Finnish for busy people

Necessity Conjugation: Minun täytyi – Minun olisi pitänyt

Necessity sentences can be conjugated in the Finnish tenses and moods. This can cause confusion because you might wonder how they conjugation of a verb that looks the same in every person (e.g. minun täytyy, sinun täytyy, meidän täytyy). This article takes a closer look at this, but also gives you extra information about how to interpret the meaning of these verbs.

We’re only looking at the verbs täytyä and pitää in this article. There are other necessity phrases such as “minun on pakko“, “minun kannattaa” and “minun tulee“. I have yet another article coming which focuses on those phrases. Also not included are the negative forms of these tenses. I think there’s already enough going on in this article as it is!

1. The meaning of täytyä and pitää

For this article, it’s important to understand the different meanings of these necessity verbs. This is not something you need to worry about at beginner or even intermediate level, but you might find it interesting regardless.

Finnish English
Minun täytyy saada työpaikka. I must get a job.
Minun täytyi saada työpaikka. I had to get a job.
Minun täytyisi saada työpaikka. I ought to get a job.
Minun on täytynyt saada työpaikka. I must have gotten the job.
Minun olisi täytynyt saada työpaikka. I should have gotten the job.

Necessity verbs have three core meanings:

  1. They can express an order, which is most obvious when using these verbs in the sinä or te form to tell someone listening what to do. In other words, there’s outward pressure between people.
    – Sinun täytyy tulla huomenna. “You must come tomorrow.”
    – Teidän täytyy nyt heti mennä nukkumaan. “You (plural) have to go to sleep now.”
    – Sinun pitää auttaa minua. “You have to help me.”
  2. They can express other types of necessity. This includes things like: it’s appropriate or necessary to do something to achieve a certain state which is desirable. The pressure doesn’t come from another person.
    – Ikkunat täytyy pestä. “The windows must be washed.”
    – Täytyisi ostaa maitoa. “(We) should probably buy milk.”
    – Meidän pitäisi tehdä tätä useamminkin. “We should do this more often.”
  3. They can express that something has been inferred based on evidence. Something is logically true because we can draw that conclusion based on the circumstances around us.
    Joku on syönyt kananmunat. Sen on täytynyt olla Ari. “It must have been Ari.”
    Tämän täytyy olla erehdys. “This must be a mistake.”

2. The difference between täytyä and pitää

In theory, the verbs täytyä and pitää are synonyms. However, there are small differences in how commonly the verbs are used in specific tenses. In addition, there are some situations where one verb has a slightly different meaning than the other.

Further down this article, I will be demonstrating the difference between the usage of these verbs in the different tenses. In general, we could state that täytyä expresses that something must be done and can’t be avoided, while pitää can often be much less absolute. There are some other difference which depend strongly on the tense you’re using. More about those in the appropriate sections below.

The structure of this article is such that I’m first going through the difference forms of täytyä. After that, there’s a new section all about pitää. You can find information in both section about how these two verbs differ in meaning. I’m giving pitää its own section to shine because it means you get more example sentences! Any section where it says so, you can replace pitää with täytyä.

3. Täytyi, Täytyisi, Olisi Täytynyt

3.1. Minun täytyy – Present tense

Minun täytyy is the present tense. It expresses that something must be done either right now (e.g. Minun täytyy lähteä. “I have to leave.”) or in the future (e.g. Minun täytyy soittaa hänelle huomenna. “I have to call him tomorrow.”). See the examples below marked with #1.

The present tense is also used to express coming to a conclusion about something (e.g. Hänen täytyy olla tietoinen asiasta. “He must be aware of the situation.”). These are situations where the speaker comes to a conclusion without having any personal experience or hearing about it from someone. This is most common with the third person forms hän and he. See the examples below marked with #2.

It is possible for these phrases to be used as both #1 and #2. This will depend on the context. For the present tense, both minun täytyy and minun pitää are equally common.

# Finnish English
1 Sinun täytyy uskoa minua. You have to believe me.
1 Sinun täytyy jatkaa elämääsi. You have to carry on with your life.
1 Sinun täytyy kysyä sitä Arilta. You’ll have to ask Ari that.
1 Meidän täytyy häipyä täältä. We have to get out of here.
1 Sinun täytyy myöntää, että… You have to admit that…
1 Heidän täytyy vain totella käskyjäni. They just have to obey my orders.
2 Hänen täytyy olla tietoinen asiasta. He must be aware of the situation.
2 Hänen täytyy tykätä sinusta. He must like you.
2 Sen täytyy olla täällä jossain. It must be here somewhere.

3.2. Minun täytyi – Imperfect tense

Minun täytyi is the past tense. It expresses what you had to do at an earlier time (e.g. Minun täytyi soittaa hänelle eilen. “I had to call him yesterday.”). See examples marked with #1 in the table below.

