Finnish for busy people

The Third Infinitive – Kolmas Infinitiivi

Finnish has five infinitives. This article focuses on the third infinitive, which is formed by adding -ma/mä- to the strong stem of verbs.

Table of Contents
  1. The Formation of the Third Infinitive
  2. The Use of Third Infinitive
    1. Missä (olen lukemassa)
    2. Mistä (tulen lukemasta)
    3. Mihin (menen lukemaan)
    4. Millä (opin puhumalla)
    5. Abessive (olin syömättä)
    6. Instructive
    7. Verb + verb rections
    8. Agent Participle
    9. Almost: nukkumaisillaan

1. The Formation of the Third Infinitive

The -ma/mä- marker is added to the strong stem of the verb.

Verb Third person Third infinitive
nukkua nukku-vat nukkuma
leipoa leipo-vat leipoma
syödä syö-vät syö
myydä myy-vät myy
ommella ompele-vat ompelema
nousta nouse-vat nousema
Verb Third person Third infinitive
purra pure-vat purema
kammata kampaa-vat kampaama
tavata tapaa-vat tapaama
valita valitse-vat valitsema
häiritä häiritse-vät häiritse

The third infinitive appears in six of the Finnish cases: the inessive, elative, illative, adessive, abessive and (very rarely) in the instructive.

Case Nukkua Tehdä Ajatella Kammata Valita
Stem nukkuma teke ajattelema kampaama valitsema
Missä nukkumassa tekessä ajattelemassa kampaamassa valitsemassa
Mistä nukkumasta tekestä ajattelemasta kampaamasta valitsemasta
Mihin nukkumaan tekeän ajattelemaan kampaamaan valitsemaan
Millä nukkumalla tekellä ajattelemalla kampaamalla valitsemalla
Abessive nukkumatta tekettä ajattelematta kampaamatta valitsematta
Instructive nukkuman teken ajatteleman kampaaman valitseman

2. The Use of the Third Infinitive

The third infinitive is used when two verbs are combined. The most common cases you will encounter it in will be the illative (-maan), the inessive (-massa) and the elative (-masta), frequently in relation to the verbs mennä, olla and tulla.

If you’re not familiar with the missä, mistä and mihin forms yet, you should start by checking out these location cases first.

2.1. Missä (olen lukemassa)

In situations where a location appears in the missä-form (e.g. istun ravintolassa), we can also have a verb describing what action we’re doing in that place (e.g. istun syömässä). You can say both in the same sentence (e.g. istun ravintolassa syömässä), but both can also be used unaccompanied.

Finnish English
Istun bussissa lukemassa. I’m sitting in the bus reading.
Makaan sängyssä itkemässä. I’m laying in the bed crying.
Seison jonossa odottamassa. I’m standing in the queue waiting.
Olen eläintarhassa ottamassa kuvia. I’m in the zoo taking pictures

2.2. Mistä (tulen lukemasta)

Verbs like lähteä “to leave”, and tulla “to come from” express a motion away from a place. In Finnish, you will use the mistä-form for these situations (e.g. tulen koulusta). If we add an action that we’re returning from doing, this action will be in the masta-form (e.g. tulen opiskelemasta). Both can also appear in the same sentence: Tulen koulusta opiskelemasta. “I come from school from studying”. In English, you do not express this double “from”.

Finnish English
Tulen Prismasta ostamasta kukkia. I come from Prisma “from” buying flowers.
Nousen vihdoin sängystä lukemasta. I finally get up from the bed “from” reading.
Lähden kylpyhuoneesta itkemästä. I leave “from” the bathroom “from” crying.
Tulen Espanjasta lomailemasta. I come from Spain “from” vacationing.

2.3. Mihin (menen lukemaan)

Verbs like mennä, saapua and astua express a movement towards a place (e.g. menen kouluun). For verbs as well as nouns, we will use the mihin form in these situations (e.g. menen kouluun opiskelemaan). The action can appear separate from the place as well as next to it (e.g. menen opiskelemaan).

