Finnish for busy people

Aikaa Ajaksi Aikana Ajassa – Using Aika in Sentences

Aikaa ajaksi aikana ajassa: these are all forms of the word aika, which can all be used in expressions of time (ajanilmaukset). But when do you use which? Pitkän ajan? Pitkän aikaa? Pitkäksi aikaa? Pitkäksi ajaksi? Pitkästä aikaa? Hopefully this article helps you in the right direction!

1. Inflection of the Word Aika

Below you can find the forms aikaa, ajaksi, aikana and ajassa organized by the case they are inflected in! Notice that for many of these forms you need to remember consonant gradation rules.

Case Singular Plural
Nominative aika ajat
Genetive ajan aikojen
Partitive aikaa aikoja
Inessive ajassa ajoissa
Elative ajasta ajoista
Illative aikaan aikoihin
Adessive ajalla ajoilla
Ablative ajalta ajoilta
Allative ajalle ajoille
Translative ajaksi ajoiksi
Essive aikana aikoina
Instructive ajoin

2. Sentences Types Organized by Grammatical Case

2.1. Genetive Aika Phrases – Ajan

The easiest type of phrase where aika appears in the genetive case is with a postposition such as kuluttua, jälkeen or sisällä (#1). The preposition koko also always requires the genetive case (#2). Certain verbs have ajan as their object, such as kestää and viedä (#3).

Certain phrases with ajan (#4) can be tricky. These phrases don’t have a postposition nor a verb that requires the genetive. They express the length of an activity. Instead of expressing the duration with lyhyt or pitkä, we can also specific the length as eg. two weeks (#5).

# Finnish English
1 Hän tuli vasta [pitkän ajan kuluttua]. She only came [after a long time].
1 Hän palasi [pitkän ajan jälkeen]. She returned [after a long time].
1 Tulin [vähän ajan päästä] katsomaan. I came to look [after a little while].
1 Sairaus kehittyy [pitkän ajan kuluessa]. The illness develops [over a long time].
1 Tulipalot syttyivät [lyhyen ajan sisällä]. The fires broke out [within a short time].
1 Se heikkenee [ajan mittaan]. It gets weaker [in the course of time].
1 Se normalisoituu [ajan kanssa]. It will normalize [over time].
2 Hän häiritsi minua [koko ajan]. She bothered me [the whole time].
3 Toipuminen [vei pitkän ajan]. Recovery [took a long time].
3 Se [vaatii pitkän ajan]. It [requires a long time].
4 He istuivat yhdessä [lyhyen ajan]. They sat [a short while] together.
4 Me viivyimme vain [lyhyen ajan]. We only stayed [a short while].
4 Olen [pitkän ajan] etsinyt tätä. I’ve searched for this [a long time].
5 Se oli käytössä [kahden vuoden ajan]. It was in use [for two years].
5 Säilytän kuitit [viiden vuoden ajan]. I keep the receipts [for five years].

Problems can arise here when we compare the use of the genetive to the translative and essive cases. For example, all three of the following sentences are possible:

  • Opiskelin kahden vuoden ajan.
    “I studied for the duration of two years.”
    This sentence gives us information about how long my studies lasted.
  • Opiskelin kahden vuoden aikana.
    “I studied during the time frame of two years.”
    This sentence gives us information of the general time span, but not of how much time we actually spent studying during it.
  • Päätin opiskella kahden vuoden ajaksi.
    “I decided to study for two years.”
    This sentence gives us the intended length I will be studying.

Look at section 3.3 for another example of the difference between the use of the genetive, translative and essive.

2.2. Plural Genetive Aika Phrases

Of the following sentences, the ones marked with #1 have a postposition in them, while #2 has one of those prepositions that also require the genetive case. The singular genetive does not work in any of these: they are fossilized phrases which use the plural genetive.

