Finnish for busy people

Osata Voida Saada – Finnish Verbs Differences

This article focuses on the different ways you can say “I can” in Finnish. There are many verbs for this. In this article, we will be focusing on these three: osata, voida and saada.

Learners of Finnish often wonder WHY there are so many verbs for this. I don’t really have an answer for this. However, I usually like to point out that – in English – it’s really hard to come up with a good infinitive for “I can”. There is no “to can”. There is “to be able to”, “to be allowed to” and “to be capable of”, but no universal verb “to can”. Interesting, right?

Minä osaan versus Minä voin

The verb osata means “to know how to do something”. It involves a skill that you’ve learned (eg. swimming, driving a car). The verb voida means “to be able to do something”, in the sense that there is nothing obstructing/restricting you from doing it. Possible obstructions could be eg. a broken leg when trying to ride a bycicle, or lack of a pen when trying to write.

In other words, you could say you know how to do something (minä osaan), but still not be able to do something (en voi).

Finnish English Explanation
Minä osaan ajaa autoa. I can drive a car. I know how to drive a car, I’ve had lessons.
Minä voin ajaa autoa. I can drive a car. I’m able to drive a car. Nothing is restricting me.
Minä en osaa ajaa autoa. I can’t drive a car. I haven’t mastered the driving skill.
Minä en voi ajaa autoa. I can’t drive a car. I eg. broke my leg, it’s physically impossible.
Minä osaan uida. I can swim. I know how to, I’ve learned how to swim.
Minä voin uida. I can swim. I’m currently unrestricted, so I can swim.
Minä en osaa uida. I can’t swim. I don’t know how to, I’ve never learned how to swim.
Minä en voi uida. I can’t swim. I can’t eg. because I don’t have a swimming suit.

So, in English, you could be really unclear and tell someone “I can swim but I can’t swim.” Finnish forces you to be more clear: the same sentence could be translated as “Osaan uida mutta en voi uida.” (I know how to swim, but I’m not able to swim).

Minä osaan versus Minä saan

Let’s compare osata and saada next! Again, both of these can be translated as “I can”. As seen above, osata means that you “know how to do something”, you have mastered the skill. The verb saada means that you are “allowed to do so”. In other words, someone gave you permission. This can be formal permission like a driver’s license, or the permission of a parent or other authority figure.

Finnish English Explanation
Minä osaan ajaa autoa. I can drive a car. I know how to drive a car, I’ve learned it.
Minä saan ajaa autoa. I can drive a car. I have a driver’s license, so I am allowed to.
Minä en osaa ajaa autoa. I can’t drive a car. I haven’t learned how to drive a car.
Minä en saa ajaa autoa. I can’t drive a car. I’m not allowed to drive a car – no license.
Minä osaan uida. I can swim. I know how to, I’ve learned how to swim.
Minä saan uida. I can swim. I’m allowed to, eg. my mom gave me permission.
Minä en osaa uida. I can’t swim. I don’t know how to, I’ve never learned how to swim.
Minä en saa uida. I can’t swim. I’m not allowed to, because eg. my teacher said no.

So again, in English, you could be really unclear and tell someone “I can drive but I can’t drive.” Finnish forces you to be more clear: the same sentence could be translated as “Osaan ajaa autoa mutta en saa ajaa autoa.” (I know how to drive a car, but I’m not allowed to drive a car).

Minä osaan versus Minä voin versus Minä saan

Let’s combine both of the comparisons above: osata, saada and voida!

You now know that “I can” can mean three things:

  • I know how to, I have mastered the skill: osata
  • I’m able to, there are no restrictions to me doing it: voida
  • I’m allowed to, I have been given permission: saada
Finnish Explanation
Minä osaan ajaa autoa. I know how to drive a car, I’ve learned it.
Minä saan ajaa autoa. I have a driver’s license, so I am allowed to.
Minä voin ajaa autoa. I am able to drive a car, nothing is obstructing me.
Minä osaan uida. I know how to, I’ve learned how to swim.
Minä saan uida. I’m allowed to swim, eg. my mom gave me permission.
Minä voin uida. It’s a possibility for me, I am able to swim.

 

So there you have osata, voida and saadaMinun nettisivuilla sinä saat ja voit opiskella suomen kieltä. Toivottavasti lopputulos on se, että osaat enemmän suomea! (On my website you’re allowed to and able to study the Finnish language. Hopefully the result is that you master more Finnish!)

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Ida Bagus Uttarayana

great things about osata voida, can i share it?