Finnish for busy people

The Finnish Object for Advanced Learners

The Finnish object is a minefield that’s very hard to navigate for learners of Finnish. There is a certain logic to things, but it requires you to “start thinking like a Finn”. This article concerning the Finnish object for advanced learners introduces you to a new way to think about Finnish verbs. It should help you get a better feel for what type of verbs require an object in the partitive case.

Please get yourself acquainted with the basic object rules before diving into this article!

Table of Contents
  1. My Goal and Limitations
  2. Basic Object Rules: Overview
  3. Grammatical Aspect
  4. My Approach: Three Types of Object Verbs
  5. Verbs that Usually Get a Partitive Case Object
    1. Verbs that express emotional states and attitudes
    2. Verbs that indicate cognitive processes
    3. Verbs that express communication
    4. Verbs that express repetitive movements
    5. Verbs that express touching something
    6. Verbs that express actions without a clear end result
    7. Important!
  6. Verbs that Usually Get a Genitive Case Object
    1. Comparison of irresultative and resultative verbs
    2. Verbs that indicate simple momentary actions
    3. Verbs that indicate giving and receiving
    4. Verbs that indicate cognitive states
  7. Verbs that Can Often Get Both Partitive and Genitive Case Objects
    1. Typical object verbs
    2. Verbs that can have two endpoints
    3. Verbs that cause a movement with or without an endpoint
  8. Summary of the Finnish Object for Advanced Learners

1. My Goal and Limitations

My goal with this article is to introduce you to think of object verbs as belonging to three groups rather than the two you are usually presented with in courses and course books. There are (so-called) partitive verbs and (so-called) total object verbs, but a small portion of the total object verbs can be presented separately. I think differentiating between these total object verbs makes them slightly easier to navigate.

Limitation 1: This article only contains affirmative sentences, because in negative sentences you will use the partitive case even with total objects (Unohdin Maijan. En unohtanut Maijaa.). Read more about the basic object rules here.

Limitation 2: I have used the minä-form in most of my examples. I’ve chosen to do so because using the passive (Maija unohdetaan aina) or the imperative (Unohda Maija!) would remove the -n ending from the sentence’s total object.

Limitation 3: In this article, I’ve limited the types of objects I present. I’m excluding mass nouns and abstract nouns. These verbs are much easier in object sentences because they nearly always require the partitive case. You can read more about this topic elsewhere on my website:

Limitation 4: Please note concerning many of the translations that Finnish uses the present tense to express both current and future events. In my translations, I’m using the English present simple tense, but I could also use the future tense for these. The sentence Voitan kilpailun can mean both “I win the competition” and “I will win the competition”. Often there is also the third option: “I am winning the competition”. English tenses are a lot more complicated than Finnish.

Limitation 5: Please also note that many verbs have multiple meanings! I’m focusing on certain meanings of the verbs, so look at the translation to see the context of the object sentence. I’m limiting myself to the most typical way of using these verbs.

It’s important to realize that when dealing with languages, the word “always” is dangerous. There are always (?) exceptions. Partitive verbs are not always partitive verbs. Keep that in mind also when reading through this article. You’re likely to come up with “but what about x?” type questions which fall between the cracks.

2. Basic Object Rules: Overview

2.1. Total Objects

Total objects appear in sentences in the genitive, accusative or T-plural case. These are used in the following situations:

  • The target of the action is one, whole entity.
  • The target of the action undergoes a fundamental change due to the action.
  • The target of the action is brought to a clear conclusion due to the action.
  • The action has a beginning, end or duration which can be measured.
Finnish English
Kirjoitin kirjeen. I wrote the letter.
Haluan avata ikkunan. I want to open the window.
Luin kirjan tunnissa. I read the book in an hour.
Aiomme rakentaa mökin. We plan to build a cottage.

2.2. Partitive Objects

Verbs that require a partitive object express that the activity doesn’t have a clear ending or that the target of the action doesn’t change.

Finnish English Explanation
Autan äitiäni. I help my mother. Target of the action remains unchanged.
Rakennan taloa. I’m building a house. Target of the action is undergoing.
Hän luki kirjaa. He read some of the book. Target of the action is incomplete.
Syön jäätelöä. I eat ice cream. Target of the action is a mass noun.
Tarvitsen rakkautta. I need love. Target of the action is an abstract noun.
En avaa ikkunaa. I don’t open the window. Object of a negative sentence.

3. Grammatical Aspect

If you’re really interested in linguistics and/or have studied other languages, you might be familiar with the term aspect. If you’re not familiar with the term, you can glance over this section and move on to the examples below.