Finnish English
Menen kauppaan ostamaan kukkia. I go to the store to buy flowers.
Lähden puistoon ottamaan aurinkoa. I go to the park to sunbathe.
Saavun baariin tapaamaan kavereitani. I arrive at the bar to meet my friends.
Menen Egyptiin sukeltamaan. I go to Egypt to dive.

Note: in spoken language, the third infinitive often loses its marker, thus leaving the verb almost unrecognizable to language learners: meen nukkuun, tuu kattoon. You can learn more about the third infinitive in spoken language here.

2.4. Millä (opin puhumalla)

This is used when you want to say how you do something, “by doing what”. This is the adessive case.

Finnish English
Opin suomea puhumalla ystävilleni. I learn Finnish by talking to my friends.
Rentoudun hengittämällä rauhallisesti. I calm down by breathing calmly.
Lukitsen oven kääntämällä avaimen. I lock the door by turning the key.
Varoitin ihmisiä huutamalla. I warned people by screaming.

2.5. Abessive (olin syömättä)

This is used when you want to say “what you went without” while doing something. These examples utilize the abessive case.

Finnish English
Olin 3 päivää syömättä. I was “without eating” for three days.
Poistuin talosta hengittämättä savua. I left the house “without breathing” the smoke.
Hän aloitti lukematta sääntöjä. He started “without reading” the rules.
Lähdin sanomatta sanaakaan. I left “without saying” even a word.

2.6. Instructive

The instructive form of the third infinitive is barely used at all. It can appear with the verb pitää in phrases like “Mitä minun pitikään sanoman(i)” (What was it I wanted to say again), or “Sinun pitää lähtemän” (You should leave). This is NOT the type of sentence you will need to produce yourself in any situation. If you want to express having to do something, you can use necessity sentences.

2.7. Verb + verb rections

There are some verbs that are frequently used in combination with the third infinitive. Those verbs have a “third infinitive rection”. Some of them refer concretely to a movement (return “from” somewhere, sleep “in” somewhere), but others are a lot more abstract. For example, the verb “to forbid” requires a third infinitive verb: in Finnish you forbid someone FROM doing something.

Finnish English
Kielsin sinua tulemasta. I forbade you to come.
Pyydän sinua odottamaan. I ask you to wait.
Jouduin odottamaan. I ended up having to wait.
Kannustin sinua yrittämään. I encouraged you to try.

You can read more about third infinitive verb rections here.

2.8. Agent participle

The third infinitive is also used in the agent participle. This participle is used as an adjective in phrases like pojan teke vene (the boat the boy made).

Finnish English
[Äidin leipoma kakku] on paras. [The cake mom baked] is the best.
Rakastan [äidin leipomaa kakkua]. I love [the cake mom baked].
[Kirjoittamani kirje] ei saapunut. [The letter I wrote] didn’t arrive.
[Rakentamasi vaja] lässähti. [The shed you built] fell flat.

2.9. Almost: nukkumaisillaan

The third infinitive lays also at the base of a sentence construction that roughly translates as “on the verge of doing something; just about to do something”. You will always use the marker –mAisillA- with a possessive suffix at the very end.

Finnish English
Olin nukkumaisillani kun kello soi. I was [on the verge of sleeping] when the bell rang.
Mari oli tukehtumaisillaan ruokaansa. Mari was [about to choke] on her food.
Hän oli hyppäämäisillään sillalta. He was [on the verge of jumping] off the bridge.
Olimme nääntymäisillämme nälkään. We were [about to starve] to death.
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How to (or should we) combine passive voice with -matta form to express “without being done”?

Last edited 3 years ago by Ziyuan
Inge (admin)

There is no passive -matta form!


So “I went inside without being noticed.” will be “Menin sisälle huomaamatta.”, and “I went inside without noticing anyone else.” will be “Menin sisälle huomaamatta ketään muuta.”

