Finnish for busy people

The Finnish Object – Objekti

The object is very important in Finnish. The lack of certain elements in the Finnish language is covered by the object.

For example, since Finnish doesn’t have a future tense, you can use the object to express whether something is going on right now, or sometime in the future. The object also is a way of differentiating between the English “the” and “a”; the definite and indefinite pronouns. Because of these reasons, the object is crucial in Finnish.

The object can appear in the following cases:

  • The partitive case (Juon kahvia, kuuntelen radiota, rakennan taloa)
  • The genetive case (Otan kupin, syön omenan, rakensin talon)
  • The T-plural (Otan kupit, syön omenat, rakensin talot)
  • The nominative (Ota kuppi, kuunnellaan radiota, täytyy rakentaa talo)
  • The accusative (Tunnen sinut, näen heidät, valitsen sinut)
Table of Contents
  1. The Use of the Finnish Object
    1. Countables vs. uncountables
    2. Expressing completion vs incompletion
    3. Expressing intent
  2. The Different Finnish Object Types
    1. The Partitive Object
    2. The Total Object
    3. The Accusative: History and Controversy
  3. Comparison Between the Cases
    1. Partitive vs. Genetive
      1. Negative vs. affirmative sentences
      2. Partitive verbs
      3. Countable vs. uncountable objects
      4. Currently happening vs intention
    2. Genetive vs. Nominative
      1. The object of an imperative sentence
      2. The object of a necessity sentence
      3. The object of a passive sentence
    3. Plural Partitive vs. Plural Nominative

1. The Use of the Finnish Object

1.1. Countables vs. Uncountables

Firstly, the object is used to express countable (eg. a glass, steak, table) and uncountable (eg. water, love, intellect) quantities.

  1. When the object is uncountable, we use the partitive case. In English, when something is uncountable, you generally can use the word “some” rather than “a”. For example, you will be eating some cheese, not a cheese. (#1)
  2. The genetive case is used when your object is countable. You can, for example, count cups even though you can’t count the coffee in them. (#2)
# Finnish English
1 Me juomme kahvia. We are drinking coffee.
1 Antti syö juustoa. Antti is eating cheese.
1 Haluan vain rakkautta. I only want love.
1 Ostan maitoa. I buy milk.
1 Tarvitsen rahaa. I need money.
2 Me juomme kupin kahvia. We are drinking a cup of coffee.
2 Antti syö pihvin. Antti is eating a steak.
2 Haluan vain vaimon. I only want a wife.
2 Ostan maitotölkin. I buy a carton of milk.
2 Tarvitsen ystävän. I need a friend.

1.2. Expressing Completion vs Incompletion

The object is also used to differentiate between completed and incompleted actions.

  1. The partitive is used when the action is currently incomplete or has been abandoned and will, thus, never be completed.
  2. The genetive is used to express that the action is completely done.
# Finnish English
1 Luin kirjaa. I was reading (some of) a/the book.
2 Luin kirjan. I read the (whole) book.
1 Katsoimme elokuvaa. We watched (part of) a/the movie.
2 Katsoimme elokuvan. We watched the movie (until the end)
1 Ammuin karhua. I shot (at) a/the bear.
2 Ammuin karhun. I shot a/the bear (dead).

1.3. Expressing Intent

Finnish doesn’t have a future tense. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t express future events or intent. You can learn the different ways to express intent more closely on our page about the future tense (1.3 covers the same thing as this page). On this page, we’ll just look at the object’s role in doing that.

The verb in all the sentences below is conjugated in the present tense. However, the sentences with the object in the genetive refer to intentions for the future.

  1. The partitive is used when the action is currently happening and, thus, incomplete.
  2. The genetive is used to express that our intention is to complete the action that is currently happening.
# Finnish English
1 Luen kirjaa. I’m reading a/the book (currently happening)
2 Luen kirjan. I will read the book (finishing the whole book)
1 Katsomme elokuvaa. We’re watching a movie (currently happening)
2 Katsomme elokuvan. We will watch the movie (watching the whole movie)
1 Rakennan taloa. I’m building a house (currently happening)
1 Rakennan talon. I am building / will build a house (completely)

2. The Different Object Types

You will get a more detailed overview of when to use a partitive object and when a total object below. However, let’s first take a look at what both are.

2.1. The Partitive Object

The partitive is used for many things, eg. after numbers, in negative sentences and to express that something is incomplete. Our page on the partitive case should give you a nice overview about all these different situations.

2.2. The Total Object

The “total object” (totaaliobjekti) has gotten that name because it expresses that something is happening to “the whole” object (eg. syön omenan – I eat the whole apple). The total object can appear in several different forms. Depending on the sentence type, it can appear in the genetive case (omenan), the nominative case (omena) or the plural nominative (omenat).

2.3. The Accusative: History and Controversy

The case called “the accusative” has been the cause of many arguments among linguists. Originally, the accusative was seen as a case that could have several different-looking endings based on the context. These endings were: -n (which looks like the genetive), -t (which looks like the T-plural) or no ending at all (which looks like the nominative). The reason these were all grouped under the accusative name was purely semantical: it was used to mark the total object of a sentence.

