Finnish for busy people

Sentences Without a Subject – Subjektittomat Lauseet

There are several types of sentences without a subject. On this page you can find an overview of these types. Please note that many of these sentences without a subject will have a subject when you translate them to English. The lack of subject is often little more than grammatical. This grammatical vs semantical difference of subjects mainly is a topic for Finnish university courses.

Because of that, I want to stress that, for many students, this page will have very little useful information. Take the “minun” in minun täytyy (“I have to”) for example. It’s not technically the subject of the sentence because it’s inflected in the genitive and the verb doesn’t conjugate with the person. However, there is no reason why you can’t consider the minun the subject of the sentence. It’s a purely grammatical thing.

Table of Contents
  1. Passive Sentences (talo rakennetaan)
  2. Feeling Sentences (minua väsyttää)
  3. Sensory Sentences (tuntuu hyvältä)
  4. Weather Sentences (tuulee ja ukkostaa)
  5. Necessity Sentences (täytyy lähteä)
  6. Generic Sentences (sitä saa, mitä ansaitsee)
  7. “It’s fun to” Sentences (on hauskaa uida)
  8. Existential Sentences (torilla on ihmisiä)

1. Passive Sentences

The most obvious sentence type without a subject is the passive sentence. The passive verb in Finnish typically expresses an action that is done by a person, even if it doesn’t say who. It is used when the do-er of the action (talo rakennetaan – “the house is being built”) either isn’t known (e.g. we don’t know who is building the house) or isn’t important (e.g. we don’t care who is building the house).

Finnish English
Talo rakennettiin kolmessa viikossa. The house was built in three weeks.
Lapset viedään mummolle. The children are sent to grandma’s.
Suomessa juodaan paljon kahvia. A lot of coffee is drunk in Finland.
Mansikoita ei poimita talvella. Strawberries are not picked in winter.
Kotitehtäviä ei tehty viikonloppuna. Homework wasn’t done in the weekend.

2. Feeling Sentences

Feeling verbs like pelottaa, hävettää and kiukuttaa (more here) very often don’t have a subject in them. They generally do have “an experiencer“, but the person experiencing the feeling or sensation is not the subject in these sentences. Minor technicality? Perhaps!

Generally, we can add a subject to these sentences. The subject, then, expresses the cause of the feeling. We know that this is the subject because the verb will be conjugated in agreement with the subject.

Finnish English
Minua ärsyttää. I feel annoyed.
Sannaa väsyttää. Sanna feels tired.
Meitä hävettää. We feel ashamed.
Meitä hävettää esiintyminen. We feel ashamed about performing.
Minua ärsyttää moni asia. I am annoyed by many things.
Minua ärsyttävät monet asiat. I am annoyed by many things.
Monet asiat ärsyttävät minua. Many things annoy me.

3. Sensory Sentences

Verbs related to the senses (e.g. to feel, to sound like) also often don’t have a subject in Finnish. These can be used with an object in a concrete sense (e.g. sade tuntuu märältä ‘the rain feels wet’). In addition, they can be used in more abstract contexts (e.g. tuntuu vaikealta oppia suomea ‘it feels hard to learn Finnish’).

We can add a kind of subject to these sentences (e.g. minusta tuntuu vaikealta oppia suomea ‘ I find it hard to learn Finnish’). While semantically the minusta is the experiencer of the feeling, grammatically we can’t count it as a subject.

Finnish English
Tuntuu mukavalta syödä ravintolassa. It feels pleasant to eat in a restaurant.
Tuntuu omituiselta olla ilman puhelinta. It feels weird to be without a phone.
Tuntuu mahdottomalta oppia suomea. It feels impossible to learn Finnish.
Tuntuu järkevältä aloittaa sanastosta. It feels reasonable to start with vocab.
Minusta tuntuu helpolta lähteä. I find it easy to leave.
Minusta tuntuu inhottavalta lukea tästä. I find it disgusting to read about this.
Hänestä tuntuu turhalta kokata itselleen. He finds it pointless to cook for himself.

4. Weather Sentences

Many of the weather phrases don’t have a subject, because there is no one doing the action. It’s easy to recognise a beginner learning Finnish when you hear incorrect phrases like “Se on pilvistä” (=”it” is cloudy).

Finnish English
On kaunis päivä. It is a beautiful day.
Oli pilvistä. It was cloudy.
Sataa vettä. It is raining.
Ei sada. Ei satanut. It doesn’t rain. It didn’t rain.
On kaksi astetta pakkasta. It is two degrees below zero.
Tuulee. Wind is blowing.
Ulkona kylmenee. It is getting colder outside.

5. Necessity Sentences

Verbs expressing necessity appear only in the third person singular. This includes the verbs täytyä and pitää, as well as the constructions minun on pakko and minun on tehtävä. The genitive form in these sentences isn’t a stereotypical subject. Often it will be called a genitiivisubjekti in linguistic sources. Another minor technicality if you’re just trying to learn some basic Finnish.

Finnish English
Sinun täytyy tulla takaisin. You have to come back.
Tanjan pitää kirjoittaa minulle. Tanja has to write to me.
Naisen on tehtävä enemmän. The woman has to do more.
Hänen on pakko palata. She has to return.
Minun ei tarvitse imuroida. I don’t have to vacuum.

