Finnish for busy people

The 5 Finnish Participles – Overview

The 5 Finnish participles are used quite a lot in Finnish, but if you’re a beginner, you shouldn’t scratch your head with the subject just yet. My experience is that – as long as you recognise the underlaying verb – you can puzzle the meaning together without having to look at the actual grammar rules. That said, more advanced learners will want to take a closer look at these forms.

Table of Contents
  1. What are Participles?
    1. What do participles look like?
    2. Main function of participles for beginners
  2. Participles for Intermediate Students
    1. Active present participle – VA-participle
    2. Passive present participle – TAVA-participle
    3. Active past participle – NUT-participle
    4. Passive past participle – TU-participle
    5. Agent participle – MA-participle
  3. The 5 Finnish Participles for Advanced Students

1. What are Participles?

A participle is a specific form of the verb, used to either turn a verb into an adjective, noun or to replace a subordinate clause. That’s a pretty broad description. All these participles can be used in a multitude of different ways.

1.1. What do the participles look like?

Below, you can see what the 5 Finnish participles look like for the verbs to be, to do, to come, to read and to meet.

Participle olla tehdä tulla lukea tavata
Active present oleva tekevä tuleva lukeva tapaava
Passive present oltava tehtävä tultava luettava tavattava
Active past ollut tehnyt tullut lukenut tavannut
Passive past oltu tehty tultu luettu tavattu
Agent olema tekemä tulema lukema tapaama

Please note that each of these participles is used for different purposes! While some may have some things in common with each other, each participle also has at least one quirky situation that’s unique to only that participle.

1.2. Main function of participles for beginners

If you’re a beginner, perhaps the following table is enough for you at this point. It contains information on how the participles are used as verbal adjectives. This is the most basic usage of the 5 Finnish participles. Down below, you can find a little bit more detailed information about the most common ways of using each participle.

Participle Phrase Meanings
VA-participle lukeva lapsi the reading child / the child who reads
NUT-participle lukenut lapsi the child who has read / the child who was reading
TAVA-participle luettava kirja the book that’s being read, will be read, or has to be read
TU-participle luettu kirja the book that has been read
MA-participle lapsen lukema kirja the book that the child is reading, or has read

2. The 5 Finnish Participles for Intermediate Students

I’m hiding each of the following participles behind a “read more” box so as not to overwhelm you. I was trying to keep this article concise and limit it to only the very basics, but unfortunately there is just too much information that needs to be included.

Active Present Participle - VA-participle

Active Present Participle (VA-partisiippi)

Let’s start by looking at the VA-participle. This is the “oleva” form you’ve probably run into. This participle has two very common uses, as well as some more rare ones. Let’s look at the two most common situations where the VA-participle replaces either a “joka”-sentence or an “että”-sentence.

1. VA-participle used to replace “joka” -sentences

Firstly, this participle replaces “joka”-sentences. For example, the sentence Tyttö, joka istuu vieressäni, lukee (“The girl who is sitting beside me is reading”) could be condensed into Vieressäni istuva tyttö lukee (“The girl sitting next to me is reading”).

In the example above, the participle expresses an action (sitting), but it takes the place of an adjective in the sentence. In other words, it’s a verbal adjective. Below, I have provided a very literal translation of the VA-participle. I figured that that is more helpful to you than translating more liberally.

Finnish – Active Present Participle Literally
En tunne [tuota lukevaa tyttöä]. I don’t know [that reading girl].
[Kirjastossa lukeva tyttö] ei kuullut mitään. The [in-the-library-reading girl] didn’t hear anything.
[Pihalla oleva lapsi] itkee. [The in-the-yard-being child] cries.
[Raskaana olevalla naisella] on selkäkipuja. [The pregnant-being woman] has back pains.
[Myöhässä tuleva opiskelija] ei pahoitellut. [The late-coming student] didn’t apologize.

2. VA-participle used to replace “että” -sentences

Secondly, this participle often replaces an “että”-sentence. For example, the sentence Minä tiedän, että minä olen oikeassa can be condensed into Minä tiedän olevani oikeassa. Both of these sentences are translated the exact same way in English: “I know that I’m right”. After checking out the examples below, you could also look at our separate page about the että-participle.

Finnish – Active Present Participle Translation
Minä [tiedän olevani] oikeassa. I [know that I’m] right.
Hän [lupasi tulevansa] huomenna. He [promised that he’d come] tomorrow.
He [kertoivat olevansa] lomalla. They [told that they were] on vacation.
Minä [sanoin hänen tulevan] pian. I [said that he was coming] soon.
Sinä [kuulit meidän puhuvan]. You [heard that we were talking].
Sanna [epäili minun valehtelevan]. Sanna [suspected that I was lying].

If you want to find out more about the VA-participle in general, and the other ways it is used in Finnish, you can do so on our page about the active present participle.