When we talk about the aspect of a sentence, we’re considering how the action, state or event denoted by the verb extends over time. Most languages express aspect in some way, but different languages have their own ways of doing so. In English you do this by using different tenses (e.g. I am eating, was eating, have eaten, had eaten).

Finnish sentences can be divided into sentences where the intended goal of the action is achieved, and sentences where the intended goal of the action is not achieved. This is not done through verbs, as in English, but rather through the use of partitive objects and total objects.

There are many terms for the types of aspects. These can sometimes be used as synonyms and antonyms, but they might also partly overlap.

  1. Boundedness: bounded vs. unbounded (rajattuus vs. rajaamattomuus)
  2. Telicity: telic vs. atelic (teelisuus vs. ateelisuus)
  3. Perfective vs. imperfective (perfektiivinen vs. imperfektiivinen)
  4. Resultative vs. irresultative (resultatiivisuus vs. irresultatiivisuus)
  5. Rajapakoinenrajaava and rajahakuinen

4. My Approach: Three Types of Object Verbs

For the purpose of this article, I’m dividing transitive verbs into three categories in much the same way that Iso suomen kielioppi (ISK) does. I’m avoiding the terms ISK uses in order to reduce the amount of grammar terms I include in this article.

  1. Verbs that generally require a partitive object (ISK: rajapakoinen)
  2. Verbs that generally require a total object (ISK: rajaava)
  3. Verbs which are regularly used with both object types (ISK: rajahakuinen)

While I’m going to avoid most grammar terms, I will be using the terms resultative and irresultative when referring to verbs. Resultative verbs lead to a natural conclusion: a result is achieved. Some examples of resultative verbs are löytää “to find”, tappaa “to kill” and unohtaa “to forget”. Irresultative verbs don’t lead to a natural conclusion, because they don’t inherently include the idea of an end result. Such verbs include, for example, rakastaa “to love” and ajatella “to think”.

5. Verbs that Usually Get a Partitive Case Object

Partitive verb keywords: irresultative, unbounded, imperfective, continuous, repetitive.

Verbs that generally are taught to you as “partitive verbs” don’t generally cause a change in the target and don’t reach a natural conclusion. This can be due to several reasons.

Partitive verbs often belong to one of the following semantic groups:

  1. They express an emotion or attitude towards something (e.g. vihata, rakastaa, inhota, kaivata, pelätä, ihailla)
  2. They express other mental processes (e.g. ajatella, miettiä, harkita)
  3. They express communication (e.g. kehua, arvostella, suositella, ehdottaa)
  4. They express repetitive-like actions (e.g. taputtaa, koputtaa, heiluttaa)
  5. They express touching something (e.g. halata, sivellä, koskettaa)
  6. They express actions without a clear end result (e.g. soittaa, kuunnella, katsoa, auttaa)

5.1. Verbs that Express Emotional States and Attitudes

Cognitive verbs are verbs that express mental states, emotions and attitudes towards something or someone. They’re often classified as partitive verbs because they don’t inherently contain the idea of an end point, nor do they cause a change in the object.

For example, when you love your mother, the verb rakastaa doesn’t have a clear set ending. It’s also important to note that the object äiti doesn’t undergo a change due to us loving her. It’s a pure mental state.

I’m giving both present and past tense examples. This is meant to demonstrate to you that even when the action is completed, you will still use the partitive case.

Finnish English
Rakastan äitiäni. Rakastin suklaata. I love my mother. I loved chocolate.
Ihailen äitiäni. Ihailin auringonlaskua. I admire my mother. I admired the sunset.
Inhoan äitiäni. Inhosin pinaattia. I detest my mother. I detested spinach.
Kaipaan äitiäni. Kaipasin kotimaatani. I miss my mother. I missed my home country.
Pelkään äitiäni. Pelkäsin pimeää. I’m afraid of my mother. I was afraid of the dark.
Halveksin äitiäni. Halveksin itseäni. I despise my mother. I despised myself.
Vihaan äitiäni. Vihasin sadetta. I hate my mother. I hated rain.
Epäilen äitiäni. Epäilin luotettavuuttasi. I distrust my mother. I doubted your trustworthiness.
Arvostan äitiäni. Arvostin rehellisyyttä. I appreciate my mother. I appreciated honesty.
Uskon äitiäni. Uskoin mediaa. I believe my mother. I believed the media.
Häpeän äitiäni. Häpesin vartaloani. I’m ashamed of my mother. I was ashamed of my body.
Säälin äitiäni. Säälin kulkukissaa. I pity my mother. I pitied the stray cat.
Paheksun kampanjaa. Paheksuin uutista. I disapprove of the campaign. I resented the news.
Suren äitini kuolemaa. Surin menetys. I mourn the death of my mother. I mourned the loss.
Kadun päätösni. Kaduin ostostani. I regret my decision. I regetted my purchase.

