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.

You’ll have to learn a different way of thinking. In English, you would say “I go to the living room”. In Finnish, that translates as “Minä menen olohuoneeseen.” That’s clear up to there. However, where in English you would use the future tense – “I will go to the living room” – in finnish the translation would still be “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 usually 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. / I will help you.
Menetkö bussilla vai junalla? Will you go by bus or by train?

2. Using Adverbs to Refer to the Future

Some adverbs that express time are: pian, kohta, huomenna, ensi viikolla, and ylihuomenna. You can read more about adverbs of time on this page.

Finnish English
Maija tulee vasta ylihuomenna. Maija will only come the day after tomorrow.
Täytän 18 ensi vuonna. I will be 18 next year.
Vanhana pelaan bingoa. When I’m old I will play bingo.

3. Using Objects to Refer to Future Completion

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

Finnish English Finnish English
Luen kirjaa. I’m reading the book. Luen kirjan. I will read the book.
Katsomme elokuvaa. We’re watching a movie. Katsomme elokuvan. We will watch a movie.
Tähän rakennetaan taloa. They’re building a house here. Tähän rakennetaan talo. A house will be built here.

4. Using Verbs to Express Intent

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

Finnish English
Mihin aiotte matkustaa? To where do you intend to travel?
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 the adverb expresses that we’re dealing with a future event.

5. Using the Third Infinitive

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. These verbs are for example mennä (to go), tulla (to come) and lähteä (to leave).

Finnish English
Oletko tulossa juhliin? Are you coming to the party?
Mihin olet menossa? Where are you going?
Lähden juhlimaan! I’m going to party!

These forms do express intent indirectly, but “are you going” semantically focuses on the “going” part, which is usually currently ongoing at the time of speaking.

However, the third infinitive can also be used in a much less common, but semantically more accurate way. 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.

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 ikinä antamaan hänelle 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 occurances, 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 first 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. Saada tehtyä -Sentence Construction

You can also use the sentence construction “saada tehtyä” or “saada tehdyksi” to express the future. These phrases utilized the passive past participle. This is the case in for example the sentence “Betonityöt saadaan tällä viikolla tehdyksi“, which means “The concrete work will be finished this week.”

8. On Oleva -Sentence Construction

This way of expressing event is only used in religious and old language texts. This form was pretty popular when the Bible was first translated to Finnish (eg. 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.

Those 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).