Finnish for busy people

So-Called Partitive Verbs – Not Always Partitive?

This page is meant for intermediate students. In the very beginning of your studies, the concept of Finnish partitive verbs is very often taught in books or classes. It’s an easy-ish way to list verbs that require a noun attached to them to appear in the partitive case in prototypical sentences. However, most of these so-called partitive verbs still appear with a total object in some cases.

It’s important to understand that what’s listed on this page is generally something that’s okay to ignore when you’re just getting started. In the beginning of your studies, the most basic usage of these verbs is all you need, at least for a while. This page is only meant for those students who have already learned the basics of the object rules. If you haven’t learned how to use objects yet, you should first study the object in depth.

Links that will help you understand this article:

1. Partitive Objects and Total Objects

Just a small refresher on the terms used in this article. Objects are the target of a verb: they explain what an action is aimed at. Prototypical verbs that require an object are myydä, ostaa, avata, ottaa, siirtää, rakentaa and lukea. Objects can be divided into two main groups: partitive objects and total objects.

Partitive objects appear in sentences in the partitive case. There are multiple reasons why an object would be inflected in the partitive case. For example, negative sentences will generally have a partitive object (eg. En osta tuota omenaa). In addition, we will also use the partitive for objects which are mass nouns or abstract nouns (eg. Ostan leipää. Kuuntelen musiikkia). Last but not least, we use the partitive case with partitive verbs. This article mainly deals with how these so-called partitive verbs are not as straight-forward as they seem.

Total objects can appear in several cases: the genetive, accusative and T-plural (eg. Näen oven. Näen hänet. Näen miehet). These cases are generally used when the verb’s action is directed at one, whole object: it causes a change or movement to the totality of the object.

2. What this page is NOT about

On this page, you can find examples of how so-called partitive verbs can appear with objects in other cases than the partitive. I’m focusing specifically on objects. This means, for example, that this page doesn’t include partitive verbs that can also appear without an object, such as the verb puhua.

Finnish English
Object
Puhuin vain englantia. I only spoke English.
Puhuin murretta. I spoke a dialect.
No object
Puhuin miehen kanssa. I spoke with the man.
Puhuin tytön äidille. I spoke to the girl’s mother.
Puhuin juhlissa. I spoke at the party.

If you’re a beginner, it’s also important to learn the above uses of the verb puhua. However, this article is aimed at intermediate students who would benefit from getting to know the nuances of the object of so-called partitive verbs better.

3. Uncountable VERSUS One, Whole, Specific

In this first section, we’re simply looking at verbs that most often are used with uncountable things.

This won’t be too hard to understand if you’ve learned the basic object rules. Take for example the typical objects of the verb syödä. You eat “food”, which is a mass noun, uncountable, and – thus – in the partitive case: Söin ruokaa. However, you can also eat breakfast (Söin aamiaisen) or an apple (Söin omenan). In these sentences, we use the genetive case because we’re eating one, whole, specific thing. If this is new information to you, I suggest you go read this page first.

Very early on, your Finnish teacher might have simplified this issue and told you “syödä + partitiivi“.  This was a generalization, but it was all you needed to know at the time. The same is true for some other so-called partitive verbs as well. When you’re a beginner, it’s necessary to simplify and focus on smaller parts of complicated issues like the object.

The following verbs are most often used with the partitive, but can also be used to refer to one, whole, specific thing.

3.1. Kuunnella – To Listen

The prototypical phrases Kuuntelen musiikkia and Kuuntelen radiota both have a partitive object. For musiikki, this is due to music being a mass noun. For radio, the right way to think about it is that you don’t listen to the whole radio, all the way to the end. When you express listening to yourself, you’re dealing with a similar object as radio. You’re not listening to yourself from start to finish.

This is in contrast with something things that CAN be listened to completely: eg. songs, speeches and podcasts. In these cases, we have a total object. Typical words that will help you distinguish the right case to use are loppuun “to the end” and koko “the whole”.

