Finnish for busy people

The Future Tense in Finnish – Expressing Intent

This article has a misleading title: there is no future tense in Finnish! This, however, doesn’t mean Finns can’t talk about the future. They just do it through other means than conjugating the verb into the future tense.

  • Minä menen olohuoneeseen. = I go to the living room.
  • Minä menen olohuoneeseen. = I will go to the living room.

You’ll have to learn a different way of thinking when talking about future events in Finnish. The English “I go to the living room” translates as “Minä menen olohuoneeseen.” That’s clear up to there: both use the simple present tense. However, where in English you would use the future tense – “I will go to the living room” – in Finnish you would still use the same sentence: “Minä menen olohuoneeseen“.

This page progresses from the most commonly used ways to express intent to the more rare and old-fashioned ways

1. Using the Present Tense for the Future

In Finnish you will normally use the present tense to express what happens in the future. In these kind of sentences, you can see from the context of the sentence whether we’re talking about right now or about the future.

Finnish English
Minä autan sinua. I help you. – OR – I will help you.
Menetkö töihin bussilla? Do you go to work by bus? – OR – Will you go to work by bus?
Odota, soitan äidille! Wait, I’m calling mom! – OR – Wait, I will call mom!
Menemme kauppaan autolla. We’re going to the store by car. – OR – We will go to the store by car.

2. Using Adverbs to Refer to the Future

We can supplement a sentence with the present tense with an expression of time to show that we mean a future event. Some adverbs that express time are: pian “soon”, huomenna “tomorrow”, ensi viikolla “next week” and ensi vuonna “next year” . You can read more about adverbs of time on this page.

Note how the verb of all the following sentence appears in the present tense.

Finnish English
Teen kotitehtäväni huomenna. I will do my homework tomorrow.
Maija tulee vasta ylihuomenna. Maija will only come the day after tomorrow.
Ensi viikolla sataa lunta. Next week it will snow.
Ensi maanantaina annan sinulle kirjan. Next Monday I will give you the book.
Täytän 18 ensi vuonna. I will be 18 next year.
Vanhana pelaan bingoa. When I’m old I will play bingo.
Tulevana lauantaina olen kesämökillä. I’ll be at the summer cottage this coming Saturday.
Soitan sinulle kahden päivän päästä. I will call you in two days’ time.

3. Using Objects to Refer to Future Completion

In sentences with an object, the use of the partitive versus the genitive can be used to express intent.

3.1. The simplified rule (for beginners):

Note: Simplified doesn’t mean it’s a bad rule. Especially in the beginning, there are a lot of more important things to learn that the intricate rules of the object. Just stick with this main rule for the time being:

  • See #1: When you use the present tense and a partitive case object, it generally means the activity is ongoing.
  • See #2: When you use the present tense and a genitive case object, it often means that you are planning to do something in the future.
# Finnish English
1 Luen kirjaa. I’m reading the book.
2 Luen kirjan. I will read the book.
1 Katsomme elokuvaa. We’re watching a movie.
2 Katsomme elokuvan. We will watch a movie.
1 Kirjoitan sähköpostia sinulle. I’m writing an email to you.
2 Kirjoitan sähköpostin sinulle. I will write an email to you.

3.2. Complications to the object rules (for intermediate and advanced students):

If you are an intermediate or advanced student, you will learn that things are more complicated than that. While the main rule usually holds true, there are different things to also take into consideration. For example:

  • The partitive can also be used to express that you only do part of something.
  • The genitive ending will disappear in sentences with a verb conjugated in the passive or imperative or in a täytyy-sentence.

4. Using Verbs that Express Intent

If you want to emphasise the future, you can use the verb aikoa. It means “to intend to, to plan”. In spoken language, you also have the verb meinata, which has the same meaning.

Finnish English
Aion ostaa auton. I plan on buying a car.
Mihin aiotte matkustaa? To where do you intend to travel?
Aiomme mennä naimisiin ensi kesänä. We intend to get married next summer.
Antti aikoo muuttaa Helsinkiin. Antti intends to move to Helsinki.
Mitä ohjelmaa aiot katsoa? What program are you going to watch?
Meinaatko käydä kaupassa tänään? Are you planning on going to the store today?

While this way to express the future might seem the easiest to language learners, it is certainly not as common as the previous three options. Instead of “Mihin aiot matkustaa“, it is much more common to ask “Mihin matkustat ensi kesänä“, in which “ensi kesänä” expresses that we’re dealing with a future event.