When using the imperfect form täytyi, there is always the underlying certainty that the necessity also actually took place: you had to call yesterday, and so you did actually call. This is in contrast with the imperfect form piti, which can also mean that you had to do something but you didn’t actually do it. You can read more about that in Finnish here.

Much like in the present tense, we can also use minun täytyi to express a conclusion we’ve come to about a past event: something must have been the case. This expresses that we don’t have any exact personal evidence of the matter, but that there is circumstantial evidence. See examples marked with #2 in the table below.

# Finnish English
1 Minun täytyi jarruttaa äkillisesti. I had to brake suddenly.
1 Hänen täytyi saada tietää totuus. He had to know the truth.
1 Hänen täytyi karata mieheltään. She had to escape from her husband.
1 Meidän täytyi hylätä kotimme. We had to abandon our home.
1 Heidän täytyi käyttää viidakkoveitsiä. They had to use machetes.
2 Sen täytyi olla hän. It must have been him/her.
2 Sen täytyi olla totta. It had to be true.
2 Tuon täytyi sattua! That must have hurt!

3.3. Minun on täytynyt – Perfect tense

The perfect tense can have two slightly different meanings. Firstly, it can have the default “I have had to do something” meaning, which is used to express that the action started in the past but continues. See examples marked with #1 in the table below.

Secondly, more commonly, the perfect tense is used to express that we’re drawing a conclusion based on the evidence present. For example, “Minun on täytynyt nukahtaa” expresses that I must have fallen asleep because – right now – I’m awake and time has passed. While the present and imperfect tense (see above) also carry that meaning, the use of the perfect tense tells us that the supposed conclusion has a direct impact or importance at the current moment. The perfect tense is also used more when the subject is minun. See examples marked with #2 in the table below.

There is no significant difference in meaning between the perfect tense phrases “Minun on pitänyt” and “Minun on täytynyt“.

# Finnish English
1 Minun on täytynyt opiskella ahkerasti. I’ve had to study diligently.
1 Hänen on täytynyt odottaa tuntikausia. He has had to wait for hours.
2 Sinun on täytynyt erehtyä. You must have been mistaken.
2 Minun on täytynyt nukahtaa I must have fallen asleep.
2 Sen on täytynyt olla erityisen vaikeaa. It must have been especially tough.
2 Minun on täytynyt tehdä jotain oikein. I must have been doing something right.

3.4. Minun täytyisi – Conditional

Minun täytyisi is the conditional form. Following the general meaning of the conditional mood you can infer that – rather than expressing obligation – täytyisi expresses that something would be beneficial. As such, when using the conditional, the core meaning of necessity verbs is mostly lost: nobody or nothing is forcing you to do the thing, so it’s very possible that the thing will not be done after all.

In the minä-form, täytyisi can be used to express that I know I should do something, but am unlikely to do so. When addressing another person, täytyisi can contain a trace of another function of the conditional: to request something politely.

Note how täytyisi is best translated as “ought” in English!

Finnish English
Minun todella täytyisi parantaa kielitaitoani. I really ought to improve my language proficiency.
Sinun täytyisi rentoutua. You ought to relax.
Hänen täytyisi löytää uusi valmentaja. He/She should find a new coach.
Meidän täytyisi ainakin yrittää. We should at least try.
Hänen täytyisi saada työpaikan. He ought to get a job.

3.5. Minun olisi täytynyt – Perfect conditional

The perfect conditional of täytyä is used to express that someone should have done something in order to prevent the current situation.

There is one difference between täytyä and pitää in the conditional: “olisi pitänyt” can also be used when you’re drawing a conclusion based on a context, without actual personal knowledge of the fact. This is not possible with olisi täytynyt. You can find some examples of this in section 4.6.

Finnish English
Sinun olisi täytynyt sovittaa sitä mekkoa. You should have tried on that dress.
Meidän olisi täytynyt tehdä se itse. We should have done it ourselves.
Hänen olisi täytynyt tulla heti. He should have come right away.
Minun olisi täytynyt tietää paremmin. I should have known better.

3.6. Minun oli täytynyt – Plusquamperfect

As a refresher, the plusquamperfect tense requires that we have two actions or events that both took place in the past but at a different point of time. The plusquamperfect form “oli täytynyt” is very rare. This means that the Finns I consulted for this section didn’t all agree on how natural these forms sound. I would recommend using oli pitänyt instead because many native speakers seem to prefer that one.

One tentative difference seems to be that oli täytynyt is more likely to be interpreted as an epistemic statement, while oli pitänyt is more likely to express that one thing must have happened before the other.