Inge (admin)

You’ll need to use the genetive case there: “Menin kenenkään huomaamatta sisälle“, “without anyone noticing”. It works like that for other verbs too, eg. “Hän kuoli yksin kotonaan kenenkään tietämättä“.

You can also replace the “kenenkään” with another person: äidin tietämättä, vanhempien huomaamatta.


Makes sense. Thanks!


With respect to the paragraph 2.1 (missä) I miss the examples where the 3rd inf is not used to do something, but to describe something, like as a real adjecive. The example sentence I have stems from the Yle uutiset selkoumeksi radio of 8.11.2021:

  • “räikeimmät epäkohdat paljastuivat mehiläisen omistamassa hoivakodissa hämeenlinnassa”

In this sentence I would translated ‘omistamassa’ as ‘owned by’. Firstly: is that correct? Secondly, this part is not in the description here, and also not in the book by Karlsson (an essential Grammar). That book probably summarizes stuff, so I don’t know whether my assumption is correct.

Inge (admin)

Interesting! However, you’re dealing with a different type of word.

Your example uses the agent participle, which makes verbs into verbal adjective that describes who does something. This is not in fact the third infinitive’s -massa form. Rather, it’s the agent participle omistama in the missä-form, because hoivakodissa is also in the missä-form. Adjectives appear in the same form as the noun they’re connected to.

Mehiläisen omistama hoivakoti” = the nursing home owned by Mehiläinen
Mehiläisen omistamassa hoivakodissa” = in the nursing own owned by Mehiläinen


One question, if I want to say: “I am standing at the busstop reading”, the first part of the sentence would have a location in adessive case: “Minä seison bussipysäkillä”, so would the sentence continue with “lukemassa” or with “lukemalla”? The part in the article about location (2.1. Missä) only mentions missä-form (inessive), but the part about adessive case (2.4. Millä) only covers usage regarding “saying how you do something”, “by doing what”.So what happens with third infinitive if I want to decribe an action in a location that appears in the millä-form (open places etc.)?Thanks in advance for your help!


I think I would use the instructive of the second infinitive: “seison lukien bussipysäkillä”.

Inge (admin)

“Seison pysäkillä lukemassa” is correct! “Seison lukien” does NOT work, Berengario.


kiitos paljon, mä opin täällä jotain uutta joka kerta!


can the mA infinitive take the essive case?


Yes, when it makes part of the agent participe structure, but those are very rare.
Kampaajan tekemänä permanentti onnistuu varmemmin.
You can google more examples with ”tekemänä”

Last edited 5 months ago by Jukka_K

Got it. So the essive would only occur with the agent participle form but not the infinitive form? Correct?

This raises a second question, does the agent need to be a person, or can it be a thing? E.g. I had read “puukon viiltämänä.” In this case, is the agent understood to be the puukko or the wielder (who incidentally had a badly ending run-in with a bear)?  edit: or maybe the bear which was the thing sliced…

Last edited 5 months ago by Brad

I can imagine essive-cased ma-infinitive with agent participle only.
And yes, that structure calls mostly a human agent. Let’s imagine:
1) Puukon viiltämänä karhu eli vielä viisi minuuttia. – Stabbed by a knife, the bear survived for five more minutes. (Gives an idea of an autonomous knife. Where is the stabber-human? This is a very artificial structure.)
2) Puukolla viilletty karhu eli vielä viisi minuuttia. – The knife-stabbed bear survived for five more minutes. (Certainly there has been a human using the knife. In Finnish the passive voice demands human actors even if they are not mentioned. This structure is just OK.)


Could you also comment on that: Tulen ostamasta lipun/ lippua? Menen ostamaan lipun/ lippua? As far as I know, Olen ostamassa lippua is correct, because the action is in process. Thank you.

Inge (admin)

Use lipun for the other two! You bought one whole ticket and you’re planning to buy one whole ticket.