa [vuosi vuodelta]. My stomach grows [year by year].
Se nopeutuu [kerta kerralta]. It gets faster [time after time].
Lue se läpi [kohta kohdalta]. Read through it [point by point].
Seuraa kehitystä [vaihe vaiheelta]! Follow the development [step by step]!
Rakennan tornin [pala palalta]. I build the tower [piece by piece].
Arvioi uhka [tapaus tapaukselta]! Assess the threat [case by case]!
Ohjaan sinua [askel askeleelta]. I will guide you [step by step].
Aloin ymmärtää [vähä vähältä]. [Little by little] I started to understand.
Tavaa nimi [kirjain kirjaimelta]! Spell the name [letter by letter]!
[Kuva kuvalta] -animaatio. [Frame by frame] animation.
Lappaa vettä [ämpäri ämpäriltä]. Haul the water [bucket by bucket].
Luen Raamattua [luku luvulta]. I read the Bible [chapter by chapter].

2. Illasta Iltaan – Mistä Mihin Reduplication

This category consists of word chains where we have a mistä (from) – mihin (to) construction. Often these words very literally mean a transfer or movement from something to something, like for example transferring from one bed to another (#1).

In most cases, it means a repetitive movement (#2). In these cases, there are usually other ways to express the same thing. For example, illasta iltaan “from night to night” could also be expressed as joka ilta “every night” or illasta toiseen “night upon night”.

This group also contains some fixed phrases that have taken on a very specific meaning (#3).

# Finnish English
1 Juoksin [huoneesta huoneeseen]. I ran [from room to room].
1 Siirrä potilas [sängystä sänkyyn]. Transfer the patient [from bed to bed].
1 Luin kirjan [kannesta kanteen]. I read the book [from cover to cover].
1 Hän käänsi jutun [sanasta sanaan]. He translated the article [word for word].
2 Hän kulkee [kapakasta kapakkaan]. He goes [from bar to bar].
2 He käyvät [talosta taloon]. They go [from house to house].
2 Näin jatkui [viikosta viikkoon]. This continued [from week to week].
2 Elän [päivästä päivään]. I live [from day to day].
2 Nyt, aina ja [iankaikkisesta iankaikkiseen]. Now, always and [eternally].
3 Tapasin hänet [kasvoista kasvoihin]. I met him [face to face].
3 [Suusta suuhun] -elvytys. [Mouth-to-mouth] resuscitation.
3 [Päästä päähän] -salaus on turvallinen. [End-to-end] encryption is safe.
3 Kursseja on tarjolla [laidasta laitaan]. Courses [of all kinds] are on offer.

3. Other Reduplication Cases

The examples below have reduplication, but the cases are different from the common combinations above. Their meaning also differs. These phrases are best just learned as they are, as they are just fossilized as they are.

Finnish English
Pohdin tätä [aika ajoin]. I reflect on this [from time to time].
[Paikka paikoin] sataa vettä. [In some places] it rains.
Hän on minulle [kaikki kaikessa]. He is [everything] to me.
[Suurista suurin] rakkaustarina. [The biggest] love story [of all].
[Tuttuakin tutumpi] tunne. It’s [the most familiar] feeling [of all].
Sitä kysytään [tuon tuostakin]. They ask it [ever and anon].
Se on [kaiken kaikkiaan] ok. [All in all] it’s okay.
Maksan [potut pottuina]. I will give back [in kind].
Miten [loppujen lopuksi] kävi? How did it go [in the end]?
Kävelemme [käsi kädessä]. We walk [hand in hand].
Makaamme [kylki kyljessä]. We lay [side by side].
Talot ovat [vieri vieressä]. The houses are [side by side].
Join [perä perään] 2 olutta. I drank two beers [one after the other].
Ehdimme [juuri ja juuri] junalle. We [barely] made it to the train.
Oli [siinä ja siinä], että ehdittiin. We [barely] made it.
[Just ja just] kerkesin. I [barely] made it. (spoken)

4. Tulee mitä tulee – Oh well

The phrases below all express some kind of resignment to either a past, present or future situation.

  • Tee mitä teet, mutta…
    Literally: “Do what you do, but…”
    Meaning: Usually followed by a condition: Do what you want but remember that… / Do what you want, but don’t…
  • Tulee mitä tulee.
    Literally: “Comes what comes.”
    Meaning: I’m prepared as well as I can, we’ll see what happens.
  • Tehty mikä tehty.
    Literally: “Done what’s done.”
    Meaning: We must accept it now, there’s no changing it anymore.
  • Mennyt mikä mennyt.
    Literally: “Gone what’s gone.”
    Meaning: It has gone the way it went, no point fretting over it anymore.
  • Olen mitä olen.
    “I am what I am.”
    Meaning: I can’t change myself, this is who I am.
  • Olemme mitä olemme.
    “We are what we are.”
    Meaning: Whether you like it or not, this is who we are.
  • Oli miten oli.
    Literally: “Was how it was.”
    Meaning: It doesn’t matter how it was, this is how it is now.
  • Kävi miten kävi.
    Literally: “Went how it went.”
    Meaning: Whatever happens, for better or worse, this is the situation.