# Finnish English
1 [Aikojen alussa] täällä virtasi joki. [In the beginning of time] a river flowed here.
1 Näin on toimittu [aikojen alusta]. This is how it’s been [since the beginning of time].
1 Tilanne on [aikojen kuluessa] muuttunut. The situation has changed [over time].
1 Mikään ei ole [aikojen saatossa] muuttunut. Nothing has changed [over the ages].
2 10 koukuttavinta peliä [kautta aikojen]! The 10 most addictive games [of all time]!

2.3. Translative and Partitive Aika Phrases

We can use the translative case when we want to express for how long something lasts: eg. for a short time or a long time. Generally, you can think of the translative as the case that expresses the intended (or expected) duration of an event.

For some of the phrases below, we can have both words inflect in the translative case (#1), but sometimes there’s an equally common alternative which combines the translative with the partitive case (#2). There is no difference in meaning between the two.

# Finnish English
1 Kuinka [pitkäksi ajaksi] hän jäi? [For how long] did she stay?
1 Hän jäi [pitkäksi ajaksi]. She stayed [for a long time].
2 Kuinka [pitkäksi aikaa] hän jäi? [For how long] did she stay?
2 Hän jäi [pitkäksi aikaa]. She stayed [for a long time].
1 Hän jäi [lyhyeksi ajaksi]. She stayed [for a short time].
2 Hän jäi [lyhyeksi aikaa]. She stayed [for a short time].
2 Hän jäi [kauaksi aikaa]. She stayed [for a long time].
2 Hän jäi [vähäksi aikaa]. She stayed [for a little while].
1 Hän jäi [vähän aikaa]. She stayed [for a little while].
2 Hän jäi [joksikin aikaa]. She stayed [for some time].
1 Kaikki pysähtyi [siksi ajaksi]. Everything stopped [for that time].
2 Tule sisään [siksi aikaa, kun] pukeudun. Come on in [while] I get dressed.

2.4. Translative and Genetive Aika Phrases

Just like in 2.3., the translative is used in the example below in combination with the genetive to express the intended or expected duration of an event. When something lasts a certain number of days, months or years, this number will be inflected in the genetive case. For example, yhdentoista kuukauden ajaksi or viiden vuoden ajaksi (#1).

When using dates (#2), you get into quite the pickle because there’s just too much going on in the sentence. The phrase “5.-20.5. väliseksi ajaksi” will make most sense if you read it as “toukokuun viidennen ja kahdennenkymmenennen väliseksi ajaksi”. However, this is a phrase that you will find in written Finnish, where none of it has to be said out loud.

# Finnish English
1 Kaikki peruttiin [kahden viikon ajaksi]. Everything got canceled [for 2 weeks].
1 Kaikki pysähtyi [laman ajaksi]. Everything stopped [for the recession’s duration].
1 Se on budjetoitu [11 kuukauden ajaksi]. It’s been budgeted [for a period of 11 months].
2 Suljettu [5.-20.5. väliseksi ajaksi]. Closed [for the period between May 5th and 20th].

Note: We will also have the translative in phrases like viideksi viikoksi, but we’re focusing on phrases with the word aika in it here. The phrase viiden viikon ajaksi means the same thing as viideksi viikoksi.

2.5. Essive Aika Phrases

Expressions with aikana (the essive case) will generally be translated as either “in” or “during” a time span. When specifying the time span, you will find the genetive case used in combination with the essive case, both when we’re talking about a time increment (day, week, month, see #1) or an event (vacation, process war, see #2).

You can also find aikana with a possessive suffix (#4). In these cases, doing direct translations doesn’t give us the whole picture. These phrases express that something happens during the appropriate time for the person or thing the possessive suffix is linked to.

