Finnish for busy people

T-Plural vs. Partitive Plural

The choice between the plural partitive (siskoja, tuoleja, sein) and the plural nominative (siskot, tuolit, seinät) in sentences is an issue that catches many language learners unaware. In this article, we will take a look at some guidelines when dealing with the T-plural vs partitive plural issue.

Table of Contents
  1. The Plural Object (Syön omenat; Syön omenoita)
  2. The Plural Subject (Miehet kävelevät; Miehiä kävelee)
    1. The Plural Subject in Regular Sentence
    2. Deviation From the General Rule
    3. The Plural Subject in Existential Sentences
    4. Reverse Word Order in Existential Sentences

There are two parts to this issue. The easier one is what form the plural object of a sentence should be in (eg. when buying eggs, do you say ostan munat or ostan munia). More complicated is the issue of the plural subject of a sentence (eg. when some boys are running in the yard, do you say pojat juoksevat pihalla or poikia juoksee pihalla).

1. The Plural Object (Syön omenat; Syön omenoita)

The general rule is fairly simple: When dealing with an object that’s plural (eg. doors, slippers, shovels), you use the T-plural (omenat) when you’re talking about all the things. The partitive plural (eg. omenoita) is reserved for when you’re talking about many but not all.

The T-plural can also refer to a plural subject you were talking about earlier. Eg. Ostan vaatteet kaupasta 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.

Finnish 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.

2. The Plural Subject (Miehet kävelevät; Miehiä kävelee)

2.1. The Plural Subject in Regular Sentence

Regular sentences generally starts with the subject of the sentence. This is the neutral word order that’s inherent to Finnish in general. If your subject is plural, we will usually use the T-plural for it.

Finnish English
Pojat istuvat olohuoneessa. The boys sit in the living room.
Naiset juttelivat. The women were chatting.
Apinat kiipeävät nopeasti. The monkeys climb quickly.
Linnut laulavat. The birds sing.
Kirjat odottavat lukijoita. The books are waiting for readers.

2.2. Deviation From the General Rule

It’s possible to start your sentence with the plural partitive and to conjugate the verb in the third person singular. In these sentences, the plural partitive expresses that we’re not talking about specific subjects.

Finnish English
Bussit menevät usein. The buses go often (certain buses).
Busseja menee usein. Buses go often (never have to wait long).
Oppilaat ovat ahkeria. The students are hard-working.
Oppilaita on ahkeria ja laiskoja. There are hard-working and lazy students.
Lapset leikkivät piilosta. The kids are playing hide-and-seek.
Lapsia leikkii piilosta. There are kids playing hide-and-seek.

While you may run into sentences like the ones above with a plural partitive subject, my advice would be to not form sentences like this yourself. As a language learner, you’re still learning what sounds natural and what doesn’t. I’m cautioning against this mostly because language learners have the tendency to use the sentence construction above in contexts where it doesn’t fit. The T-plural vs partitive plural difference is a delicate one.

2.3. The Plural Subject in Existential Sentences

When saying that there is something somewhere, we’re dealing with an existential sentence. Plural subjects will appear in the partitive plural in this sentence type.

Finnish English
Salissa istuu vieraita. There are guests sitting in the hall.
Puistossa on paljon kukkia. There are many flowers in the park.
Lattialla on kirjoja. There are books on the floor.
Pöydällä on papereita. There are papers on the table.
Asemalle kiirehtii ihmis. There are people hurrying to the station.

2.4. Reverse Word Order

The elements of an existential sentence can be presented in revered word order. Below, you can find:

  1. A regular sentence
  2. An existential sentence
  3. A reverse order existential sentence
# Finnish English
1 Vieraat istuvat salissa. The guests sit in the hall.
2 Salissa istuu vieraita. There are guests sitting in the hall.
3 Vieraita istuu salissa. Some guests are sitting in the hall.
1 Pojat juoksevat puistossa. The boys are running in the park.
2 Puistossa juoksee poikia. There are boys running in the park.
3 Poikia juoksee puistossa. Some boys are running in the park.

Sentences like “Poikia juoksee puistossa” may sounds just like what you want to say when you’re translating it to English. Please note that this is an exceptional sentence construction and — as a language learner — you’re better off sticking to the normal sentence construction “Puistossa juoksee poikia” for a while.

Once you’re at least B1.2, you will have a better idea of when to use T-plural vs partitive plural beyond the general rule. Don’t try to be too creative until you get there.

That’s it for the difference between the plural partitive and the plural nominative.

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