5. Enemmän ja enemmän – More and more

The following phrases express that something increases. In English, most of these sentences will have “keep” in them, as you can see in the examples below. This construction is common both with verbs, where it means that the action just keeps increasing, or with comparatives.

Finnish English
Se vain [jatkuu ja jatkuu]. It just keeps going [on and on].
Se vain [jatkui ja jatkui]. It just kept going [on and on].
Ilta [kesti ja kesti]. The evening [took forever].
Maha vain [kasvaa ja kasvaa]. The stomach [keeps growing].
Joulu [lähenee ja lähenee]. Christmas [keeps getting closer].
Lunta tulee [lisää ja lisää]. Snow keeps on coming [more and more].
Hän palaa [uudelleen ja uudelleen]. He keeps coming back [again and again].
[Odotimme ja odotimme], mutta… We [kept waiting], but…
Hän [puhuu ja puhuu]. He [keeps on talking] more and more.
[Yritin ja yritin], mutta tuloksetta. I [tried and tried], but didn’t succeed.

6. Puhui puhumistaan – Kept talking

There is also a sentence construction that utilizes the fourth infinitive‘s nounalized verb. With it, you can express a continual action.

Finnish English
Hän [puhui puhumistaan]. He kept talking.
Hän [juoksi juoksemistaan]. She kept running.
Myrsky [yltyi yltymistään]. The storm kept getting worse.

7. Reduplication used to stress complete absence

The following sentences stress a complete absence of the word that is being repeated. Naturally, this only works in negative sentences.

Finnish English
Minulla ei ole [euron euroa]. I don’t have [a single euro].
Siellä ei ollut [linnun lintua]. There wasn’t [a single bird] there.
Ei löytynyt [marjan marjaa]. Not [a single berry] was found.
Missään ei ole [järven järveä]. There’s not [a single lake] anywhere.
Ei [pilven pilveä] taivaalla. Not [a single cloud] in the sky.
Hänellä ei ollut [kynän kynää]. He didn’t have [a single pen].
Ei päässä ole [hiuksen hiusta]. Not [a single hair] on the head.
En välitä [tipan tippaakaan]. I don’t care [one iota].

8. Reduplication used to express equality

Finnish English
Hyvä lahja [lapselle kuin lapselle]. A good present for [any child].
Mekko sopi [tilaisuuteen kuin tilaisuuteen]. The dress fitted [any occasion].
Musiikki sopii [tilanteeseen kuin tilanteeseen]. The music fits [any situation].
[Mies kuin mies] pystyy tekemään sen. [Any man] can do it.
Tämä maistuu [kissalle kuin kissalle]. [Any cat] likes to eat this.
[Kissa kuin kissa] voi oppia temppuja. [Any cat] can learn tricks.

9. Reduplication to gloss over unimportant details

When recounting an event or retelling someone’s words when none of the details really matter, you can use reduplication with ja in the middle. Take for example “Puhuin [sen ja sen] henkilön kanssa, jonka tapasin [siellä ja siellä] ja se sanoi että aidan piti olla [niin ja niin] korkea“. This is a sentence that retells what happened without giving any of the unimportant details. All it says is that I talked to some guy, whom I had met somewhere, and who told me the fence had to be a certain height. We don’t care who the guy was, where we met him and how high the fence had to be.

That’s it for different types of reduplication in Finnish! A heads up: I’ve chosen to leave out certain reduplication structures. If your Finnish is good enough, you can read more about them in this very thorough study.

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Michael Hämäläinen

Wow, this is very complete, and far beyond what I knew existed. Thanks for the thorough introduction!

In my notes from Korpela’s Handbook of Finnish, I also found a few more examples:

<Similar on 6. Puhui puhumistaan – Kept talking, but with third (MA-) infinitive>
FI: hän juoksi juoksemasta päästyään
EN: literally “he ran after getting out of running”
*Wiktionary notes that intransitive verb päästä can be used with an action verb in third (MA-)infinitive marked with elative (-sta), but I must admit I’m confused about its conjugation here — seems to be past passive participle with 3rd-person possessive suffix. [*my eyes glaze over…]
* This can be contrasted with hän juoksi juoksemistaan (He kept running), which is in fourth (MINEN-) infinitive form.

FI: hyvän hyvyyttään [partitive of ‘hyvyys‘ (goodness)]
EN: for the goodness of his/her heart (partitive of ‘hyvyys‘ (literally “of his/her goodness of good)”)

FI: kysymällä kysyin
EN: I intensively asked (literally: “by asking I asked”)

FI: tekemällä tehty
EN: “by doing done” (Does not simply refer to intensive doing but to something artificial, made up.)
*Like “päästyään” above, tehty is the past passive participle (of tehdä), but without (3rd-person) possessive suffix.

I’m not sure if these are helpful, but I put them forward since they have been presented in an authoritative textbook.