6. Generic Sentences

Consider the following generic sentences: Museossa ei saa juosta (“In a museum ‘you’ can’t run”). Jos haluaa voittaa, täytyy osallistua (“If ‘you’ want to win, you have to participate). Sängyssä nukkuu paremmin kuin teltassa (“In a bed ‘you’ sleep (one sleeps) better than in a tent”).

As you can see above, the verbs in the sentences above are conjugated in the third person singular (hän haluaa, hän nukkuu). By leaving out the personal pronoun hän we can make the sentence generic. This means that anyone could be the subject of the sentence. In Finnish, we use the term nollapersoona for this phenomenon.

Finnish English
Sitä saa, mitä tilaa. ‘You’ get what ‘you’ order.
Täällä huomaa, että on kuumaa ulkona. ‘You’ notice here that it’s hot outside.
Metsässä saa poimia mansikoita. One can pick berries in the forest.
Juostessa hikoilee runsaasti. While running ‘you’ sweat profusely.
Helteissä väsyy nopeasti. In the heat ‘you’ get tired quickly.

7. “It’s Fun to” Sentences

On hauskaa” -sentences are pretty common in Finnish. They consist of the verb olla in the third person singular (on), and adjective in its partitive form (hauskaa) and, usually, a verb in its infinitive (uida). For example, the sentence On hauskaa uida means “it’s fun to swim”. There is, however, no “it” in the Finnish sentence – thus making it a sentence without a subject.

For the most common adjectives it is possible to lose the partitive (on hauskaa – on hauska). However, as a learner of Finnish, it can be hard to tell which adjectives can appear in their basic form. As such, it’s easiest to just always use the partitive form.

Finnish English
On hauskaa olla lomalla. It is fun to be on vacation.
On hassua uida vaatteet päällä. It is weird to swim with clothes on.
On ihanaa nukkua pitkään. It is wonderful to sleep long.
On helppoa unohtaa säännöt. It is easy to forget the rules.
On vaikeaa vastata kysymykseen. It is difficult to answer the question.
Oli pelottavaa yöpyä teltassa. It was frightening to sleep in a tent.
On tylsää odottaa lentokentällä. It is boring to wait in the airport
Ei ole kivaa kun sataa koko ajan. It isn’t nice when it rains all the time.
Ei ole järkevää nukkua tunnilla. It isn’t smart to sleep in class.

8. Existential Sentences (torilla on ihmisiä)

Existential sentences tell us what we can find in a place. In Finnish, these sentences start with the word that expresses the location. The end of the sentence specifies who or what is located there. I strongly suggest you read more about this topic in other articles: main article + word order in existential sentences.

Finnish English
Pihalla on vain yksi puu. There is only one tree in the yard.
Makuuhuoneessa on sänky. There’s a bed in the bedroom.
Makuuhuoneessa ei ole peiliä. There’s no mirror in the bedroom.
Kupissa on kahvia. There is coffee in the cup.
Asemalla on ihmisiä. There are people in the station.
Puistossa istuu opiskelijoita. There are students sitting in the park.
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Ole Kirkeby

What about existential sentences like ‘torilla on ihmisiä’? Doesn’t that deserve its own catagory on this page?

Inge (admin)

Good point! I added it now 🙂

Guus Bonnema

I apologize for misplacing this question. I just chose this subject to pose it. First off, in time (I haven’t been here for a while) it has become way more difficult to search. I did a search on “-ua -ya” and got many screens of results for which a relatively large percentage is in a language I do not understand (Chinese, Russian, …). Maybe it is a good idea to be able to limit languages when doing a search. Like for me could be English, Dutch, Finnish.

Now the question I had. I was looking up the difference between verbs ending in -ya or -ua and verbs ending in -aa or -ää. The word I encountered was kehittyä and wiktionary contains a pointer to kehittää, As far as I can distinguish they are the same, except that kieli.net call kehittää – develop, improve while it defines kehittyä as progress, unfold. Also, I suspect there is a formal definition and an informal understanding of the words.

My question is obviously both this specific case and whether the differences betwee the two types of verbs (-ua vs -aa) is systemic and easy to generalize. Thank you for your effort in advance.

P.S. I know about the discord group and joined it a while ago, but for some reason I can no longer get discord to work on my PC (running Fedora). So, apologies for that as well.

Last edited 1 month ago by Guus Bonnema
Inge (admin)

The search on the website is indeed bad. I usually prefer Google if I need to find something. The in-site search bar is too quirky and organizes search results by publication date rather than relevancy. However, the search results you got are explained by the dash in front of -ua and -aa. The search on the website interprets that as you wanting search results which DON’T contain those vowels. That’s why it comes up with articles that generally don’t have a lot of those letters because they’re in a different language, hehe.

If you would have put “kehittää kehittyä” in the search bar on the website, the third search result would have been this one: https://uusikielemme.fi/finnish-grammar/verbs/types-of-verbs/automative-verbs-ua-ya-kaataa-kaatua-transitivity If you look through that page you’ll see that there is indeed a tendency for their meaning to be similar: -aa is for transitive verbs (Kehitän kielitaitoani “I develop my language skills”) ja -ua for intransitive verbs (Kielitaitoni kehittyy “My langugae skills develop”).

There are several groups of verbs ending in -ua and -aa so there isn’t one simple rule to learn the difference. I still think it’s helpful to recognise this tendency though. You can find links to my other articles with verbs with similar endings (e.g. -utua and -ttaa) here: https://uusikielemme.fi/finnish-grammar/verbs/types-of-verbs/transitivity-and-intransitivity-different-derivation-types