Word Order in Existential Sentences
Word order is something that we can write many articles about. In this article, we will be focusing solely on what makes the word order in existential sentences important. Note that we are focusing on the general, neutral, word order.
1. Word Order in Existential Sentences
Existential sentences express that something is somewhere. However, we should say that they express that somewhere there is something, if we want to follow the Finnish word order. The syntax of a normal existential sentence can be simplified as:
location + verb in third person singular + subject.
|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.
The English translation of these phrases will generally include “there is” or “there are“, though it can differ based on which verb we are using. While all the example sentences above utilize the verb olla, you can also use other static verbs, such as nukkua, seisoa, esiintyä, sattua, tapahtua and kävellä.
2. Word Order in Regular Sentences
I’m not sure what the proper term is for a “regular sentence”, but these sentences express, for example, that someone is doing something. By looking at the sentences below, you can see the difference in word order, as well as the difference in the conjugation of the verb.
|Puistossa seisoo miehiä.
|There are men standing in the park.
|Miehet seisovat puistossa.
|The men are standing in the park.
|Pöydällä on hiiri.
|There is a mouse on the table.
|Hiiri on pöydällä.
|The mouse is on the table.
3. Word Order Influences Meaning
Sentences in general – in any language – contain both new information and old information. If we’re talking about a man and then say “he had grey hair”, the “he” is the old information, while the new information is related to his hair.
In Finnish, the general rule is that the old information will be at the beginning of the sentence. This is important because Finnish doesn’t have definite articles. In English, you can show the difference between new information (a man) and old information (the man) through a and the. In Finnish, this is often done through word order.
|on sininen takki.
|on hänelle liian iso.
|täytyy käydä kaupassa.
|on ystävällinen myyjä.
|In the park
|is standing a man.
|has a blue coat.
|is too big for him.
|has to go to a/the store.
|In the store
|is a friendly salesperson.
Because English has these pronouns, it is just as easily possible to say “A man is standing in the park”, while still maintaining that “the park” is the old information and “a man” is the new information. This is generally not true in Finnish. Changing the word order in Finnish will also change the value of the information. For example, “Puistossa seisoo mies” (A man is standing in the park) and “Mies seisoo puistossa” (The man is standing in the park) give different information to the reader.
4. Read more
In this article, you can find the general, neutral, word order for existential and regular sentences. However, word order can be played around with in order to stress something. You can read more about this in Finnish here. I might make another article in English with similar information, but in this article, I wanted to stick to the basics.