Finnish for busy people

Sivulause – Finnish Sentence Types: Subordinate Clauses

Finnish has three types of subordinate clauses (huh, what a name) in Finnish (which calls them sivulause).

Table of Contents
  1. Conjunction sentences
    1. Että-sentences
    2. Other conjunctions (kun, jos, vaikka etc.)
  2. Relative sentences
    1. Joka-sentences
    2. Mikä-sentences
  3. Indirect question sentences (mihin, kuka, missä etc.)

1. Conjunction sentences

Conjunction sentences will – as the name implies – start with a conjunction.

1.1. Että-sentences

Some verbs will generally be followed by että. Many beginner students of Finnish tend to just leave the että out of sentences: e.g. “Minä tiedän hän tulee”, which should be Minä tiedän, että hän tulee. This mistake really depends on a student’s native language. Read more about että here!

Even in English – where että is generally translated as “that” – there are certain sentences where you can just skip the “that”. In addition, there are many situations where, in English you would use “that”, but in Finnish you have to use jotta or joka instead of että. I intend to dive deeper into the difference of these in an upcoming article.

Finnish English
Tiedän, että hän haluaa sen. I know that he wants it.
Toivon, että saan paljon lahjoja. I hope (that) I get a lot of presents.
Ymmärrän, että se on vaikeaa. I understand that it is difficult.
Huomasin, että hän on kotona. I noticed that he was home.
Kuulin, että hän huusi. I heard that he yelled.
Unohdin, että tänään on perjantai. I forgot that today is Friday.
Ajattelin, että olin lihava. I thought (that) I was fat.
Pelkään, että hän ei tule takaisin. I’m afraid (that) he’s not coming back.

1.2. Other conjunctions

This group of sentences should not give you much trouble. The use of these conjunctions is pretty universal as far as I can tell.

Finnish English
Hän ei tule, koska hän on lomalla. She’s not coming because she’s on vacation.
Hän ei tule, jos ei ole pakko tulla. She doesn’t come if it’s not obligatory.
Hän ei tule, vaikka hänen pitäisi. She’s not coming although she should.
Hän tulee, jotta hän voi valittaa. She’s coming so that she can complain.
Hän tulee, ellei me kielletä sitä. She’s coming if we don’t forbit it.
Hän tulee, kun hän ehtii. She’s coming when she has the time.
Hän jää tänne, kunnes kello soi. She’s staying here till the bell rings.

2. Relative sentences

2.1. Joka-sentences

Sivulause sentences with the relative pronoun joka are relative sentences. You can read more about relatiivilauseet in this separate article. As you can learn from that article, the pronoun joka will be inflected in the cases. This makes it pretty tricky to use correctly.

In addition, the use of joka in contrast with mikä can also cause confusion. The pronoun joka is used to give extra information about the word right in front of it. The pronoun mikä gives extra information about the complete sentence in front of it. I currently don’t have an article about the difference.

Finnish English
Sain lahjan, [jonka olin halunnut]. I got the present [(that) I had wanted].
Poika, [joka laulaa], on komea. The boy [that sings] is handsome.
Jään kauppaan, [jossa olen nyt]. I will stay in the store [(that) I’m in now].
Auto, [jolla matkustan], on vihreä. The car [with which I travel] is green.
Luen kirjaa, [joka kertoo joulusta]. I’m reading a book [that tells of Christmas].

2.2. Mikä-sentences

Sentences that start with mikä as a pronoun, usually get translated as “which”. We also use mikä in question sentences (see below) and in certain other situations (which are the topic of an upcoming article –  until then, read more here).

Finnish English
Sain lahjan, [mikä tekee minut onnelliseksi]. I got the present, [which made me happy].
Huusin hänelle, [mikä suututti muita]. I yelled at him, [which made the others angry].
Halusin tanssitunnille, [mitä äiti ei sallinut]. I wanted dance lessons, [which mom didn’t allow].
Kävin tanssitunnilla, [mistä äiti ei tiennyt]. I went to dance lessons, [which mom didn’t know].
Ostin sen, [minkä näimme eilen]. I bought the thing, [which we saw yesterday].

3. Indirect question sentences

Indirect question sentences start with a question word (an interrogative pronoun).

Finnish English
Kysyin, miksi hän ei tule. I asked why he isn’t coming.
Selitin, missä juhlat pidetään. I explained where the party takes place.
En nähnyt, kuka saapui äsken. I didn’t see who just arrived.
Tiedätkö, mitä Juusolle kuuluu? Do you know how Juuso is doing?
En muista, milloin lomani alkaa. I don’t remember when my vacation starts.
Kerroin kaikille mitä tapahtui. I told everyone what happened.
Huomasin miten hän kärsi. I noticed how he was suffering.

That’s it for the Finnish sivulause types!

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Great article! This is construction that I’ve been wanting to try, and this is a great start to understanding it.

Based on your description, though, the last example for Mikä-sentences (below), though, feels like it should be a Joka-sentence, because the sivulause there is only referring to the *thing* that I bought, and doesn’t really “give extra information about the complete sentence in front of it” (i.e. the fact that I *bought* it seems to be unrelated/independent).

> Ostin sen, [minkä näimme eilen].

Inge (admin)

Ah, you stumbled on something I have meant to write a separate article on! I’ve been meaning to write an article that compares mikä- and joka-sentences some more. You will always use mikä when referring to a pronoun; whether or not it refers to a thing or to a situation. So, se + mikä, tuo + mikä, tämä + mikä.