5.2. Verbs that Indicate Cognitive Processes

Mental processes express thinking, knowing, believing, hearing and seeing. They require the partitive case when they are processes. Processes aren’t instantly over; they stretch over time. This is in contrast with other cognitive verbs like tietää, which are instantaneous: you either know something or you don’t. For that reason, ajatella is a partitive verb, while tietää is not.

Finnish English
Ajattelen äitiäni. Ajattelin tulevaa. I think about my mother. I thought about the future.
Mietin äitiäni. Mietin ongelmaa. I think about my mother. I thought about the problem.
Pohdin avioeroa. Pohdin mökin myyntiä. I’m considering divorce. I considered selling a cottage.
Harkitsen muuttoa. Harkitsin ehdotusta. I’m considering moving. I considered the proposal.
Tuumin ehdotusta. Tuumin tulevaa. I ponder the proposal. I pondered about the future.
Mietiskelin maailman menoa. I pondered the way the world was going.
Muistelen eilis. Muistelin lapsuuttani. I think back to yesterday. I thought back on my childhood.
Ihmettelen tapahtunutta. Ihmettelin syy. I wonder what happened. I wondered about the cause.
Suunnittelen matkaa. Suunnittelin tekoa. I’m planning a trip. I planned the act.
Tarkastelen esinettä. Tarkastelin ongelmaa. I examine the object. I examined the problem.

5.3. Verbs that Express Communication

The partitive case is also generally used with the object of a verb that expresses communication. This is due to the fact that communication doesn’t bring about any change in the target.

Finnish English
Kehun tyttöäni. Kehuin työsi. I praise my daughter. I praised your work.
Haastattelen mies. Haastattelin uhria. I interview the man. I interviewed the victim.
Suosittelen ravintolaa. Suosittelin hotellia. I recommend the restaurant. I recommended the hotel.
Arvostelen esimiesni. Arvostelin päätös. I criticize my supervisor. I criticized the decision.
Kritisoin ratkaisua. Kritisoin uudistusta. I criticize the solution. I criticized the reform.
Kiitän äitiä ruoasta. Kiitin Anttia avusta. I thank mom for the food. I thanked Antti for the help.
Ylistän äitiäni. Ylistäkää Herraa! I praise my mother. Praise the Lord!
Ehdotan ratkaisua. Ehdotin Timoa tiiminvetäjäksi. I suggest a solution. I suggested Timo as team leader.
Nuhtelen nuorta tupakanpoltosta. Nuhtelin lasta. I rebuke the boy for smoking. I reprimanded the child.
Torun lasta valehtelemisesta. Toruin koiraa. I scold the child for lying. I scolded the dog.
Imartelen tyttöä. Imartelin esimiesni. I flatter the girl. I flattered my boss.
Vastustan hyökkääjää. Vastustin ehdostusta. I resist the attacker. I opposed the proposal.
Muistuta minua tästä! Poika muistutti isäänsä. Remind me of this! The boy resembled his father.
Puolustan itseäni. Puolustin maalia. I defend myself. I defended the goal.
Puolustelen tekoani. Puolustelin hänen käytösän. I justify my action. I justified his behavior.
Tiedustelen hintaa. Tiedustelin mielipidettäsi. I inquire about the price. I inquired about your opinion.
Liioittelen tarinaa. Liioittelin ongelmaani. I exaggerate the story. I exaggerated my problem.
Loukkaan Aria. Loukkasin Arin kunniaa. I insult Ari. I insulted Ari’s honor.
Moitin lasta. Moitin hallitusta. I scolded the child. I criticised the government.

5.4. Verbs that Express Repetitive Movements

Repetitive movements, often back-and-forth movements, are processes. These verbs don’t include the idea of an endpoint, and the verb doesn’t include information about whether the target changes due to the action.

I’m using the past tense in all example sentences here, to demonstrate that the action being completely over doesn’t influence the case of the objects of the sentence.