However, some linguists (and Finnish teachers) found that basing a case on its function was not the most logical way to look at it. Much easier would be to base it on its looks. Hence:

  • when a total object looks like a genetive (Ostan auton), we will the call the case the genetive
  • when a total object looks like the nominative (Osta auto), we will call the case the nominative
  • when a total object looks like the T-plural (Ostan autot), we will call the case the plural nominative.

This leaves the “accusative” with a role that is much smaller than before. These days, the accusative is usually only used as a term to indicate personal pronouns, when they appear as a total object in a sentence.

  • Sinä kutsut minut juhliisi.
  • Minä kutsun sinut juhliini.
  • Me valitsemme hänet.
  • Pomo lomauttaa meidät.
  • Teidät on valittu meille töihin!
  • Hän näki heidät eläintarhassa.
  • Kenet valittiin puheenjohtajaksi?

Read more about the accusative!


3. Comparison Between the Cases

Let the battle of the cases begin! This is where the fun begins. If you have a very analytical mind, this will all make sense to you. However, don’t despair if you can’t grasp all of this at once. This is a complicated matter that will haunt you for a long time. Many immigrants will still be recognizable as non-native speakers by their object mistakes.

If you want to cheat a little bit, you could do what I did in the beginning, and just use the partitive whenever you’re not 100% sure which case is the right one. The partitive case is the most common form for objects to appear in, so you minimize your rate of error by going for the partitive in cases of doubt.

3.1. Partitive vs. Genetive

First and foremost: the partitive is the STRONGEST of all the case. By that I mean that — if there is any reason at all in the sentence to use the partitive, you should do so. It trumps all the other cases.

As such, the rules below should be seen as a HIERARCHY.

3.1.1. Negative vs. Affirmative Sentences

No matter what kind of an object sentence you are dealing with, it will have a partitive object as soon as the sentence is negative. This rule trumps over all the other rules.

Finnish English Negative?
En syö omenaa tänään. I won’t eat an apple today. Negative Sentence
Syön omenan. I’m eating an apple. Positive Sentence
Saara ei avannut ikkunaa. Saara didn’t open the window. Negative Sentence
Sami avasi ikkunan. Sami opened the window. Positive Sentence

3.1.2. Partitive Verbs

If the verb in your sentence is a partitive verb, you will put your object in the partitive case. This is true for both affirmative and negative sentences.

Finnish English Why?
Minä rakastan tä taloa. I love this house. Partitive verb: rakastaa
Minä ostan tämän talon. I buy this house. Object verb: ostaa
Liisa vihaa tietokonetta. Liisa hates the computer. Partitive verb: vihata
Liisa käynnistää tietokoneen. Liisa turns the computer on. Object verb: käynnistää

3.1.3. Countable vs. Uncountable Objects

If your sentence is a) affirmative and b) has an object verb, you will use the genetive for objects you can count (a cup, a chair, a glass or an apple). If the object is an uncountable (wine, cheese, rice or milk), you will use the partitive. Object verbs are for example: avata, sulkea, käynnistää, sammuttaa, ottaa, myydä, laittaa, antaa, syödä, juoda, ostaa, nostaa, and maalata.

For negative sentences refer to 3.1.1. and for partitive verbs refer to 3.1.2. — Eg. Me syömme pihvin vs Me emme syö pihviä.

Finnish English Why?
Me juomme viiniä. We are drinking wine. Uncountable: you drink SOME wine
Me juomme kupin kahvia. We are drinking a cup of coffee. Countable: you can count cups
Nainen syö juustoa. The woman eats cheese. Uncountable: she eats SOME cheese
Antti syö pihvin. Antti eats a steak. Countable: you can count steaks

3.1.4. Currently Happening vs. Intention

In a) an affirmative sentence with b) a countable noun, you will use the genetive when the sentence is referring to an intent to finish something, and the partitive when the action is currently happening.

Finnish English Why?
Luen kirjaa. I’m reading a/the book. Not completed: currently happening
Luen kirjan. I will read the book. Completed: intent is to finish the whole book
Katsomme elokuvaa. We’re watching a movie. Not completed: currently happening
Katsomme elokuvan. We will watch the movie. Completed: intent is to watch the whole movie

3.2. Genetive vs. Nominative

According to the old rule, a total object that looks like a genetive or a nominative, are both called the acccusative (see 2.3.). However, we will not use that term “accusative”, as explained in 2.3.

In some sentence types where you would expect the object to look like a genetive (“Ostan auton”), the nominative (the basic form) trumps the genetive (“Osta auto!”). Let’s look at those situations below!

3.2.1. The Object of an Imperative Sentence

In imperative sentences, you will remove the -n from the object.

Genetive Imperative Type of Imperative
Minä ostin auton. Osta auto! “Buy the car!” Singular imperative
Me avaamme oven. Avatkaa ovi! “Open the door!” Plural imperative

3.2.2. The Object of a Necessity Sentence

There is a whole range of ways to express necessity. They all have in common that there object will not appear in the genetive.