Epistemic sentences with “oli täytynyt” express that we’re drawing a conclusion based on evidence. For example, the sentence “Sinun oli täytynyt huomata Saara, kun hän saapui” is most likely to mean “Surely you had noticed Saara when she arrived” rather than “You had to have noticed Saara”, which sounds clunky in English as well.

My examples are clunky and unnatural, but I’m still including some. In situations with two actions in the past, use “oli pitänyt” instead of “oli täytynyt“. I have some good examples for that down below in section 4.7.

Finnish English
Sinun oli täytynyt huomata Saara, kun hän saapui. You must have noticed Saara when she arrived.
Teidän oli täytynyt istua siinä, kun hän saapui. You (plural) must have been sitting there when she arrived.
Hän väitti, että meidän oli täytynyt kuulla Saara. He claimed that we had to have heard Saara when she arrived.
Meidän oli täytynyt olla jo sisällä, kun hän saapui. We must have been inside already when she arrived.

4. Piti, Pitäisi, Olisi Pitänyt

Several studies have come to the conclusion that the verb pitää is more common than the verb täytyä. This can be due to the fact that the verb pitää allows for sentences where regardless of the necessity, the action did not happen. The verb täytyä has the connotation that the necessity leads to completion of the task. More about that below.

4.1. Pitää pitää – repetition

The verb pitää has many other meanings besides expressing necessity. This means that you can end up with sentences like the ones in the tables below. In order to get rid of the repetition of the word, you could use täytyä. However, the double use of pitää is commonly used.

Finnish English
Minun pitää pitää esitelmä huomenna. I have to do a presentation tomorrow.
Sinun pitää pitää suusi kiinni. You have to keep your mouth shut.
Sinun piti pitää hänet turvassa. You were supposed to keep him safe.
Hänen olisi pitänyt pitää lujasti kiinni. He should have held on tightly.
Miksi minun pitäisi pitää siitä naisesta? Why should I like that woman?

4.2. Minun pitää – Present tense

For the present tense, both minun täytyy and minun pitää are roughly equally common. They express that something must be done in the present or future. See examples marked with #1 in the table below.

The present tense is also used to express coming to a conclusion about something (e.g. Hänen pitää olla tietoinen asiasta. “He must be aware of the situation.”). The separate meaning is dependent on the context: sometimes both interpretations can be meant. See examples marked with #2 in the table below.

# Finnish English
1 Mitä minun pitää tehdä? What do I have to do?
1 Sinun pitää olla rehellinen itsellesi. You have to be honest to yourself.
1 Sinun pitää lukea tämä. You have to read this.
1 Meidän pitää puhua eilisillasta. We have to talk about last night.
1 Teidän pitää kuunnella toisianne. You (plural) have to listen to each other.
2 Hänen pitää olla tietoinen asiasta. He must be aware of the situation.
2 Hänen pitää tykätä sinusta. He must like you.
2 Sen pitää olla täällä jossain. It must be here somewhere.

4.3. Minun piti – Imperfect tense

The imperfect form minun piti is used in the same situations as minun täytyi: to express what you had to do at an earlier point of time. It’s more common to use minun piti than minun täytyi, though both are used frequently.

There is a small difference between minun täytyi and minun piti. The imperfect form “minun piti” can be used both in situations where the necessity resulted in us doing the action (e.g. Meidän piti kumartaa yleisölle ja niin teimmekin. “We had to bow to the audience and so we did”) and situations where the necessity wasn’t actually completed (e.g. Meidän piti kumartaa yleisölle, mutta unohdimme tehdä sen. “We had to bow to the audience but we forgot to do so.”). The imperfect form täytyi can only refer to actions which were actually completed.

The sentences below could be interpreted either way: either the action did take place (#1), or it didn’t (#2). The context of the situation will determine the actual meaning of the sentence.

# Finnish English
1 Minun piti nähdä kuinka hän voi. I had to see how he/she was doing.
1 Meidän piti löytää majapaikka. We needed to find a place to stay.
1 Sen piti olla yllätys. It had to be a surprise.
2 Sen piti olla yllätys. It was supposed to be a surprise.
1 Sinun piti soittaa minulle. You needed to call me.
2 Sinun piti soittaa minulle. You were supposed to call me.

4.4. Minun on pitänyt – Perfect tense

There is no significant difference in meaning between the perfect tense phrases “Minun on pitänyt” and “Minun on täytynyt“. Both are used to express that you’ve had to do something in the past which is continuing up to the present (#1).

Secondly, the perfect tense expresses that you drew a conclusion about something that must have happened based on the evidence (rather than seeing it happen with your own eyes) (#2). In some cases, you will need to rely on the context of the situation to know which of the two interpretations is intended.

