The Partitive Case – Partitiivi – Finnish Grammar

This article deals with the partitive case, which answers the questions “mitä?” and “ketä?”. It’s a topic that will continue to be challenging for a very long time while you’re learning Finnish. My advice is to take it little by little and not try to learn it all at once.

Table of Contents
  1. The Use of the Partitive Case
    1. After numbers
    2. After words that express quantity
    3. With indefinite amounts
    4. With negative sentences
    5. With irresultative phrases
    6. With partitive verbs
    7. With prepositions
  2. The Formation of the Partitive Case
    1. The partitive of the personal pronouns
    2. Words ending in a single vowel
    3. Words ending in 2 vowels or 1 consonant
    4. Words ending in an -e
    5. Words ending in -nen
    6. Words ending in -i
      1. New words ending in -i
      2. Old words ending in -i
      3. Old words ending in -si
  3. Consonant Gradation in the Partitive Case

1. Use of the Partitive Case (mitä, ketä)

The partitive has no equivalent in English and many other languages. That makes it hard to understand what its function is. In some cases, the use of the partitive coincides with the plural form in other languages, but it’s not the same as the plural.

When a group of words all belong together (say: a pronoun, an adjective and a noun), all three of them will be put in the partitive.

  • “There are three [beautiful young women] in the room.” becomes “Huoneessa on kolme [kaunista nuorta naista].”
  • “I buy ten [playful cats].” becomes “Ostan kymmenen [leikkisää kissaa].”
  • “I have two [crying unhappy children].” becomes “Minulla on kaksi [itkevää surullista lasta].”

1.1. After numbers

The partitive is used in connection with the numbers. Because of that, many new language learners assume the partitive is the plural form. This is not the case. There is a separate plural (the plural nominative) and in addition there is also a partitive plural.

You don’t use the partitive after the number “yksi”, but you do use it after the number “nolla”.

Yksi Finnish English
yksi kuppi kaksi kuppia two cups
yksi olut kolme olutta three beers
yksi nainen neljä naista four women
yksi talo nolla taloa zero houses

1.2. After words that express a quantity

The words below express a quantity, an amount. They’re very much like numbers in that sense. You can find more words that express quantity here.

Quantity Finnish English Note
monta monta banaania many bananas “monta” needs the singular partitive, “paljon” the plural partitive
kuppi kuppi kahvia a cup of coffee yes, a cup is a quantity, tells you how much
laatikko laatikko omenoita a box of apples other quantities: rasia, tölkki, pullo, kulho, ämpäri
litra litra maitoa a liter of milk these can be stringed: kaksi litraa maitoa

1.3. With indefinite amounts

Most of the time, when translating this kind of sentences, you could use “some” in English. You don’t know how much it is exactly; just some amount. These are mainly object sentences.

Finnish English
Juon kahvia. I drink some coffee.
Ostan maitoa. I buy some milk.
Syön makkaraa. I eat some sausage.
Lasissa on mehua. There’s some juice in the glass.
Syön keittoa. I eat some soup.

1.4. With negative sentences

In almost all sentence types, you will have the partitive in a negative sentence. Exception: complement sentences (predikaattilause).

Finnish English
En osta tä puseroa. I won’t buy this sweater.
En avannut ikkunaa. I didn’t open the window.
Minulla ei ole autoa. I don’t have a car.
Kirjastossa ei ole uima-allasta. There is no swimming pool in the library.

1.5. With irresultative phrases

Irresultative means the action is incomplete (versus resultative, which is complete). When an activity is currently taking place, you will put the object in the partitive. The result of the action hasn’t been achieved yet. The partitive might also be meant like in part 1.3., where you plan to read some of the book, but not all of it.

Finnish English
Luen kirjaa. I’m reading some of the book.
Luen kirjaa. I’m currently reading the book.
Luen kirjan. I’m going to read the whole book.

1.6. With partitive verbs

Some verbs always require the object to appear in the partitive case. These are called “partitive verbs“. You will need to learn these by heart, because English doesn’t have anything comparable.

Verb Finnish English
rakastaa Minä rakastan sinua. I love you.
odottaa Sinä odotat bussia. You wait for the bus.
pelata Hän pelaa tennis. She plays tennis.
ajaa Minä ajan autoa. I’m driving a car.
opiskella Te opiskelette suomea. You’re studying Finnish.
auttaa Me autamme hän. We help her.

1.7. With prepositions

Prepositions are fairly uncommon in Finnish, but they do exist. Read more about them on my Finnish prepositions page.

Preposition Finnish English
ennen Tulin kotiin ennen sinua. I came home before you.
ilman Tulin kotiin ilman takkia. I came home without a coat.

2. The Formation of the Partitive Case

The ending of the partitive can be -a, -ta or -tta, depending on what kind of word they are attached to. In order to correctly choose between -a and -ä, you will need to first learn about vowel harmony.