Finnish English
Heilutin kättäni. Koira heilutti häntäänsä. I waved my hand. The dog wagged its tail.
Taputin koiraa kylkeen. Taputin käsiäni. I patted the dog on the side. I clapped my hands.
Koputin puuta kolme kertaa. I knocked on wood three times.
Raavin pääni. Raavin ihoani. I scratched my head. I scratched my skin.
Rapsutin koiraa. Rapsutin kissaa kaulasta. I scratched the dog. I scratched the cat’s neck.
Ravistin vauvaa. Ravistin mies olkapäästä. I shook the baby. I shook the man’s shoulder.
Kutitin lasta. Kututin vauvaa leuan alta. I tickled the child. I tickled the baby under the chin.
Hytkytin vauvaa sylissä. Hytkytin sitteriä. I bounced the baby on my lap. I bounced the sitter.
Keikutin venettä. Keikutin lasta polvellani. I rocked the boat. I rocked the child on my knee.

5.5. Verbs that Express Touching Something

When you touch something or someone, the target generally doesn’t undergo any change. That’s why we use the partitive case.

Finnish English
Silitän kissaa. Silitin vaimon tukkaa. I stroke the cat. I stroked my wife’s hair.
Halaan vaimoani. Halasin puuta. I hug my wife. I hugged the tree.
Hipaisen Villen kättä. Hipaisin seinää kevyesti. I lightly touch Ville’s hand. I brushed the wall lightly.
Kosketan olkapääsi. Kosketin pöytää kädelläni. I touch your shoulder. I touched the table with my hand.
Sivelen partaani. Sivelin lapsen poskea.
I stroke my beard. I brushed the kid’s cheek.
Läpsäytin lasta kevyesti pyllylle. I slapped the child lightly on the bum.
Kättelen vierasta. Kättelin presidenttiä. I shake the guest’s hand. I shook the president’s hand.
Lyön palloa. Löin varasta nyrkillä päähän. I hit the ball. I hit the thief in the head with my fists.
Pidän kynää kädessäni. Pidin lasta sylissä. I hold a pen in my hand. I held the child in my arms.
Koira puree minua. Minä purin hän. The dog bites me. I bit her.
Potkin autoa. Potkin mies. I kick the car. I kicked the man.
Hakkaan lasiovea. Hakkasin Aria käsilaukulla. I beat the glass door. I beat Ari with a handbag.

5.6. Verbs that Express Actions Without a Clear End Result

This category contains very typical partitive verbs. They need a partitive object because the target of these actions doesn’t undergo a change. There is no clear end result that affects the object: Äiti is still äiti after I’ve helped her.

It’s possible to finish helping a person, but this end result isn’t intrinsically included in the meaning of the verb itself. Instead, auttaa refers to an action that takes time and has no specific end result. Confused? Take this example: when we say “Autoin häntä ruoanlaitossa” (I helped him cook) the verb auttaa doesn’t tell us whether we finished making the food. Of course our brain automatically supplies that the food will be finished, but the “helping” doesn’t provide the end result.

The same is true for waiting for the bus. While, yes, you are waiting for the whole bus to arrive, the bus itself doesn’t undergo any change due to you waiting and you’re not actively causing its arrival by waiting.

Finnish English
Autan äitiäni. Autoin naapuria. I help my mother. I helped the neighbor.
Odotan äitiäni. Odotin kahvitaukoa. I wait for mother. I waited for the coffee break.
Katson äitiäni. Katsoin maisemaa. I look at my mother. I looked at the landscape.
Tuijotan äitiäni. Tuijotin televisiota. I stare at my mother. I stared at the television.
Kuuntelen äitiäni. Kuuntelin radiota. I listen to my mother. I listened to the radio.
Jatkan opiskelua. Jatkoin puhumista. I continue to study. I kept talking.
Hemmottelen itseäni. Hemmottelin perhettäni. I pamper myself. I pampered my family.
Opiskelen suomea. Opiskelin kemiaa. I’m studying Finnish. I studied chemistry.
Katselen lumisadetta. Katselin auringonlaskua. I watched the snow. I watched the sunset.
Suojelen luontoa. Suojelin lastani medialta. I protect nature. I protected my child from the media.
Lueskelen lehteä. Lueskelin päiväkirjaani. I’m reading some of the paper. I read in my diary.
Soitan kitaraa. Soitin pianoa. I’m playing the guitar. I played the piano.
Pureskelen leipää. Pureskelin kynänvartta. I chew some bread. I chewed the end of my pen.
Käytän lusikkaa. Käytin kypärää. I use a spoon. I used a helmet.
Seuraan opasta. Seurasin polkua. I’m following the guide. I followed the path.
Lähestyn naista. Lähestyin satamaa. I approach a woman. I approached the port.
Jahtaan koiraa. Jahtasin auringonlaskua. I chase the dog. I chased the sunset.

