Finnish for busy people

Oleva Olevan Olevasi Olevansa – What?

Are you here because you’ve googled one of the following words: oleva, olevan, olevasi, olevansa? You’re not the only one! This is a topic which causes a lot of questions among Finnish learners. Thanks to ClearSkies on our Discord server for this idea!

The short answer: oleva is the active present participle of the verb olla. Read the longer explanation below!

Example Sentences

The numbers in the table below refer to the section of this page that deals with explanation that type of sentence.

# Finnish English
1 [Raskaana oleva nainen] kertoi uutisen. The pregnant woman told the news.
2 [Raskaana olevalla naisella] on yllätys. The pregnant woman has a surprise.
3 Hän kertoi [olevansa raskaana]. She told that she was pregnant.
3 Minä kuulin [hänen olevan raskaana]. I heard that she was pregnant.
1 [Saatavilla oleva tuote] on kiinnostava. The available product is interesting.
2 Luin [saatavilla olevasta tuotteesta]. I read about the available product.
3 Kuulin [tuotteen olevan saatavilla]. I heard that the product is available.
1 [Väärässä oleva ystäväni] suuttui. My friend who was wrong got angry.
2 Huusin [väärässä olevalle ystävälleni]. I yelled at my friend who was wrong.
3 Minä tiesin [hänen olevan väärässä]. I knew that he was wrong.
3 Minä tiesin [olevani oikeassa]. I knew that I was right.

1. Oleva used to replace “joka“-sentences

The form oleva is used when we turn a “joka”-sentence into a participle. This is useful when condensing more information into one sentence. Unfortunately, in English, these sentences usually can’t be translated literally. You can see this in the sentences below, where the translation of the third phrase simply doesn’t work in English.

  • Two separate sentences: Mies on parisuhteessa. Mies petti vaimonsa.
    Translation: The man is in a relationship. The man cheated on his wife.
  • Joka-sentence: Mies, joka on parisuhteessa, petti vaimonsa.
    Translation: The man, who is in a relationship, cheated on his wife.
  • Participle: Parisuhteessa oleva mies petti vaimonsa.
    Translation: The in-a-relationship-being man cheated on his wife.

The sentences below demonstrate the difference between Finnish and English. While in English, you can say “the oldest man alive”, “the remaining balance” and “the retired man”, Finnish doesn’t allow you to do so. Instead, you’re forced to use a participle that fulfills the same function as the English “who is” or “that is”.

Finnish English
[Parisuhteessa oleva mies] petti vaimonsa. [A man who is in a relationship] cheated on his wife.
Vanhin [elossa oleva mies] on 116-vuotias The oldest [man (who is) alive] is 116 years old.
[Jäljellä oleva saldo] näkyy kuitista . [The balance (that is) remaining] is shown on the receipt.
[Eläkkeellä oleva mies] sairastui syöpään. [The man, who is retired,] fell ill with cancer.

2. Conjugation of oleva: olevan, olevalla, olevana

If the noun connected to the oleva is inflected in one of the cases, both will be inflected. That’s when you get forms like olevan (the genitive case) and olevaa (the partitive case).

Finnish English
[Parisuhteessa olevalla miehellä] on parta. The man in a relationship has a beard.
Vanhin [elossa olevan miehen] nimi on Ari. The name of oldest man alive is Ari.
En muista [jäljellä olevaa saldoa]. I can’t remember the remaining balance.
[Eläkkeellä olevan miehen] syöpä paheni. The retired man’s cancer got worse.

3. Oleva used to replace “että“-sentences

The forms olevasi and olevansa, which you might have run into, are related to the above, but have their own function. They’re used solely in a sentence construction called the reference contruction (referatiivirakenne), which is used to replace an “että“-sentence (not a “joka“-sentence, like in the examples above!).

  1. If the subject of both parts of the sentence is different, you will use the genitive + olevan.
  2. If the subject of both parts of the sentence is the same, you will use oleva + a possessive suffix.
A I know that she’s retired. I know that we are late.
A Tiedän, [että hän on eläkkeellä]. Tiedän, [että me olemme myöhässä].
A Tiedän [hänen olevan eläkkeellä]. Tiedän [meidän olevan myöhässä].
B I know that I’m retired. She knows that she’s late.
B Tiedän, [että olen eläkkeellä]. Hän tietää, [että hän on myöhässä].
B Tiedän [olevani eläkkeellä]. Hän tietää [olevansa myöhässä].

That’s all we have to say about oleva, olevan, olevasi and olevansa today. Leave me a comment if you want to give some feedback!