Finnish English
Default use
Kuuntelin musiikkia. I listened to music.
Kuuntelin sinua aina. I always listened to you.
Kuuntelin itseäni. I listened to myself.
Kuuntelin omaa kehoani. I listened to my own body.
Kuuntelin radiota. I listened to the radio.
More nuanced use
Kuuntelin biisin loppuun. I listened to the song to the end.
Kuuntelin koko kappaleen. I listened to the whole song.
Kuuntelin presidentin puheen. I listened to the president’s speech.
Kuuntelin podcastin. I listened to the podcast.

3.2. KäyttääKäytän haarukkaa

The object of the verb käyttää very often appears in the partitive case. This is because the object generally doesn’t undergo a change when you use it: a mask is still a mask when you’re done using it.

However, there are some things that you use either all the way or use all of it, ie. the contents of a container or all your money. That’s when you will be using a total object. The words loppuun, koko and kaikki are once again useful indicators of the need to use a total object.

Finnish English
Default use
Käytin kasvomaskia. I used a face mask.
Käytin kokaiinia. I used cocaine.
Käytin lusikkaa. I used a spoon.
Käytin väärää sanaa. I used the wrong word.
Käytin puhekiel. I used spoken language.
More nuanced use
Käytin huulipunan loppuun. I used the lipstick all the way.
Käytin koko purkin. I used the whole jar.
Käytin rahat tyhmästi. I used the money foolishly.
Käytin kaikki isäni säästöt. I used all of my dad’s savings.
Käytin kaiken huumeisiin. I used all of it on drugs.

3.3. Pelata – To Play

Sports and games are activities; not concrete things. That’s why pelata generally requires the partitive case. However, you can play one whole match, or play a video game all the way to the end. In these cases, you use the genetive case.

Finnish English
Default use
Pelasin jalkapalloa. I played soccer/football.
Pelasin shakkia. I played chess.
Pelasin FIFA-videopeliä. I played the FIFA video game.
More nuanced use
Pelasin ottelun loppuun. I played to the end of the match.
Pelasin yhden matsin. I played one match.
Pelasin koko pelin. I played the whole game.
Pelasin pelin läpi neljässä tunnissa. I played the game through in four hours.

3.4. Suunnitella – To Plan VERSUS to design

The default meaning of the verb suunnitella is “to plan an activity”. Activities are uncountable nouns, so they are inflected in the partitive case when you plan them. However, suunnitella can also mean “to design”. In this case, you can plan one specific thing completely, so the total object does work in that context.

Finnish English
Default use
Suunnittelin muuttoa pois Suomesta. I was planning to move away from Finland.
Suunnittelin vankilapakoa. I was planning a prison escape.
Suunnittelin tekoani noin kuukauden. I planned my actions for about a month.
More nuanced use
Suunnittelin julkaisun ulkoasun. I designed the look of the publication.
Suunnittelin logon ja nettisivut. I designed the logo and the website.
Suunnittelin hääpuvun siskolleni. I designed a wedding dress for my sister.

3.5. Katsoa – To Watch

Very often, you will use the partitive case with katsoa because the things you watch can’t be watched all the way to the end. For example, a playing child or the tv won’t disappear once you’ve watched them. However, you can watch a program or series from start to finish. These situations require the genetive case.

Finnish English
Default use
Katsoin televisiota. I watched television.
Katsoin peliä telkkarista.
I watched the game on tv.
Katsoin leikkivää lasta. I watched the playing chiled.
Katsoin sinua silmiin. I looked you into the eyes.
More nuanced use
Katsoin koko sarjan. I watched the whole series.
Katsoin ohjelman alusta loppuun. I watched the program from beginning to end.

Katsoa can also be used with the mihin-form, but that’s not the topic of this article. However, it’s good to realize that you can look into the mirror (Katsoin peiliin) or look in something’s direction (Katsoin sinuun päin). Generally, you will use the verb “to look” in English in these cases rather than “to watch”.

4. Resultative versus Irresultative Actions

There are certain verbs that often are accompanied by a partitive object because they express an irresultative action: something is done without there being a clear end result to the action.

A question to ask yourself is: Is there a change or movement happening to the object? When you help someone, the situation changes but the person doesn’t. This is an indicator that we need a partitive verb. In contrast, when you help someone across the street, there IS a movement happening to the person. Thinking of it in that way allows you to understand why we use a total object in this situation.

