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 partitive plural (Syön mansikoita, remontoin huonekaluja)
- The nominative (Ota kuppi, syö omena, täytyy rakentaa talo)
- The accusative (Tunnen sinut, näen heidät, valitsen sinut)
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.
- 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)
- 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)
|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.
- The partitive is used when the action is currently incomplete or has been abandoned and will, thus, never be completed.
- The genetive is used to express that the action is completely done.
|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. 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.
- The partitive is used when the action is currently happening and, thus, incomplete.
- The genetive is used to express that our intention is to complete the action that is currently happening.
|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 or 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.
|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.
|Minä rakastan tätä 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. Find out more about mass nouns here.
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.
|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. Abstract Objects
When an abstract noun is the object of your sentence, you will use the partitive case both in affirmative and negative sentences. Find out more about abstract objects here.
|Tarvitset rakkautta.||You need love.||Abstract|
|Tarvitset sydämen.||You need a heart.||Concrete|
|Tarvitsen unta.||I need sleep.||Abstract|
|Tarvitsen sängyn.||I need a bed.||Concrete|
3.1.5. 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.
|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. If the object is a personal pronoun, it will appear in the accusative case no matter what.
|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|
|Sinä muistat ystävän.||Muista ystävä!||“Remember the friend!” Singular imperative|
|Sinä muistat hänet.||Muista hänet!||“Remember him!” Singular 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 their object will not appear in the genetive. The accusative case (used for personal pronouns) will keep its case.
|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.|
|Sinä unohdat miehen.||Sinun pitää unohtaa mies.|
|Sinä unohdat hänet.||Sinun pitää unohtaa hänet.|
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. If you’re dealing with a personal pronoun (eg. sinut), you will retain the accusative case.
|Minä ostin auton.||Me ostettiin auto.|
|Me avaisimme oven.||Ovi avattaisiin.|
|Sinä myyt tietokoneen.||Myydään tietokone!|
|Antti ottaa lasin.||Baarissa otetaan lasi.|
|Muistan opettajan.||Opettaja muistetaan.|
|Muistan sinut.||Sinut muistetaan.|
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, the base rule 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.
|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.|
I have a separate article which goes over the different ways to use the T-plural and the plural partitive. That page doesn’t focus on object sentences. Rather, it gives a broader view of the usage of both cases.
4. There is more…
Once you’re familiar with the object rules in this article, you could move on to my article on the object for advanced learners. Please note that the article in question is really long and definitely not meant to be studied in one go with the content of this article. They’re different levels of the same topic.
PS: Finteresting.net used to have a really helpful flow chart to help you figure out what case to use for the object. Unfortunately that website is no longer available but I salvaged their image.