# Finnish English
1 Se tapahtui useasti [päivän aikana]. It happened often [during the day].
1 Tulipalo syttyi [yön aikana]. The fire started [during the night].
1 [Viikon aikana] häylytyksiä tuli viisi. [During the week], five alarms happened.
1 [Tulevan viikon aikana] on useita juhlia. [During the next week] there are several parties.
1 Soitin kuudesti [kahden viime viikon aikana]. I called six time [in the last two weeks].
1 [Kuukauden aikana] kävin 8 museossa. [During the month] I visited 8 museums.
2 Tästä ei puhuttu [prosessin aikana]. This wasn’t discussed [during the process].
2 Moni kuoli [sodan aikana]. Many died [during the war].
2 Sairastuin [matkan aikana]. I fell ill [during the journey].
2 [Vuosien 2007-2017 aikana] [During the years 2007 to 2017]
3 Hän saapui [sovittuna aikana]. She arrived [at the agreed time].
3 [Kesäkuun ja elokuun välise aikana] [During the period between June and August]
4 Kaikki loppuu [aikanaan]. All ends [in its time (in due time)].
4 Juna lähti [aikanaan]. The train left [it its time (on time)].
4 Opit tämän taidon sitten [aikanasi]. You will learn this skill [when it’s your time].
4 Kyllä sinä sitten [aikanasi] ymmärrät. You will understand [when your time comes].

2.6. Plural Essive Aika Phrases

Phrases with aikoina generally have a meaning that’s rather specilized, as you can see from the translations of the sentences below. However, we could translate aikoina as “times”, such as in the phrases “during recent times” (#1)  and “during different times” (#2).

We can add a genetive to these phrases, such as in the sentence “Verenpaine vaihtelee voimakkaasti [vuorokauden eri aikoina]“, where “during different times” has been specified further: The blood pressure fluctuates strongly [during different times of the day].

In addition, we have aikoina with a possessive suffix: aikoinaan (#3). This form has fossilized to some extent, so you won’t have the possessive suffix agree with the subject at all times. The fossilized meaning can be translated as “once, at one point of time”. The more literal version – which can also be found with different possessive suffixes – could be translated as “in his day” or “in my day”.

# Finnish English
1 Olen ollut [viime aikoina] aika väsynyt. I’ve been pretty tired [recently].
2 Hinnat vaihtelivat paljon [eri aikoina]. Prices varied a lot [at different times].
Kauppa avaa ovensa [lähiaikoina]. The store will open its door [in the near future].
Työtä tehdään [kaikkina vuorokauden aikoina]. Work is done [during all times of the day].
Olin niin väsynyt [noina aikoina]. I was so tired [during those times].
[Näi aikoina] on elintärkeää tukea toisia. [During these times] it’s vital to support others.
3 Asuin [aikoinaan] Pekingissä. I [once] lived in Beijing.
3 Hän oli [aikoinaan] vahva mies. He was [once “in his days”] a strong man.
3 Harmittaa, kun en [aikoinani] opiskellut kieliä. Sad that I didn’t study languages [“in my time”].

2.7. T-Plural Aika Phrases – Ajat

The T-plural form ajat appears in a small selection of phrases only.

Finnish English
Tein sen jo [ajat sitten]. I did it [ages ago] already.
Olemme olleet ystäviä [iät ja ajat]. We have been friends [for ages and ages].
[Vanhat hyvät ajat] ovat palanneet. [The good old days] are back.

2.8. Partitive Aika Phrases – Aikaa

Phrases with aika in the partitive often aren’t appreciated by learners of Finnish because the combination of the genetive and partitive in these phrases (#1) just doesn’t seem logical. This is most common when we have a phrase with sitten. The phrases hetken aikaa and kaiken aikaa are fossilized forms that are always used this way.

Also not the very common phrase pitkästä aikaa, which combines the mistä form with the partitive.

# Finnish English
He lähtivät [yh aikaa]. (=samaan aikaan) They left [at the same time].
1 Hän voitti lotossa [vähän aikaa sitten]. She won the lottery [a short time ago].
1 Hän voitti lotossa [pitkän aikaa sitten]. She won the lottery [a long time ago].
1 Hän voitti lotossa [kauan aikaa sitten]. She won the lottery [a long time ago].
1 Hän voitti lotossa [jonkin aikaa sitten]. She won the lottery [some time ago].
2 Hän istui [hetken aikaa] hiljaa. She sat quietly [for a moment].
2 Hän teki ulkotöitä [kaiken aikaa]. (=koko ajan) She did outdoor work [all the time].
3 Pitkästä aikaa! Long time no see!
3 Kiva nähdä [pitkästä aikaa]! Nice to see you [after such a long time]!
3 Tapasimme ensi kertaa [pitkästä aikaa]. We met for the first time [in a long time].