For most of these, the resultative action requires us to add an additional word, which is generally inflected in a location case or the translative case. I will mark this extra element in the sentence with purple.

4.1. AuttaaVoisitko auttaa minua?

When you can help someone with a task, you will use the partitive case for the object. There is no change happening to the person we’re helping, even if the situation changes.

We can also make sentences with the verb auttaa and a total object. These sentences express that there’s a movement or change happening to the object itself. They require the sentence to contain a location case or an adverb such as yli.

Finnish English
Default use
Voisitko auttaa minua? Could you help me?
Autoin ystävääni muutossa. I helped my friend move.
Autoin äitiä keittiössä. I helped mother in the kitchen.
Autoin kuljettajaa löytämään paikan. I helped the driver to find the place.
Autoin asiakasta täyttämään lomakkeen. I helped the customer to fill the form.
Autoin asiakasta lomakkeen täytössä. I helped the customer with filling the form.
More nuanced use
Autoin mummon kadun yli. I helped grandma across the street.
Autoin miehen pyörätuoliin. I helped the man into the wheelchair.
Autoin tytön ulos kuorestaan. I helped the girl out of her shell.
Autoin ystävän pahimman yli. I helped a friend over the worst.
Autoin hänet jaloilleen. I helped her onto her feet.

4.2. LyödäHän löi minua

The verb lyödä usually means “to hit” a static object with your hand or a tool. When the object stays where it is when it’s hit, you will use the partitive case. If the object moves or changes, you will use a total object in combination with a location case expressing the direction of the hit.

Finnish English
Default use
Löin minua kiusannutta poikaa. I hit the boy who bullied me.
Löin mies päähän. I hit the man on his head.
Löin taksikuskia. I hit the taxi driver.
More nuanced use
Löin pallon veteen. I hit the ball into the water.
Löin tennispallon nurmikolle. I hit the tennis ball onto the lawn.
Löin hanskat tiskiin. I hit the gloves on the counter (ie. I gave up).
Löin hänet tajuttomaksi. I knocked him unconscious.

4.3. HoitaaHoidin häntä kotona

The verb hoitaa generally expresses an irresultative action when you care for children or grandmother (Hoidin lasta, mummoa). There is no clear end point to the action.

However, we can also use the verb hoitaa to express that we take care of a task. In this situation, you take care of the task from start to finish, so we will be using a total object.

Similarly, if you take care of your grandmother till the very end of her life, we can use a total object as well (Hoidin mummon loppuun asti). The question to ask yourself is whether the job is completed to a clear end point or not. A location case in the sentence will often help you determine this.

Finnish English
Default use
Hoidin lastani kotona. I cared for my child as home.
Hoidin mummoani. I cared for my grandmother.
Hoidin lastani kotona. I cared for my child as home.
Hoidin mummoani. I cared for my grandmother.
More nuanced use
Hoidin tehtävän mallikkaasti. I did the job well.
Hoidin samat tehtävät joka päivä. I took care of the same things every day.
Hoidin hänet kotona loppuun asti. I cared for her at home until the end.
Hoidin vanhan miehen hautaan saakka. I cared for the old man until the grave.
Hoidin koiran kuntoon. I cared for the dog until he was fit again.
Hoidin juopon kotiin. I took the drunk home.

4.4. RakastaaOi kuinka rakastan sinua

The verb rakastaa is as close to being a “true” partitive verb as possible: there is only one phrase that I could find which does allow you to use a total object: when you combine it with kuoliaaksi. In this case we could say that you cause a change in the person you’re loving, even if it’s a figurative change.

Finnish English
Default use
Rakastin sinua. I loved you.
Rakastin mummoa tosi paljon. I loved grandma a lot.
Rakastin suklaata. I loved chocolate.
Rakastin hän. I loved her.
More nuanced use
Rakastin hänet kuoliaaksi. I loved her to death.

4.5. KehuaHän kehui minua

Just like rakastaa, the verb kehua seems to also have this one exceptional phrase where we use a total object, which means either the genetive (with nouns) or the accusative (for minut, sinut etc.) case.

