Finnish for busy people

Eri Erilainen Erikoinen Erityinen – The Difference

This article deals with the words eri, erilainen, erikoinen and erityinen. They all means “special” or “different”, but are used in slightly different situations. Below, you can find out more about how each of these words is used.

1. Eri and erilainen

Both eri and erilainen can be translated as “different”. However, there is a difference in meaning as well as a difference in inflection between the two. The adjective erilainen means “different, not the same”, while eri means “different, separate”. Consider the following examples:

Finnish English
He asuvat eri maissa. They live in separate countries.
He asuvat erilaisissa maissa. They live in countries that are different.

When you say he asuvat eri maissa, you mean that one person lives in eg. North-Korea and the other in Finland. The sentence he asuvat erilaisissa maissa also implies that there are two countries, but we’re focusing on the ways the countries differ from each other. Someone living in North-Korea is living in a country with very little freedom, while someone living in Finland is much more free. With erilainen we’re focusing on the difference between the countries.

Finnish English
Varasin eri huoneet. I reserved separate rooms.
Varasin erilaiset huoneet. I reserved different rooms.

The phrase varasin eri huoneet implies that I reserved a room for me, as well as a separate room for someone else. In contrast, varasin erilaiset huoneet implies that there are many different kinds of rooms that can be reserved. It’s not about having separate rooms, but rather about having rooms that eg. have a different color, lay-out or price.

Finnish English
Se on eri asia. That’s a different thing.
Se on erilainen asia. That’s a different kind of thing.

When saying se on eri asia, you are expressing that two things are not connected; that they are completely separate issues. Meanwhile se on erilainen asia expresses that something is a different kind of issue, it differs in its contents or something.

2. Erikoinen

Erikoinen can be translated as “special”. It conveys the meaning that something differs from the norm, isn’t normal, has some quality about them that’s exceptional, unusual of peculiar. If something or someone is erikoinen, this can draw attention to them.

Finnish English
Hän on hyvin erikoinen ihminen. She’s a very special/peculiar person.
Siskoni on vähän erikoinen. My sister is a bit odd (special).
Anja selittää erikoisia valintoja. Anja explains her unusual choices.
Wimbledon on täynnä erikoisia sääntöjä. Wimbledon is full of peculiar rules.
Viisi erikoista tapaa Kroatiassa! Five unusual traditions in Croatia!
Australian ratkaisu on erikoinen. Australia’s solution is unusual.
Mitä kuuluu? – Ei mitään erikoista. How are things? – Nothing special.
En ole mitenkään erikoinen laulaja. I’m not a great singer at all.

3. Erityinen

Erityinen can also usually be translated as “special”. It’s usually used to express that something is specifically organized or meant for something (like special education).

Rather than as a regular adjective, you’re likely to run into erityinen as an adverb: erityisesti “especially”. You’ll also find it regularly in the genetive modifying another adjective (eg. erityisen vaikeaa “especially hard”, erityisen kaunis “particularly beautiful”).

Finnish English
Erityinen virkamies hoitaa asian. A special official takes care of it.
Erityinen tila tupakoitsijoille. A specific space for smokers.
Se on hänelle erityinen tapa toimia. It’s his particular way of acting.
Se on erityisen tärkeää minulle. It’s especially important to me.
Se on erityisen vaativa ammatti. It’s a particularly challenging job.
Hän ei ole erityisen hyvännäköinen. He’s not especially attractive.
Hän soitti ilman erityistä asiaa. He called about nothing in particular.

4. Compound Words with Erityis- and Erikois-

It is sometimes possible to explain the difference between compound words starting with erityis- and erikois- side by side. However, often the difference is small, or the two words are used as synonyms. Erikoisruokavalio and erityisruokavalio are, for example, often both used to mean a special diet.

Finnish English
erityistapaus special case, inherintly different, requires different treatment
erikoistapaus special case, abnormal, peculiar, doesn’t usually happen
erityistilanne special situation, characteristic situation specific to something
erikoistilanne unusual situation, doesn’t usually happen
erityistehtävä special assignment, task to deal with a certain particularity
erikoistehtävä special task, somehow unusual, doesn’t normally happen
erityisryhmä group for eg. people with special needs
erikoisryhmä group only used in unusual situations, special task force

For some other words, however, only one of the two is used.

Finnish English
erikoisala specialty (eg. neurology, rheuma)
erikoislääkäri specialist doctor (neurologist, rheumatologist)
erikoisammattitutkinto specialist qualification
erikoistarjous special offer
erikoisosaaminen special skills
erikoiskahvi specialty coffee (eg. espresso, cappuccino)
erityisoppilas special needs student
erityisopetus special education
erityisopettaja special needs teacher
erityispätevyys special competence
erityisasema special status
erityisseikka special factor, detail

That’s all for eri, erilainen, erikoinen and erityinen in this article! It’s pretty tricky, but you’ll get the hang of them over time.

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