2.9. Plural Partitive Aika Phrases – Aikoja

The expressions below that contain ennen (#1), the plural partitive and a possessive suffix express that something happens earlier than it should.

The expression omia aikoja with a possessive suffix (#2) can – depending on the sentence – be interpreted in two ways. First, it often expresses that something happens by itself, naturally. Second, when refering to people doing things, it can express that they’re doing it leasurely, without hurrying.

# Finnish English
1 Juna lähti [ennen aikojaan]. The train left [ahead of time].
1 Näytät [ennen aikojasi] vanhentuneelta. You look aged [“ahead of your time”]
1 Hän kuoli [ennen aikojaan]. He died [before his time].
2 Menen aamuisin töihin [omia aikojani]. I go to work in the mornings [at my own time].
2 Verenvuoto lakkasi [omia aikojaan]. The bleeing stopped eventually (by itself).
Se tapahtui [aikoja sitten]. (=ajat sitten) It happened [ages ago].

2.10. Mihin Aika Phrases – Aikaan Aikoihin

In some of the sentences below (#1), you will find an interesting effect the plural mihin form has on the example sentences. In certain cases, we can use both the singular and the plural form in the same sentence. The plural will refer to a less exact time. For example, instead of samaan aikaan “at the same time”, we can use the plural samoihin aikoihin which makes the time less precise “around the same time”.

In sentences expressing how long something hasn’t happened (#2), we will always use the mihin form of the time span. This is true for all expressions of time: En ole nähnyt sinua kolmeen viikkoon / kahteen vuoteen / pitkään aikaan. In comparison with the singular, the plural pitkiin aikoihin just conveys that the time is especially long.

The postpositions saakka and asti are used to express until when something takes place (#3) when used in combination with the mihin form. When we want to express something happening around the time of an event (#4), we can combine the mihin form with the genetive. For example, if something happens around Christmas, you can say joulun aikaan.

# Finnish English
1 He lähtivät [samaan aikaan]. They left [at the same time].
1 He lähtivät [samoihin aikoihin]. They left [around the same time].
1 Tulipalo huomattiin [kello neljän aikaan]. The fire was spotted [at four o’clock].
1 Tulipalo syttyi [kello neljän aikoihin]. The fire broke out [at about 4 o’clock].
2 En ole nähnyt sinua [pitkään aikaan]. I haven’t seen you [in a long time].
2 En ole nähnyt sinua [pitkiin aikoihin]. I haven’t seen you [in a long time].
2 En ole nähnyt sinua [aikoihin]. I haven’t seen you [in ages].
2 En valmistu vielä [vähään aikaan]. I won’t be graduating yet [for a little while].
3 En tiennyt siitä [viime aikoihin saakka]. I didn’t know about that [until recently].
3 Koita jaksaa [siihen aikaan asti]. Try to hang in there [until that time].
3 [Noihin aikoihin asti] he puhuivat ruotsia. [Until those times] they spoke Swedish.
3 Se jatkui [itsenäisyyden aikaan asti]. It continued [until the time of independence].
4 Toimin [kylmän sodan aikaan] vakoilijana. I worked [during the Cold War] as a spy.
4 Miten Kela on auki [joulun aikaan]? How is Kela open [through Christmas]?
4 En saa unta [täydenkuun aikaan]. I can’t sleep [during full moon].
Keskenmeno oli yleinen [siihen aikaan]. Miscarriage was common [at the time].
Sota oli normaalia [tuohon aikaan]. War was normal [at that time].
[Niihin aikoihin] sukseni olivat tärkeät. [At the time] my skis were important.
Hän toimi [yhteen aikaan] opettajanakin. She worked as a teacher [at one point] too.