Finnish English
Default use
Kehuin hänen suomen kielen taitoaan. I praised her Finnish language proficiency.
Kehuin tyttöä kauniiksi. I praised the girl for being beautiful.
Kehuin Miian ulkonäköään. I praised her appearance.
More nuanced use
Kehuin hänet maasta taivaaseen. I praised him from earth to heaven (ie. a lot).

4.6. Neuvoa Voisitko neuvoa minua?

The verb neuvoa means “to advise” and usually has a double rection: 1) the object will appear in the partitive case, and 2) the action you advise them to take will appear in the third infinitive‘s mihin-form (eg. siivoamaan).

In addition, neuvoa can be used for telling someone how to reach or find a place; ie. you advise them on how to find a place. In these cases, we will use a total object and the mihin-form of the place or location. You could think of it as the object undergoing a movement due to your advice.

Finnish English
Default use
Neuvoin mies myymään pyörän. I advised the man to sell the bike.
Neuvoin häntä tulemaan tänne. I advised him to come here.
Neuvoin hän madaltamaan odotuksiaan. I advised her to lower her expectations.
More nuanced use
Neuvoin miehen pankkiautomaatille. I told the man how to get to the ATM.
Neuvoin ystävän perille. I told my friend how to get to the destination.
Neuvoin hänet takaisin oikealle reitille. I advised him how to get back onto the right track.

4.7. Purra – Koira puri minua

In most situations, you will use the partitive case for the object of the verb purra. However, when the object undergoes a clear change (eg. it’s broken or split in two), a total object will be used. This is most common when you add rikki or poikki.

Finnish English
Default use
Koira puri minua. The dog bit me.
Koira puri lasta kasvoihin. The dog bit the child in the face.
Koira puri ohikulkijaa. The dog bit a passerby.
Purin huultani. I bit my lip.
More nuanced use
Koira puri luun rikki. The dog bit the bone broken.
Koira puri hihnan poikki. The dog bit through the leash.
Purin hampaani (hampaat) yhteen. I bit (clenched) my teeth together.
Purin kieleeni (kieleen). I bit on my tongue.

The last example in the table above isn’t an object sentence, but I thought I’d include it anyway.

4.8. Soittaa – Soitin pianoa

The verb soittaa can mean a variety of things, which all basically mean that you create a sound (eg. by playing an instrument, ringing the doorbell or calling a friend). You might want to read this page to find out more.

Soittaa generally requires a partitive object, because playing an instrument, playing music or ringing the doorbell doesn’t cause any change in the object in question. A piano, for example, is still a piano when you’ve played it.

However, in situations where you call for someone to come, your call does cause a change: the taxi comes when you call for it. In these cases you use a total object. In addition, playing one whole song also requires a total object.

Finnish English
Default use
Soitin pianoa ja kitaraa. I played the piano and guitar.
Soitin musiikkia liian kovaa. I played the music too loud.
Soitin ovikelloa. I rang the doorbell.
More nuanced use
Soitin hätäpuhelun. I made an emergency call.
Soitin taksin. I called for a taxi.
Soitin talonmiehen paikalle. I called for the janitor to come.
Soitin poliisit paikalle. I called the police to the scene.
Soitin kappaleen kitaralla. I played the song on guitar.
Soitin biisin kavereilleni. I played the song for my friends.

4.9. EtsiäEtsin työpaikkaa

You can think of the verb etsiä in terms of searching for something specific in mind or more generally. You can search for a job (general), but you can also look for your key (specific). You know you have a key, you just don’t know where.

Finnish English
Default use
Etsin työpaikkaa. I searched for a job.
Etsin poikaystävää. I searched for a boyfriend.
Etsin yhden biisin nimeä. I searched the name of a song.
Etsin hyvää hotellia. I searched for a good hotel.
More nuanced use
Odota, etsin rasian avaimen. Wait, I’ll find (“search”) the key of the box.
Etsin oikean paikan. I searched for the right place.
Etsin uloskäynnin. I searched for the exit.

 

That’s all for this article on so-called partitive verbs! I hope this article helps you gain a more nuanced view of how partitive verbs actually work! Let me know in the comments if you have any questions!

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Marcin

In the section 3.1, why is it “kuuntelen radioita” (partitive plural)? Is it supposed to be so?

Inge (admin)

No, that was just a typo! Thanks for pointing it out!