Finnish for busy people

The Sinä-Passive and Other Generic Sentences

Say you’re trying to form a generic statement, aka something that applies to anyone. In English, you will most likely use the pronoun “you”. For example, you could say “brushing your teeth is healthy”, or “I guess you could say that”. Let’s go over Finnish generic sentences and the sinä-passive!

Generic Sentences with the Third Person Singular

In Finnish, you will usually use the third person singular of the verb without a subject. The example sentence “I guess you could say that”, can be translated as “Näinkin voi sanoa”.

In Finnish, the third person singular’s personal pronoun hän always has to be mentioned in the sentence when you’re referring to a specific person. Leaving the hän out automatically makes the sentence generic.

Generic sentences are most often used with the following sentence constructions:

  1. Possibilities: the verb voida expresses possibilities that apply to anyone at all naturally fit the generic sentence type.
  2. Permission: the verb saada can express a permission that applies to anyone.
  3. Preferability: With the verb kannattaa we can expresses that something is a good idea for anyone to do.
  4. With jos or kun: generic sentences often come with a condition (“if” or “when”).
  5. Often, these sentences start with a location: they express how things happen in a place.
  6. Sometimes these sentences start with an object.

In the examples below, I’ve mostly translated the sentences to English using “you“. In some cases, “one” is also a possible translation (eg. “you can pay” vs “one can pay”). The number corresponds with the list above.

# Finnish English
1 Täällä voi maksaa pankkikortilla. ‘You’ can pay with a credit card here.
1 Kurssilla voi oppia paljon uutta. One can learn a lot on the course.
1 Aina voi yrittää. ‘You’ can always try.
1 Laskun voi maksaa erissä. ‘You’ can pay the bill in installments.
2 Metsässä saa poimia marjoja. One can pick berries in the forest.
2 Täällä ei saa tupakoida. ‘You’ can’t smoke here.
2 Ei saa koskea! Don’t touch! Not allowed to touch!
2 Saa ottaa! ‘You’ can take these.
3 Kannattaa tulla ajoissa. ‘You’ should come on time.
3 Ei kannattanut tulla. One/I shouldn’t have come.
4 Kun on nopea, saa enemmän aikaan. When you’re fast, you get more done.
4 Kun tätä lukee, alkaa nukuttaa. When ‘you’ read this, you get sleepy.
4 Juostessa hikoilee runsaasti. While running ‘you’ sweat profusely.
5 Täällä huomaa, että on kuumaa ulkona. ‘You’ notice here that it’s hot outside.
5 Kesätöissä oppii paljon. ‘You’ learn a lot in a summer job.
5 Helteissä väsyy nopeasti. In the heat ‘you’ get tired quickly.
6 Tämän huoneen siivoaa hetkessä. ‘You’ can clean this room instantly.
6 Sitä saa, mitä tilaa. ‘You’ get what ‘you’ order.

Generic Sentences: the Sinä-Passive

In spoken Finnish, you will also find generic “you” sentences (the sinä-passive). In these you actually use the pronoun sinä or . The presence of this sentence construction in Finnish is mostly due to the influence of germanic languages like English.

This is only recommended in spoken and informal situations. You will find it increasingly often in advertisments as well. The terms sinä-passiivi and sä-passiivi are used to describe this phenomenon.

Finnish English
Joskus vaan näet sen suoraan. Sometimes you just see it straight away.
Jos otat, et aja. If you take [alcohol], you [can] not drive.
Teitpä niin tai näin, aina väärin päin. Do it like this or that, always the wrong way.
Kun sä oot nopeempi kuin muut, sä voitat. When you’re faster than the others, you win.

Generic Sentences in Real Life

Check out this picture for a real-life example of how a Finnish generic sentence relates to its English translation in a library. Pretty cool!

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I finally understand what “saa ottaa” means since I saw it in the buildings. ^_^


Uusi kielemme could use a page as a followup to this one, on how nonstandard word orders change the emphasis (at least I didn’t find one yet). It’s quite a common feature, but there doesn’t seem to be much material on it online for learners.

Inge (admin)

I currently don’t have any articles on word order! It’s such a slippery topic. It’s a good suggestion though 🙂