5.7. Important!

Partitive verbs are not always partitive verbs! For some of these verbs we can use a total object.

When there’s an adverb or location case expressing that the action is brought to a conclusion (e.g. Hakkasin pensaan pois, Rakastin miehen ehjäksi). In these types of sentences the action influences the whole object and causes a change or movement.

You can read more about how so-called partitive verbs aren’t always partitive verbs here.

6. Verbs that Usually Get a Genitive Case Object

Genitive case verb keywords: instantaneous, immediate, momentary, endpoint, resultative, limited, perfective.

The following verbs, in contrast with the previous sections, usually get the genitive case. The nature of these verbs inherently contains the idea that there is an end result which is achieved immediately. They describe an instantaneous change with a natural end point. The change is not a process, and the event can’t continue after the change has been achieved.

These resultative verbs normally come with the genitive case. Depending on your background, you might be used to calling this case the accusative. I reserve the term accusative solely for the total object form of the personal pronouns (e.g. minut, sinut, kenet).

Please read the next section carefully as it’s probably the most important thing on this page!

6.1. Comparison of Irresultative and Resultative Verbs

Example 1. The verb aloittaa “to start”. Starting something happens in an instant; the “starting” is achieved immediately. Once you’ve started, you can decide whether you want to keep going, but you need the verb jatkaa for that, which expresses a process.

You might reason that, when you start something, surely it continues. However, it’s not the beginning of the action that continues. When we say “aloitin lukemisen” (I started reading), the action we’re continuing is the reading (lukea), not the initiating (aloittaa) of the action. As such, lukea is a verb that continues on, while aloittaa isn’t. As such aloittaa requires the genitive case in regular sentences.

Finnish English
Aloitan tehtävän. I start the exercise.
Jatkan tehtävää. I continue the exercise.
Lopetin tehtävän. I quit the exercise.

Example 2. The verb voittaa “to win”. Participating in, for example, a competition is a process. Winning, however, is something that happens instantaneously. There’s a natural end result to the verb which is achieved the moment it begins. You can’t drag out the winning itself, though you can of course drag out the celebrations right after winning.

Finnish English
Voitin kilpailun. I won the competition.
Juhlin voittoani. I celebrated my victory.

Example 3. We can compare löytää “to find” to the verb etsiä “to search for”: searching is a process without a natural end point. The verb etsiä itself doesn’t include any inherent end result: we need to use löytää to express that the searching ended successfully.

Finding something happens in a moment. The thing that takes time is the searching that happens before the finding. The verb finding expresses that there is an end result which is achieved immediately. Do check out this article for a more nuanced view of etsiä.

Finnish English
Löysin avaimen. I found the key.
Etsin avainta. I’m searching for the key.

6.2. Verbs that Indicate Simple Momentary Actions

The following verbs don’t generally get a partitive object at all, because they express momentary actions which take no time. They are over as soon as they start. For example, finding something happens instantly. You will use a total object in these sentences, which means using either the genitive case (avaimen, ikkunan), the accusative for personal pronouns (sinut) or the T-plural (opinnot).

The examples below all have a present tense example and a past tense example. This way you can see that the tense has no effect on the object case.

Finnish English
Löydän avaimen. Löysin sinut. I find the key. I found you.
Kadotan lompakon. Kadotin kirjan. I lose the wallet. I lost the book.
Aloitan tehtävän. Aloitin opinnot. I start the exercise. I started the studies.
Lopetan tehtävän. Lopetin etsinnän. I quit the exercise. I stopped the search.
Voitan kilpailun. Voitin tappelun. I win the competition. I won the fight.
Avaan ikkunan. Avasin oven. I open the window. I opened the door.
Julkaisen uuden videon. Julkaisin kirjan. I publish a new video. I published a book.
Nielaisen purkan. Nielaisin tabletin. I swallow the gum. I swallowed the pill.
Läpäisen tämän tentin. Läpäisin näkötestin. I will pass this exam. I passed the vision test.
Sytytän tulipalon. Sytytin tulen takkaan. I start a fire. I lit a fire in the fireplace.
Tarkistan saldon. Tarkistin varauksen. I check the balance. I checked the reservation.
Torjun hyökkääjän. Torjuin iskun. I repel the attacker. I resisted the blow.
Tapan hämähäkin. Tapoin miehen. I kill a spider. I killed the man.
Räjäytän sillan. Räjäytin pommin. I blow up the bridge. I detonated the bomb.
Tukahdutan aivastuksen. Tukahdutin tunteen. I suppress a sneeze. I suppressed the feeling.
Katkaisen siltä pään. Katkaisin langan. I cut its head off. I cut the wire.
Tuhoan maailman. Tuhosin kaiken. I will destroy the world. I destroyed everything.
Aiheutan vahingon. Aiheutin ongelman. I’m causing the damage. I caused the problem.
Herätän vanhan miehen. Herätin hänet. I wake up the old man. I woke her up.

