Finnish for busy people

Existential Sentences – Jossain on jotain

Table of Contents
  1. What is an Existential Sentence?
  2. The Location
  3. The Verb
    1. Examples
    2. The verb will always be singular
    3. Location case verb rections
  4. The Subject

1. What is an Existential Sentence?

Existential sentences express that something is somewhere. In English, these sentences often begin with “there is” or “there are”. In Finnish, they start with a location case (eg. huoneessa “in the room”, pihalla “in the yard”).

Finnish Literally English
Huoneessa on sänky. In the room is a bed. There is a bed in the room.
Puistossa on lapsia. In the park are kids. There are kids in the park.
Bussipysäkillä oli bussi. At the bus stop was a bus. There was a bus at the bus stop.
Kotona ei ollut ruokaa. At home wasn’t food. There was no food at home.

Existential sentences have a fixed word order in Finnish. At the beginning of the sentence you can find the place, which has been inflected into a location case (eg. huoneessa “in the room”). Next comes a static verb (most of the time the verb olla). After that, you can find the thing that exists in the place. Below, you can find some more explanations for each part of this sentence construction.

2. The Location

The location of the sentence can appear in any of the location cases, though missä and millä are definitely the most common.

Firstly (#1 below), there is the difference between “in” and “on”, which usually is express with the inessive (-ssa) for “in”, and the adessive (-lla) for “on”. Next (#2), some places just naturally appear with either -llA or -ssA, regardless of how they are translated to English. Places which always get -lla are for example busspysäkki (bus stop), tori (market square), kioski (kiosk) and asema (station). Read more here.

# Finnish English
1 Lattialla on kirja. On the floor is a book.
1 Pöydällä on kirja. On the table is a book.
1 Laatikossa on kirja. In the box is a book.
2 Huoneessa on mies. In the room is a man.
2 Pihalla on mies. In the yard is a man.
2 Bussipysäkillä on mies. At the bus stop is a man.

3. The Verb

While you will find the verb olla in most of these sentences, we can use other verbs as well. These are much more tricky to translate literally from Finnish because they usually can’t be translated word by word. For example the sentence Kadulla kävelee miehiä is literally “On the street walk men”, but will be translated as “There are men walking on the street” in English. All of these verbs usually require “there is” or “there are” in English.

3.1. Examples

Finnish English
Talossa asuu mies. In the house lives a man. – There is a man living in the house.
Juhlissa esiintyy laulaja. At the party performs a singer. – There is a singer performing at the party.
Juhlissa esiintyi laulaja. At the party performed a singer. – There was a singer performing at the party.
Pihalla juoksee mies. In the yard runs a man. – There is a man running in the yard.
Talossa tapahtui ryöstö. In the house happened a robbery. – The house was robbed.
Kadulla sattui onnettomuus. On the street happened an accident. – An accident happened in the street.

3.2. The verb will always be singular

Sentences with a plural subject are a little different. The verb will not be conjugated in the plural form; it retains its third person singular form (eg. kävelee; not kävelevät).

Finnish English
Kadulla kävelee miehiä. On the street walk men. – There are men walking on the street.
Kadulla ei kävellyt miehiä. On the street didn’t walk men. – There were no men walking on the street.
Metsässä kasvaa mansikoita. In the forest grow strawberries. – There are strawberries growing in the forest.
Huoneessa nukkuu lapsia. In the room sleep children. – There are children sleeping in the room.

3.3. Location case verb rections

Some of the verbs that can be used in an existential sentence have a rection. This means the verb requires the location to be inflected in a certain case. For example, the verb saapua comes with the mihin form (saapua kotiin). We have another article concerning location case rections.

Take the translations below with a grain of rice; their main point is to show you how the Finnish sentence contructions work. For example, with the sentence Taloon saapui mies, you may want to translate it as “A man arrived at the house”, but that would no longer be an existential sentence. Rather, the translation should be something like “At the house there was a man arriving”, which is a weird sentence in English.

Finnish English
Taloon saapui mies. To the house arrives a man. – There was a man arriving at the house.
Paikalle saapui miehiä. To the place arrived men. – There were men arriving to the place.
Kaikille riittää ruokaa. For everyone suffices food. – There is enough food for everyone.
Pensaissa liikkuu hiiriä. In the bushes move mice. – There are mice moving in the bushes.
Seuraan liittyi uusia ihmisiä. To the club joined new people. – There were new people joining the club.
Perheeseen syntyi lapsi. To the family was born a child. – There was a child born into the family.
Kirkkoon kokoontui uskovaisia. To the church gathered believers. – There gathered believers to the church.

4. The Subject

As you can also see in the example sentences above, the subject of an existential sentence can appear in:

  1. the singular nominative form when the subject is in the singular in an affirmative sentence
  2. the singular partitive form when the subject is in the singular in a negative sentence
  3. the singular partitive form when the subject is abstract or uncountable
  4. the plural partitive form when we the subject is plural, both in affirmative and negative sentences
# Finnish English
1 Pöydällä on kirja. There is a book on the table.
2 Pöydällä ei ole kirjaa. There is no book on the table.
1 Pöydällä oli kirja. There was a book on the table.
2 Pöydällä ei ollut kirjaa. There wasn’t a book on the table.
3 Pöydällä on ruokaa. There is food on the table.
3 Pöydällä on pölyä. There is dust on the table.
4 Pöydällä on kirjoja. There are books on the table.
4 Pöydällä ei ole kirjoja. There are no books on the table.
4 Pöydällä on ollut kirjoja. There have been books on the table.

That’s it for now! If you want to read more about existential sentences in Finnish, this article is pretty helpful.

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