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Gulcin

This is just wonderful! Can’t find such clear information anywhere other than here 🙂

Inge (admin)

Thank you! 🙂

Michael Hämäläinen

I second Gulcin’s comment — this topic has caught my eye before, but I did not realise that there was so much to explore.  Thanks for devoting a page to it!
For those who are interested, Korpela’s Handbook of Finnish includes a listing of many fixed phrases that include ‘oleva‘:

Also, he illustrates how how adding ‘oleva‘ can add clarification:
syötävä , from syödä (to eat), often means “edible”, but it may also mean “that will be eaten”. The expression syötävissä oleva unambiguously means “edible”.

Inge (admin)

oh, those phrases are wonderful (poissa oleva, alla oleva etc)! Very useful 🙂

Michael Hämäläinen

Thanks, glad to hear that. Incidentally, for finding example sentences for these multiple-word phrases, I often use suomisanakirja.fi and bab.la.

Marcin

I was wondering if one can say simply “raskaana nainen” instead of “raskaana oleva nainen” but then I realised that “raskaana” is an adverb not an adjective, that’s why “oleva” is needed?

Inge (admin)

Indeed! 🙂

Guus Bonnema

While reading the first sentence, I realized that the sentence “Parisuhteessa oleva mies petti vaimonsa.” has a literal translation in my own language (Dutch) where oleva is literally “zijnde” and just as literally means the same thing. I have seen on more occasions that English has trouble with some Finnish sentences, where Dutch does not.
To be complete, the sentence in Dutch would be “De in een relatie zijnde man bedroog zijn vrouw.”. I wonder if Dutch has a closer relationship to FInnish than English does….

Inge (admin)

Yes, in this aspect, knowing Dutch is more useful than knowing English! It’s not always the most natural way of saying it in Dutch I don’t think, but it sounds a lot better than in English. In addition to “zijnde” this of course also goes for other verbs.

“Pihalla leikkivä tyttö nauraa” = Het in de tuin spelende meisje lacht
“Kitaraa soittava nainen on äitini” = De gitaar spelende vrouw is mijn moeder
“Makaronia syövät opiskelijat eivät näänny nälkään” = De macaroni etende studenten verhongeren niet

Do you happen to know any German? Do they have this as well? It could maybe be said that Finnish was originally influenced by German much more than by English. I have no clue how this is handled in Swedish either. English could be the odd one out!

Peter Remmers

Yes, German also has a present participle “-end” (corresponds to English “-ing”).
Dutch and German being very closely related, we can say the same:

“Parisuhteessa oleva mies petti vaimonsa.” = Der in einer Beziehung seiende Mann betrog seine Frau.
“Pihalla leikki tyttö nauraa” = Das im Garten spielende Mädchen lacht.
“Kitaraa soittava nainen on äitini” = Die Gitarre spielende Frau ist meine Mutter.

It’s just that the participle of to be “sein”, i.e. “seiend(e)”, sounds very odd. But it works well enough that it helps a German learner of Finnish to make sense of the -va participle.

It gets interesting with sentences like this:
Haluatko minun tulevan kanssasi?

Something like “Do you want my coming with you?” In English, you can sort of treat the -ing form like a noun, but it won’t work in German.

Re: influenced by German? YES! That’s what it looks like to me anyways. There are are SO MANY expressions in Finnish that are the same in German.

Tulen vielä hulluksi.- Ich werde noch verrückt. (What’s that vielä doing there?)
Minulla ei ole aavistustakaan. – Ich habe keine Ahnung. (Hunch, premonition?)
Mutta tule toki sisään. – Aber komm doch rein.

Anyway. Your pages have been a great help and resource for me, especially in the beginning of my road to Finnish. Thank you!

Marcin

I guess Finnish was more influenced by Swedish than by German but since both are Germanic languages, there are of course similarities between Finnish and German too. For instance the word toki that you mention comes from Swedish dock, which in turn is related to German doch. It seems though that toki in Finnish means sure, certainly, and can be used as an emphatic particle like here, while dock in Swedish means however, though. In German doch it can mean either. So it’s possible that Swedish dock also had that other meaning in the past, when it was borrowed by Finnish.

Marcin

In Swedish there is a present participle, which ends in -ande or -ende. It’s not that common to use it in the way it is used in Finnish (to replace joka-sentence). For instance parisuhteessa oleva mies would be den i ett förhållande varande mannen and kitaraa soittava nainen would be den gitarr spelande kvinnan. So it’s possible but I don’t think it sounds natural to native speakers. Most likely they would say mannen som är i ett förhållande and kvinnan som spelar gitarr. On the other hand, I don’t know how it was at the time when Finnish was more influenced by Swedish. It would be also interesting to know how it is in other Finno-Ugric languages.

Oscar

In Spanish there’s what it’s called participio activo that ends in -nte, but it’s not used like in Finnish but the most of cases is a noun.
ex. presidir => presidente
el presidente could be el hombre que preside
siguiente could be que sigue like in…la siguiente canción es mía = la canción que sigue es mía .

But as I’ve said it doesn’t work like in Finnish

Last edited 1 month ago by Oscar