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. These are verbs of motion.

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

1.1. Missä (olen lukemassa)

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

1.2. 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 (eg. tulen koulusta). If we add an action that we’re returning from doing, this action will be in the masta-form (eg. 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.

1.3. Mihin (menen lukemaan)

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

1.4. 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.

1.5. 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.

1.6. 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.

1.7. 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.

You can read more about third infinitive verb rections here.

1.8. Agent partiticiple

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).

1.9. 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.

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.

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