6.3. Verbs that Indicate Giving and Receiving

Verbs that indicate that the object moves from one location to another through the action of the subject are resultative verbs. You will use the total object with these verbs because there is a movement happening towards an end result. Very often these verbs are related to taking, giving and getting objects. It’s also very common for the goal of the movement to be needed to complete the sentence: “I put the book” doesn’t really work as a sentence until you add “on the table”.

Reminder: I’m not including mass nouns such as kahvi and abstract nouns such as musiikki in this. These types of nouns generally require the partitive case despite the verb being resultative. You can give someone money (Annan hänelle rahaa) or buy food (Ostan ruokaa), which requires the partitive because you’re dealing with mass nouns. As such, the case used in these is not due to the verb but rather due to the noun itself.

Finnish English
Annan kirjan sinulle. Annoin lahjan kaverilleni. I give a book to you. I gave the present to my friend.
Otan omenan hyllyltä. Otin kirjan. I take an apple from the shelf. I took the book.
Lainaan kirjan. Lainasin kirjat sinulle. I borrow the book. I lended the books to you.
Maksan laskut. Maksoin vesimaksun. I pay the bills. I paid the water bill.
Myyn tämän auton. Myin vanhan pöydän. I’m selling this car. I sold the old table.
Ostan kaapin IKEAsta. Ostin asunnon. I buy a cupboard from IKEA. I bought an apartment.
Saan lahjan kaverilta. Sain sen ilmaiseksi. I get a present from a friend. I got it for free.
Varastan omenan. Varastin kirjan. I steal the apple. I stole the book.
Laitan kirjan pöydälle. Laitoin kengät jalkaan. I put the book on the table. I put my shoes on.
Panen kirjat laukkuun. Panin lapun oveen. I put the book in the bag. I put the note on the door.
Isken seivään maahan. Iskin kiekon maaliin. I hit the pole into the ground. I hit the puck into the goal.
Asetan kirjan hyllyyn. Asetin yhden ehdon. I put the book on the shelf. I set one condition.
Kiinnitän lapun taululle. Kiinnitin verhotangon. I attach a note to the board. I attached the curtain rod.
Irrotan laturin seinästä. Irrotin lapun. I remove the charger from the wall. I removed the note.
Poistan tahran. Poistin miehen baarista. I remove the stain. I removed the man from the pub.
Pudotan kupin lattialle. Pudotin puhelimen. I drop the cup on the floor. I dropped the phone.
Palautan kirjan. Palautin tehtävän opettajalle. I return the book. I returned the assignment to the teacher.
Lähetän kirjeen. Lähetin paketin sinulle. I send a letter. I sent the package to you.

6.4. Verbs that Indicate Cognitive States (Switch on/off)

Mental or cognitive states can express, for example, knowing, forgetting, and hearing: tietää, tuntea, kuulla, unohtaa. These verbs don’t express an action: you either know/remember/understand something or you don’t. It’s an on/off switch.

This group is tricky for many students. Just because something is a mental verb doesn’t automatically mean it gets a certain case. For example, the verbs tietää and rakastaa are both mental verbs, yet they require a different case.

  • The verb rakastaa is a partitive verb because loving someone is a process that doesn’t have a clear end point. It’s an active verb that continues every day.
  • The verb tietää is (in a way) also a process but there is no development over time. You’re not “actively knowing” something every day. Instead, you either know something or you don’t. It’s important in the situation that’s currently happening.
  • The verb unohtaa refers to something which is instant, there’s no prolonged duration at all included in the meaning of this verb. That’s why we get “Unohdin avaimen kotiin” (I forgot the key at home) and “Unohdin pojan nimen” (I forgot the boy’s name). If you’re continuously or repeatedly forgetting things, you could use the verb unohdella, which is a partitive verb.
  • Likewise, muistaa is instantaneous as well: either you do or you don’t remember something, as is clear from the sentences “Muistan pojan nimen” (I remember the boy’s name) and “Muistin tapaamisen” (I remembered the appointment). If you’re remembering in the sense of reminiscing, you could use the verb muistella, which is a partitive verb.
Finnish English
Keksin ratkaisun. Keksin keinon. I’ll come up with a solution. I thought of a way.
Unohdan kaiken. Unohdin avaimet kotiin. I forget everything. I forgot the keys at home.
Muistan tapahtuman. Muistin sinut. I remember the event. I remembered you.
Tiedän paikan. Tiesin vastauksen. I know the place. I knew the answer.
Tunnen sinut. Tunsin tuon miehen hyvin. I know you. I knew that man well.
Omaksun asiat nopeasti. Omaksuin asenteen. I absorb things quickly. I adopted the attitude.
Omistan tuon kirjan. Omistin rantatontin. I own that book. I owned a beach property.
Huomaan virheen. Huomasin sinut heti. I notice the mistake. I noticed you right away.
Havaitsen muutoksen. Havaitsin reiän. I notice a change. I found the hole.
Kuulen äänen. Kuulin huhun. I hear the voice/sound. I heard a rumor.