2.11. Instructive Aika Phrases – Ajoin

While the following phrases contain the word aika in the instructive case, there is no need to study the instructive case just to learn these phrases (#1). They are, after all, phrases – meant to be studied as a whole.

The phrase toisin ajoin (#2) appears in longer phrases that express a contrast between two time periods. Take for example this sentence: [Toisin ajoin hän näytti upealta ja älykkäältä, toisin ajoin taas hän oli kalpea ja surkean näköinen.] Using toisin ajoin twice in this phrase accentuates the opposition: “At certain times she looked stunning and intelligent, while at other times she was pale and miserable looking.”

# Finnish English
1 Hän saapui [hyvissä ajoin]. He arrived [well in time, well in advance].
1 Elämä tuntuu [aika ajoin] tyhjältä. Life feels empty [from time to time].
2 [toisin ajoin ~ toisin ajoin] [at certain times ~ at other times]
3 En ole tehnyt sitä [kaikin ajoin]. (=koko ajan) I didn’t do it [all the time].

2.12. Inessive Aika Phrases – Ajassa Ajoissa

While ajassa and ajoissa both get translated as “on time”, the singular (#1) is used for time schedules and exact times. The plural (#2) is mainly used for people leaving in time for something.

# Finnish English
2 Lähdin ajoissa pysäkille. I went to the bus stop [on time].
1 Juna lähti ajassa. The train left [at the right time].
1 Kello on ajassa. The clock is [on time, accurate].

2.13. Adessive Aika Phrases – Ajalla Ajallaan

The adessive form ajalla is used mainly with a possessive suffix in order to express that something happens at the right time (#1); or when the time is right (#2).

In addition, you will also use it with some historical time periods (#3) such as the Classical Age (between the 8th century BC and the 6th century AD) and the Modern Age (from about 1500 AD to present times). However, not all historical time periods will include ajalla. Many use aikana, such as ristiretkien aikana (during the Crusades) and antiikin Rooman aikoina (during ancient Roman times).

# Finnish English
1 Kevät tuli ajallaan. Spring came [at its proper time].
1 Maksamme laskut ajallaan. We pay the bill [at the right time]
1 Hän synnytti vauvan ajallaan. She gave birth to the baby [at the right moment].
2 Ymmärrät sen sitten joskus, [ajallasi]. You’ll understand it at some point, [in your own time].
2 Näet kyllä ajallasi, että olen oikeassa. You will see [in good time] that I’m right.
3 Kristinusko levisi [vanhalla ajalla]. Christianity spread [during Classical antiquity].
3 Noitavainot olivat yleisiä [uudella ajalla]. Witch hunts were common [during the Modern Age].

2.14. Ablative Aika Phrases – Ajalta

When we’re looking back on a time span and taking a total of something that happened during that period, the ablative ajalta comes into play in combination with the genetive case.

Finnish English
Asia koskee rikokset [kuluneiden kahden vuoden ajalta]. The case concerns the crimes [of the past two years].
Korkoa peritään [koko viivästyksen ajalta]. Interest is charged [for the entire period of delay].
Ei maksettu palkkaa [sairasloman ajalta]. No salary was paid [for the duration of the sick leave].

3. Comparison of Some Aika Phrases

3.1. Kahden viikon ajan vs. kahden viikon ajaksi

Both of these phrases get translated into English as “for two weeks” or “for the duration of two weeks”. However, in Finnish they do carry a little bit of a different connotation.

When you use the translative case in kahden viikon ajaksi, you’re generally focusing on the fact that there’s a deadline by which things will change. Often, you’re referring to an event that will span two weeks into the future.

Using the genetive case in kahden viikon ajan has a different focus. In this case, you’re focusing on how things are during these two weeks. The main focus is not on the deadling, but on the timespan.