Passive Present Participle - TAVA-participle

Passive Present Participle (TAVA-partisiippi)

1. TAVA-participle used to express necessity

The passive present participle (tehtävä, luettava, sanottava) is most often used to express necessity. It can replace a “minun täytyy/pitää” sentence.

Finnish – Passive Present Participle Translation
[Minun on luettava] tämä kirja. I have to read this book.
[Meidän on tultava] ajoissa. We have to arrive on time.
[Miesten on tehtävä] kaikki. The men have to do everything.

2. TAVA-participle used to replace a “joka” sentence

Another common use of the TAVA-participle is as the passive equivalent of the “joka”-sentence. The sentence Katson taloa, jota rakennetaan can be condensed into Katson rakennettavaa taloa. Both of these sentences are translated as “I’m watching the house that’s being built”.

Finnish – Passive Present Participle Translation
Katson [rakennettavaa taloa]. I’m watching [the house that’s being built].
[Pestävä auto] ajoi hitaasti eteenpäin. [The car that was being washed] drove forward slowly.
[Suunniteltava hanke] edistyy mukavasti. [The project that’s being planned] is advancing nicely.

You can find out more about the other uses of this form on the page all about the passive present participle.

Active Past Participle - NUT-participle

Active Past Participle (NUT-partisiippi)

1. NUT-participle used in the past tenses

If you’ve learned to conjugate verbs in the negative imperfect tense, the perfect tense, or the plusquamperfect tense, you will have had a good look at the NUT-participle already because it’s part of those tenses.

Finnish – Active Past Participle Translation
En syönyt, juonut enkä nukkunut viikkoon. I didn’t eat, drink nor sleep all week.
Olen syntynyt ja kasvanut kotimaassani. I was born and raised in my home country.
Hän oli mennyt ulos, kun Liisa ei tullut. He had gone outside, when Liisa hadn’t come.

2. NUT-participle used to replace a “joka” sentence

The active past participle is mainly used to replace an “joka”-sentence in the past tense. For example Kirja, joka oli pöydällä, on hävinnyt (“The book that was on the table has disappeared”) can become Pöydällä ollut kirja on hävinnyt. If my translations on this page are hard to understand, that’s because I’m translating literally. Check below to see the more liberal translation

Finnish – Active Past Participle Literally
[Pöydällä ollut kirja] on hävinnyt. [The on-the-table-been book] has disappeared.
[Maanantaina alkanut kurssi] on tylsä. [The Monday-started course] is boring.
[Metsässä loukkaantunut kissa] kuoli. [The in-the-forest-hurt cat] died.

Less literally:

Finnish – Active Past Participle Less literal translation
[Pöydällä ollut kirja] on hävinnyt. The book that was on the table has disappeared.
[Maanantaina alkanut kurssi] on tylsä. The course that started on Monday is boring.
[Metsässä loukkaantunut kissa] kuoli. The cat that was hurt in the forest died.

If you want more information on the active past participle, find out more on our NUT-participle page.

Passive Past Participle - TU-participle

Passive Past Participle (TU-partisiippi)

1. TU-participle used in the past tenses

The passive past participle is used with past tenses when they’re passive.

Finnish – Passive Past Participle Translation
Asuntoa ei siivottu eikä tuuletettu. The apartment wasn’t cleaned nor aired.
Auto on katsastettu, rekisteröity ja myyty. The car has been surveyed, registered and sold.
Pankista ei saatu lainaa, vaikka sitä oli haettu. From the bank came no loan despite applying for it.

2. TU-participles as adjectives

Finnish – Passive Past Participle Translation
Tykkään sekä keitetyistä että paistetuista perunoista. I like both boiled and baked potatoes.
Avattua pakettia ei voi palauttaa. An opened package can’t be returned.
Edellämainitut seikat ovat tärkeitä. The aforementioned factors are important.

Click on through to learn more about the passive past participle!

Agent Participle - MA-participle

Agent Participle (MA-partisiippi)

The agent participle’s main use is as an adjective expressing the do-er of an action.

Finnish – Agent Participle Translation
[Äidin tekemä ruoka] tuoksuu herkulliselta. [The food mom made] smells delicious.
[Kirjoittamani novelli] myytiin nopeasti loppuun. [The novel I wrote] was sold out quickly.
[Syömämme ruoka] ei sisältänyt lihatuotteita. [The food we ate] didn’t contain any meat products.

Click on through to learn more about the agent participle!

3. The 5 Finnish Participles for Advanced Learners

Below, you can find the links to the full article on each participle. This includes more detailed information about how to form them, as well as about the more rare ways to use these in spoken or written language.

In addition, you can also read our articles on lauseenvastikkeet. I lack a decent translation for the term in English, but have started calling them substitute constructions. All of these constructions replace a subordinate clause with one of the 5 Finnish participles.

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Moi! I just stumbled upon this article and found it very helpful 🙂 I was wondering if there are any significant differences between participle forms in kirjakieli and puhekieli that are worth mentioning. Thanks in advance!