2.1. The partitive of the personal pronouns

The partitive of personal pronouns goes as follows:

Pronoun Partitive Finnish English
minä minua Minua ärsyttää. I feel annoyed.
sinä sinua En rakasta sinua. I don’t love you.
hän hän Odotan hän bussipysäkillä. I wait for her at the bus stop.
me mei Etkö nähnyt mei? Didn’t you see us?
te tei Tei väsyttää. You (plural) feel tired.
he hei Ei kannata kuunnella hei. You shouldn’t listen to them.

2.2. Words ending in a single vowel (-a/-ä, -u/-y, -o/-ö): add -a/-ä

Nominative Partitive Nominative Partitive Nominative Partitive
kala kalaa tyyny tyynyä talo taloa
seinä seinää loma lomaa melu melua
sänky sänkyä helppo helppoa homma hommaa

2.3. Words ending in 2 vowels or 1 consonant: add -ta/-tä

Nominative Partitive Nominative Partitive Nominative Partitive
mies mies maa maata sampoo sampoota
hius hiusta syy syy elokuu elokuuta
askel askelta rikas rikasta keskus keskusta

2.3. Words ending in -e: add -tta/-ttä

Nominative Partitive Nominative Partitive Nominative Partitive
huone huonetta perhe perhettä kappale kappaletta
kirje kirjettä lentokone lentokonetta taide taidetta
parveke parveketta koe koetta aste astetta

There are some words that end in -e that are exempt to this rule. These include names (Ville → Villeä), and some other words (kolme → kolmea, itse → itseä, nukke → nukkea).

2.4. Words ending in -nen: replace the -nen with -sta/-stä

Nominative Partitive Nominative Partitive Nominative Partitive
nainen naista hevonen hevosta suomalainen suomalaista
eteinen eteistä iloinen iloista ihminen ihmistä
sininen sinistä toinen toista tavallinen tavallista

2.5. Words ending in -i

2.5.1. New words ending in -i: add -a/-ä

New words are often loanwords. Usually they’re recognisable because they resemble words in other languages, like “pankki” for “bank”, or “paperi” for “paper”. Loanwords are easier than Finnish words because they don’t undergo as many changes when you add endings.

Nominative Partitive Nominative Partitive Nominative Partitive
banaani banaania paperi paperia kahvi kahvia
pankki pankkia posti postia maali maalia
tili tiliä adverbi adverbia dollari dollaria

2.5.2. Old words ending in -i: replace -i- with -ea/-eä

Old words are very often nature words. After all, nature has been around for so long that Finns have had names for them since the very beginning. Some words’ age can be confusing, for example “äiti” (mother) is actually a new Finnish word, even though mothers have been around since the beginning of time!

Nominative Partitive Nominative Partitive Nominative Partitive
suomi suomea ovi ovea järvi järveä
kivi kiveä sormi sormea nimi nimeä
lahti lahtea lehti lehteä pilvi pilveä

2.5.3. Old words ending in -si: replace -si- with -tta/-ttä

More old words, but this time with -si at their end. It’s also important that this rule is only for old words, which means new words like kurssi (kurssia) and marssi (marssia) are excluded from this rule.

Nominative Partitive Nominative Partitive Nominative Partitive
uusi uutta vuosi vuotta si ttä
kuukausi kuukautta vesi vettä reisi reittä

2.5.4. Old words ending in -li, -ni or -ri: replace -i- with -ta/-tä

This rule is not 100 % foolproof. There are words that end in -hi, like “lohi” for example, that become “lohta” in the partitive. It’s also important that this rule is only for old words, which means words like lääkäri (lääkäriä), jonglööri (jonglööria) and konduktööri (konduktööria) are excluded from this rule.

Nominative Partitive Nominative Partitive Nominative Partitive
pieni pien meri merta sieni sien
suuri suurta nuori nuorta hiiri hiir
kieli kiel tuli tulta uni unta

Find out more about the inflection of different types of words ending in -i!


3. Consonant Gradation in the Partitive Case

The partitive is complicated in many ways, but when it comes to consonant gradation it’s simple: the partitive form of each word will have the same consonants as the basic form. For wordtype A that means always strong, and for wordtype B always weak!

Wordtype A
Nominative Partitive Nominative Partitive Nominative Partitive
tyttö tyttöä pankki pankkia puku pukua
pöytä pöytää hattu hattua kauppa kauppaa
silta siltaa kampa kampaa hiekka hiekkaa

I have a separate article on wordtype A.

Wordtype B
Nominative Partitive Nominative Partitive Nominative Partitive
savuke savuketta tavoite tavoitetta soitin soitinta
opas opasta rakas rakasta puhallin puhallinta
keitin keitin hammas hammasta allas allasta

I have a separate article on wordtype B.


That concludes the article on the partitive case!

 

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Ulkem Aydin
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This was the best online source for learning Finnish. Now it looks “modernized”, energetic and motivating. Thank you for all your efforts. All the best…

Inge (admin)
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Inge (admin)

Thank you! 🙂

mr
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mr

There’s a typo on the first “pankki” by the way.