For example, the sentence Kaupan ovet suljetaan/suljettiin kahden viikon ajaksi puts the stress on how this action is temporary and will come to an end in two weeks. In constract, Kaupan ovet suljetaan/suljettiin kahden viikon ajan is likely to refer to what is happening during these two weeks. Perhaps they’re renovating the store during that time. Both sentences will be translated to English as “The doors of the store will be closed (were closed) for (the duration of) two weeks”.

3.2. Pitkän aikaa vs. Pitkää aikaa vs. Pitkäksi aikaa

This trio of phrases can be very confusing.

  1. Pitkästä aikaa is the most common phrase which combines two cases. It’s used to express that something has happened after a long period of it not happening.
  2. Pitkän ajan and pitkän aikaa both express the time period something lasts for. While pitkän ajan probably sounds more “correct” to you, pitkän aikaa is more common. To avoid this issue, you could use kauan instead.
  3. The negative equivalent of this phrase will have the partitive case.
  4. When using a postposition, the time frame will be inflected in the genetive case.
  5. Pitkäksi ajaksi and pitkäksi aikaa are synonyms. They both express how long the period is going to last, or at least how long the period is intended to last. You can use either of these, but pitkäksi aikaa is somewhat more common.
  6. Negative sentences can be one of two types:
    1. Sentences that tell us how long the period of us doing something is going to last. For these, you can use both of the forms that also appear in the affirmative sentences.
    2. Sentences that express the time span of how long something hasn’t happened. For these sentences (which usually have a verb in the perfect tense), you will use the mihin form.
# Finnish English
1 Kiva nähdä [pitkästä aikaa]! Nice to see you [after a long time]!
2 Äiti oli hiljaa [pitkän aikaa]. Mother was quiet for a long time.
2 Äiti oli hiljaa [pitkän ajan]. Mother was quiet for a long time.
3 Emme istuneet [pitkää aikaa] hiljaa. We didn’t sit silently for a long time.
4 Äiti puhui vasta [pitkän ajan päästä]. Mother only spoke after a long time.
4 Äiti puhui vasta [pitkän ajan kuluttua]. Mother only spoke after a long time.
5 Menemme ulos [pitkäksi aikaa]. We are going out for a long time.
5 Menemme ulos [pitkäksi ajaksi]. We are going out for a long time.
6a Emme mene ulos [pitkäksi aikaa]. We aren’t going out for a long time.
6a Emme mene ulos [pitkäksi ajaksi]. We aren’t going out for a long time.
6b Emme ole tavanneet [pitkään aikaan]. We haven’t met for a long time.
6b Emme ole tavanneet [pitkiin aikoihin]. We haven’t met for a long time.

3.3. Kahden viikon ajan vs. Kahden viikon aikana

The phrase kahden viikon ajan is used to express a time span as a block of time. In contrast, kahden viikon aikana is used to look at a time span’s development. It’s a subtle difference that I can’t really explain very well. The phrase kahden viikon ajaksi is used to express the intended time span of something.

Finnish English
[Kahden viikon ajan] oli rauhallista. For two weeks it was peaceful.
[Kahden viikon aikana] ei tapahtunut mitään. During two weeks nothing happened.
Matkustin [kahden viikon ajaksi]. I traveled for two weeks.

For example, Istuimme siellä lyhyen ajan means “we sat there a short while”. These phrases are close to a similar phrase with the translative case: Istuuduimme lyhyeksi ajaksi “we sat down for a short time”. The difference here is that the genetive tells us the length of the activity, while the translative tells us the intended length of the activity.

Another harder pair with a subtle difference are the genetive: Opiskelin kahden vuoden ajan “I studied two years” (#5), and the essive case: Opiskelin kahden vuoden aikana “I studied during two years”. The former of the two informs us of the length of an event, while the latter tells us of what events took place during the time span. They can of course mean the same thing in some contexts.


That’s all for this article! Hopefully the use of the forms aikaa, ajaksi, aikana and ajassa are a little clearer to you now! You should also check out my other article about vocabulary that included the word aika.

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