Genetive Necessity
Minä ostin auton. Minun täytyy ostaa auto.
Me avaamme oven. Meidän on pakko avata ovi.
Sinä myyt tietokoneen. Sinun on myytävä tietokone.
Antti ottaa lasin. Antin kannattaa ottaa lasi.

3.2.3. The Object of a Passive Sentence

Passive sentences will also come with an object that looks like the nominative. A regular sentence with a genetive object will lose the genetive as soon as you change the verb to a passive form. You can learn more about the present passive, the past passive and the passive conditional elsewhere.

Genetive Passive
Minä ostin auton. Me ostettiin auto.
Me avaisimme oven. Ovi avattaisiin.
Sinä myyt tietokoneen. Myydään tietokone!
Antti ottaa lasin. Baarissa otetaan lasi.

3.3. Plural Partitive vs. Plural Nominative

When your object is a plural, you have two cases to choose from: the plural partitive (omenoita) and the plural nominative (omenat). Luckily, this is fairly easy: you use the T-plural when you’re talking about all the things and the partitive plural when you’re talking about many but not all.

In some cases you can also use the T-plural to refer to a plural subject you were talking about earlier. Eg. “Ostan kaupasta vaatteet.” usually doesn’t mean that you buy ALL the clothes in the store, but rather that you buy the clothes you were talking about earlier.

One other trick to figure out which one of the two you should use: the T-plural will usually have “the” in front of the object when translated to English.

Finnish English
Syön omenat. I eat (all) the apples.
Syön omenoita. I eat (several) apples.
Siirrän tietokoneet varastoon. I move (all) the computers to the storehouse.
Siirrän tietokoneita varastoon. I move (several) computers to the storehouse.
Tässä kaupassa myydään puhelimia. In this store they sell phones.
Tässä kaupassa myydään puhelimet. In this store they sell the phones (we talked about before).
Ostan kaupasta T-paitoja. I buy T-shirts from the store.
Ostan kaupasta T-paidat. I buy the T-shirts from the store.

PS: I don’t know how long this will be available online, but finteresting.net has a really helpful flow chart to help you figure out what case to use for the object!

That’s it for the Finnish object! Do you have any questions?

Let me know in the comments!

 

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Sebastian Mathews
Sebastian Mathews

Can you explain on sinut, minut, hanet and so on?

I would like to know when to use them

Inge (admin)
Inge (admin)

Hei Sebastian! You can read a little about the accusative (which is the minut, sinut, hänet thing) on this page in 2.3. I am planning to make a separate page for it as well, so you’ll see that eventually!

Luca P. Gentile

¨Tähän rakennettiin talo.¨

SHould it not be:

¨Tähän rakennettiin TALON¨?

Kiitos

Inge (admin)
Inge (admin)

A passive sentence won’t have a genetive object (see 3.2.3.)

Luca P. Gentile

¨Me ostettiin auto.¨
Is this passive?
cause there is a subject

kiitos!

Inge (admin)
Inge (admin)

It’s the past passive as appears in spoken language -> https://uusikielemme.fi/finnish-grammar/verbs/verb-tenses-and-moods/spoken-language-passive-overview/ It’s not a passive as far as MEANING goes, but the form is the past passive. Great questions! 🙂

Luca P. Gentile

Kiitos

Michael Hämäläinen
Michael Hämäläinen

This is already a very complicated topic, but since I noticed some additional aspects covered in Korpela’s Handbook of Finnish, I’ve copied them below:

[partitive verbs]

…such verbs might be used with a “total” object, e.g. Rakastan sinut kuoliaaksi is the Finnish name of the movie title “I Love You to Death”. [Here, sinut is in accusative case and kuoliaaksi is in translative case (-ksi) indicating “change of state” of *kuolias, from kuolla (to die) +‎ ias (suffix forming adjectives and nouns).]

[plural objects]

English uses plural for the object in statements like “They shook their heads”, but in Finnish we say He ravistivat päätään, where päätään is a singular form of pää (head), with partitive suffix – and possessive suffix –än . We can say that in Finnish we use the singular because each person has only one head. Consistent with this, we say He heiluttivat käsiään [käsi in partitive plural] when we mean that people waved both hands and He heiluttivat kättään [käsi in partitive singular] when each person used just one hand; in English, both are are expressed “They waved their hands”.

[use of partitive in questions to express doubt]

In a question, the object is usually in genitive singular or nominative plural when it is definite, e.g. contains the demonstrative pronoun tämä. Examples: Oletko lukenut tämän kirjan? (Have you read this book?) and Oletko lukenut nämä kirjat (Have you read these books?). It is possible to use the partitive, too, but then the meaning or at least the tone changes: Oletko lukenut tätä kirjaa? [partitive singular] expresses doubt and often expects a negative answer, and Oletko lukenut näitä kirjoja? [partitive plural] means “Have you read any of these books?”

[verb taking genitive and partitive with different meanings ]

The verb naida means “to marry” in standard language and takes an object in genitive or accusative or (in plural) in the nominative, e.g. Hän nai nuoren tytön (He married a young girl). In spoken language, the verb is also used in vulgar style with an object in the partitive, and then the verb means sexual intercourse, e.g. Hän nai nuorta tyttöä (He f—ed a young girl).