7. Verbs that Can Often Get Both the Partitive and Genitive Case Objects

7.1. Typical Object Verbs

The following verbs can appear both with a total object or a partitive object depending on whether the action is completed or not. If you’re familiar with any Slavic languages, you might think of these verbs in terms of their perfective and imperfective aspect.

When you first learn about the object, the verbs in this section are generally the ones that get special attention. These verbs do lead to a natural endpoint (Luen kirjan “I read the book”), but since they are processes, they can currently be incomplete (Luen kirjaa “I’m reading the book”).

It’s important to understand how verbs like lukea and rakentaa differ from muistaa or tietää. It takes time to read or build something. The end result can be achieved over time. In contrast, the verbs from the previous section of this article don’t take time at all. For example, for the verb tietää, you either know it or you don’t. For the verb muistaa, remembering something does not lead to an end point where you’re “done” remembering.

For these verbs, the relation between the total object and the partitive object can be used to express multiple things. For example, the partitive case with the verb lukea in the sentence “Luen kirjaa” can mean:

  • I am in the process of reading the book.
  • I am reading part of the book.

While the genitive case in the sentence “Luen kirjan” can mean:

  • I am reading the whole book.
  • I will read the whole book.
# Finnish English
1 Luen kirjaa. I’m reading (part of) the book.
2 Luen kirjan. I will read the (whole) book.
1 Kirjoitan kirjaa. I’m writing a book.
2 Kirjoitan kirjan. I will write the (whole) book.
1 Rakennan tornia. I’m building (part of a) tower.
2 Rakennan tornin. I build the (whole) tower.
1 Maalaan seinää. I’m in the process of painting the wall.
2 Maalaan seinän. I will paint the (whole) wall.

Reminder: Due to limited space in tables, my translations are limited to a present tense sentence expressing what’s happening right now, and an imperfect sentence expressing the completion of the action.

This means the Finnish way to express future events isn’t mentioned in the examples below: we can use the present tense with the genitive case to express that you plan to complete the whole action. In practice, this means that Kokoan palapelin could also be translated as “I will put together the puzzle”.

Finnish English
Kokoan palapeliä. Kokosin palapelin. I’m putting together a puzzle. I made a puzzle.
Asennan parkettilattiaa. Asensin sovelluksen. I’m installing a parquet floor. I installed the app.
Puran rakennusta. Purin rakennuksen. I’m demolishing the building. I demolished the building.
Silitän paitaa. Silitin puseron. I’m ironing the shirt. I ironed the shirt.
Piirrän rakennusta. Piirsin kesämökin. I’m drawing a building. I drew a summer cottage.
Lämmitän saunaa. Lämmitin saunan. I’m heating the sauna. I heated the sauna.
Remontoin taloa. Remontoin talon. I’m renovating the house. I renovated the house.
Tuuletan keittiö. Tuuletin huoneen. I’m airing the kitchen out. I aired the room out.
Kaivan kuoppaa. Kaivoin haudan. I’m digging a hole. I dug a grave.
Neulon villapuseroa. Neuloin yhden sukan. I’m knitting a wool sweater. I knitted one sock.
Virkkaan mattoa. Virkkasin pipon. I’m crocheting a rug. I crocheted a beanie.
Ompelen mekkoa. Ompelin verhon itse. I’m sewing a dress. I sewed the curtain myself.
Tapetoin huonetta. Tapetoin seinän. I’m wallpapering the room. I wallpapered the wall.
Sävellän biisiä. Sävelsin biisin. I’m composing a song. I composed a song.
Auraan katua. Aurasin huoltotien. I’m snow plowing the street. I snow plowed the service road.
Pesen parvekkeen lattiaa. Pesin takin. I’m washing the balcony floor. I washed the jacket.
Pyyhin lattiaa. Pyyhin pöydän. I’m wiping the floor. I wiped the table.
Siivoan olohuonetta. Siivosin vessan. I’m cleaning the living room. I cleaned the toilet.
Lakaisen lattiaa. Lakaisin lattian. I’m sweeping the floor. I swept the floor.