5. Using Verbs that Express Movement

Verbs such as mennä (to go), tulla (to come) and lähteä (to leave) can also be used to express future events indirectly. They express movement, which allows them to show future events.

Finnish English
Menen uimaan. I’m going swimming.
Tuletko juhliini? Are you coming to my party?
Lähden kauppaan. I’m going to the store.

Some verbs that have to do with movement will require the third infinitive when you link two verbs. This has to do with verb rections.

Finnish English
Oletko tulossa meille syömään? Are you coming over to eat?
Olen tulossa juhliin tanssimaan. I’m coming to the party to dance.
He ovat menossa Italiaan opiskelemaan. They’re going to Italy to study.
Olen menossa nukkumaan. I’m going to sleep.
Olen lähdössä juhlimaan! I’m going to party! I’m on my way to party!
Olemme lähdössä uimaan. Tuletko mukaan? We’re going to go swim. Will you come, too?

The verb tulla can also be used in a special sentence construction. This is a fairly rare type of sentence. In the examples below, you can see that the verb tulla is not used in a concrete way; we’re not going anywhere at all in these sentences. It just expresses that an action will be the result of the current situation.

Finnish English
Sinä tulet katumaan tätä! You will (come to) regret this!
En tule ikinä antamaan hänelle anteeksi. I will never forgive her.
Mikä tulee olemaan sinun tulevaisuuden ammatti? What’s your future profession going to be?

It’s important to notice that linguists usually disapprove of this sentence construction because it’s redundant. Instead of “En tule antamaan hänelle ikinä anteeksi“, you can just as well say “En anna hänelle ikinä anteeksi” without losing any of the future intent.

6. Using the Perfect Tense to Express Intent

You can use the perfect tense in very specific situations to express intent. For this, you combine the present and the perfect tense together in a sentence. In these occurrences, the verb that appears in the present tense will express the future event.

Finnish English
Kun olen tehnyt kotitehtävät, menen nukkumaan. When I’ve done the homework, I will go to sleep.
Soitan sinulle, kun olen herännyt. I will call you when I’ve woken up.
Vastaan vasta silloin, kun olen lukenut koko viestisi. I will reply when I’ve read your whole message.

In its core, we could see these sentences as part of the second usage I mentioned: we’re using the present tense to express intent. The kun-sentence just functions as an expression of time, much in the same way as the adverbs huomenna and ensi viikolla.

7. On Oleva -Sentence Construction

This way of expressing future events is only used in religious and old language texts. This form was pretty popular when the Bible was first translated to Finnish (e.g. Totuus on tekevä teidät vapaiksi aka “The truth will set you free”).

It does appear in some current written sources, as a fancy or celebratory way of referring to the future. Eg. “Valtiovallan kosto on oleva julma!” or “Hän on saava palkinnon.

These are some of the ways to express intent or future events in Finnish! As you can see the future tense in Finnish has been replaced by many different ways. Keep in mind that the first of the things listed on this page – using the present tense – is still the most used and most natural way to express the future tense in Finnish.

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Ben Jonson

You say there is no future tense but to say “Aion,” can we not construct this as intent to do something in the future?
Aion matkustaa Helsinkiin huomenna, for example.

Inge (admin)

Take a look at 4 in the article! 🙂 In any case, the verb “aikoa” isn’t in the future in the sentence “Aion makustaa Helsinkiin huomenna”. Aion is just the present tense: “I intend”.

I’m not claiming you can’t EXPRESS intent in Finnish, just that there is no TENSE for it. All the things mentioned in this article are ways to express intent without there being a future tense.

I hope this helps explain! 🙂

Michael Hämäläinen

The 3rd example of “3. Using Objects to Refer to Future Completion” shows the object in nominative form for the so-called Finnish passive/4th-person form: ‘Tähän rakennetaan talo. | A house will be built here.’ Jukka K. Korpela’s _Handbook of Finnish_ lists this as an exception to the rule: “…a “partial object” is in the nominative (or in the accusative if it has such a form), if the predicate is in a 4th-person [Finnish passive] form or in a 1st- or 2nd-person imperative form. Examples: omena syötiin (an/the apple was eaten), syö omena (eat an apple), syökäämme omena (let us eat an/the apple).