# Finnish English
1 Meidän on pitänyt opiskella paljon. We’ve had to study a lot.
1 Minun on pitänyt treenata kovasti. I’ve had to work out rigorously.
2 Sinun on pitänyt tietää. You must have known.
2 Arin on pitänyt huomata tämä. Ari must have noticed this.
2 Siihen on pitänyt olla syy. There must have been a reason for it.

4.5. Minun pitäisi – Conditional

The conditional forms minun pitäisi and minun täytyisi are used to express that something should be done either now or in the future. These phrases can often be translated as “ought” in English. In the second person forms sinä and te, the conditional often expresses a polite request rather than a command.

The conditional form pitäisi can also be used to express probability. The form täytyisi will not work in this context. For example, we can say “Kokouksen pitäisi alkaa kello 13:00” (The meeting should start at 1 PM) to express that it’s likely or probable that the meeting will start at that time. This can express that the speaker has deduced something based on the context, heard it from someone else or that it’s a factual necessity which might not come true. The conditional täytyisi can’t be used to express probability in this way.

# Finnish English
1 Minun pitäisi antaa se olla. I should leave it alone.
1 Sinun pitäisi puhua Antin kanssa. You should talk with Antti.
1 Kuinka usein minun pitäisi ruokkia koira? How often should I feed the dog?
1 Kuluttajalle pitäisi antaa enemmän tietoa tuotteesta. More information should be given to the consumers.
1 Teidän pitäisi odottaa häntä täällä. You (plural) should wait for him here.
2 Hänen pitäisi olla jo perillä. He ought to be there already.
2 Kokouksen pitäisi kai alkaa kello 13:00. The meeting should probably start at 1 PM.
2 Avaimet pitäisi varmaan palauttaa huomenna. The keys should probably be returned tomorrow.
2 Bussin pitäisi saapua viiden minuutin kuluttua. The bus should arrive in five minutes.

4.6. Minun olisi pitänyt – Perfect conditional

Both olisi täytynyt and olisi pitänyt are perfect conditional forms used to express that someone should have done something in order to prevent the current situation (#1).

However, there is one difference between täytyä and pitää in the conditional: pitää can also be used in an epistemic way: we’re drawing a conclusion based on a context, without actual personal knowledge of the fact (#2). This is especially the case in the third person (singular and plural). The sentence “Hänen olisi pitänyt tehdä sen, koska paikalla ei ollut muita.” (He must have done it because there were no others present) expresses that we’re drawing a conclusion based on the situation. You can’t use olisi täytynyt in this manner.

# Finnish English
1 Sinun olisi pitänyt jättää se. You should have left it.
1 Hänen olisi pitänyt kertoa se sinulle. He should have told you.
1 Teidän olisi pitänyt kuunnella meitä. You (plural) should have listened to us.
2 Hänen olisi pitänyt tietää tästä. He must have known about this.
2 Heidän olisi pitänyt saapua jo. They must have arrived already.

4.7. Minun oli pitänyt – Plusquamperfect

The plusquamperfect tense forms “oli pitänyt” and “oli täytynyt” are rare. Of the two, “oli pitänyt” is much more common than “oli täytynyt“, but neither one sounds completely natural to most of the native Finnish speakers I asked about this. The plusquamperfect is used when we have two separate actions or events that both took place in the past. The more recent event will appear in the imperfect tense, while the earlier event will get the plusquamperfect tense.

In addition to comparing two separate events that have taken place, “oli pitänyt” can in some rare cases also carry an epistemic meaning. This means that we’re drawing a conclusion based on evidence as you can see from the example marked with #2. However, this meaning is generally expressed using the conditional perfect instead: “olisi pitänyt” (see section 4.6).

The English translation of these sentences should give you a clue as to how unnatural these phrases sound. Just like you probably would in English, you’d also simplify this tense in Finnish.

Finnish English
Heidän oli pitänyt tietää kaikki, ennen kuin he tulivat. They had to have known everything before they came.
Antti sanoi, että hänen oli pitänyt maksaa se jo eilen. Antti said that he had had to pay it yesterday already.
Sitten selvisi, että Arin oli pitänyt tehdä se. Then it became clear that Ari had to have done it.
Hänen oli pitänyt tietää erehdyksestä. He had to have known about the mistake.


Read more about this topic in Finnish:


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Hi, there seems to be a tiny mistake/typo: “Hänen täytyi karata mieheltään.” is translated as “She has to escape from her husband.”, but should read “had to escape”, shouldn’t it?

Thank you so much for your wonderful work, I’m so very glad to have found your amazing website. Finnish is as much uusi kieleni as it is vanha kieleni for me, since I learned a bit at early childhood, and am just now re-starting learning once again as an adult, not least with the help of your website. Thanks a lot!

Inge (admin)

Glad that you found a new interest in Finnish as an adult! Thanks for the kind words. And yes, that’s a typo, ty 🙂