7.2. Verbs that Can Have Two Endpoints

The following verbs can – in theory – have two types of endpoints. They can be considered completed even when they are only performed a certain amount. For example, opening a door a little (Avaan ovea) can in itself be the end result of the action. You’ve performed the whole action in said context. In addition, you can also open the door all the way (Avaan oven). That’s the second way of performing the whole action.

I’m using the past tense in both examples here because it shows my point more clearly. Actions can be brought to completion by only doing them partly for the verbs in the following table.

Finnish English
Täytin lasia. Täytin lasin. I part-filled the glass. I filled the glass.
Lyhensin mekkoa. Lyhensin mekon. I shortened the dress a little. I shortened the dress.
Avasin ovea. Avasin oven. I opened the door a little. I opened the door.
Raivasin metsää. Raivasin metsän. I cleared some of the forest. I cleared the whole forest.

I’m giving these verbs a separate section, but they’re not very different from the section below. The main difference is that the above verbs are resultative even with the partitive, while the ones in the next section aren’t.

7.3. Verbs that Cause a Movement With or Without an End Point

Certain verbs that express movement of the object can lead to an end point or not, based on the way they are used. Take the verb siirtää for example. First, you can move a chair to a new location: pick it up and put it somewhere else. Second, you can move a chair a little in its place, without a target location. Perhaps you’re just moving it so you can vacuum clean underneath it. Moving food on your plate is another clear example of how moving doesn’t always have an end result: Siirsin lohenpalaa lautasellani “I moved the piece of salmon on my plate”.

I’m using the past tense in all the examples here to make it clear that the activity is over. That way, you can see how the tense used doesn’t influence the case choice, even when the action is completely done.

Finnish English
Siirsin tuolia. Siirsin tuolin pois tieltä. I moved the chair (a little). I moved the chair away.
Kannoin lasta. Kannoin lapsen sänkyyn. I carried the child (with me). I carried the child to bed.
Työnsin ostoskärryä. Työnsin oven auki. I pushed the shopping cart (around). I pushed the door open.
Painoin nappia. Painoin oven kiinni. I pressed the button. I pushed the door shut.
Nostin hattua. Nostin tuolin pöydälle. I raised my hat. I lifted the chair onto the table.
Raahasin poikaa mukanani. Raahasin kuusen sisälle. I dragged the boy with me. I dragged the spruce inside.
Kiersin avainta. Kiersin kannen auki. I turned the key. I twisted the lid open.
Raapaisin pintaa. Raapaisin luomen rikki. I scratched the surface. I scratched the mole open.
Puraisin kielni. Puraisin palan omenasta. I bit my tongue. I bit a piece of the apple.
Vedin köyttä. Vedin oven kiinni. I pulled the rope. I pulled the door shut.

The explanations on my page about so-called partitive verbs apply closely to these types of verbs. Notice how all the resultative phrases have either a location case (sänkyyn, sisällle, tieltä) or an adverb (kiinni, auki).

8. Summary of the Finnish Object for Advanced Learners

I’ve presented object verbs as belonging to three distinct groups.

1. Verbs that usually require the partitive case

  • Keywords: irresultative, unbounded, imperfective, continuous, repetitive
  • These verbs generally don’t cause a change in the nature or the location of the object.

2. Verbs that usually require the genitive case

  • Keywords: resultative, bounded, perfective, limited, instantaneous, immediate, momentary, endpoint.
  • These verbs generally express actions that take no time at all.

3. Verbs that Can Often Get Both the Partitive and Genitive Case Objects

  • Keywords: process vs. end result, ongoing vs. finished, current vs. future
  • These verbs utilize the partitive and the genitive in order to express whether the action is currently happening, already completed, or whether the intent is the completion the action.

Read More Elsewhere

I’m linking to a whole series of articles from Iso suomen kielioppi (VISK), because it has been one of the main sources I’ve been using to write this article.

There you have it: an overview of the Finnish object for advanced learners. I hope you found this useful. Hopefully it helps you approach the object from a more nuanced point of view!

4.6 7 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

1 Comment
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Heshmat Rezai

Kiitos tästä opinnoista, ovat todella hyödyllisiä👌