Finnish for busy people

Kova vs Vaikea – How to say “hard” in Finnish

If you look up “hard” in a Finnish dictionary, you will get several translations. This article goes through this options, while especially focusing on kova vs vaikea. Both of these words are adjectives.

This topic was suggested by Joachim on our Discord server. Thanks, Joachim!

1. Difficult vs Solid in Finnish

As a beginner, this first part is the most crucial for you. The adjective “hard” in English can have two meanings. Firstly, a homework can be hard, which means it’s difficult. In Finnish, we generally use vaikea for this purpose. Secondly, a stone or a pillow can be hard, which means it’s solid or firm. In Finnish, this will usually be translated as kova.

In the table below, you can find some example sentences of vaikea vs kova.

Finnish English
Tänään oli vaikea päivä töissä. Today was a hard day at work.
Tuo on tosi vaikea kysymys. That’s a really hard question.
Suomen kieli on vaikea kieli. Finnish is a difficult language.
Liisa on vaikea asiakas. Liisa is a difficult customer.
Minun oli vaikea hengittää. I had trouble breathing.
Tämä tyyny on tosi kova. This pillow is really hard.
Tyyny on kova kuin kivi. The pillow is hard as a rock.
Tämä on kovaksi keitetty muna. This is a hard boiled egg.
Leipä on kovaa. The bread is hard.
Nukun erittäin kovalla patjalla. I sleep on a really hard mattress.

2. Ways to say Difficult in Finnish

If you’ve advanced a bit further in your studies, you might benefit from learning some other ways besides vaikea to express that something is difficult. Just like in English you can have several synonyms. English has, for example, strenous, laborious, tough and burdensome. As you can see, these are more advanced adjectives. The same is true for the Finnish adjectives in the list below.

Note that we can use the adjective vaikea in all sentences below!

Finnish English
Miehellä oli vaativa työ. The man had a demanding job.
Suomen kieli on haastava kieli. Finnish is a challenging language.
Kurssi oli työläs. The course required a lot of work.
Tämä kysymys on hankala. This question is tricky.
Lastenhoito on raskasta työtä. Child care is hard work.
Se oli rasittava matka. It was a strenuous journey.
Lukio on rankkaa. High school is tough.
Kiipeäminen oli vaivalloista. Climbing was arduous.
Kova talvi jatkuu. The harsh winter continues.

Meaning:

  • Vaativa “demanding”: It makes us have to really try. Positive adjective.
  • Haastava “challenging”: It’s hard but also fascination, worth the effort. Positive adjective.
  • Työläs “laborious”: It requires a lot of work, time and energy. A bit negative.
  • Hankala “tricky”: It’s bothersome, hard to explain. A bit negative.
  • Raskas “heavy”: It wears us down, often physically. A bit negative.
  • Rasittava “strenuous”: It wears us down, either physically or emotionally. Negative adjective.
  • Rankka “tough”: It wears us down, usually emotionally. Negative adjective.
  • Vaivalloinen “arduous”: It doesn’t advance quickly, each step requires an effort. Negative adjective.
  • Kova “harsh”: It’s merciless, doesn’t let you off easily. Negative adjective.

3. Kova and its many meanings

In the examples above, you’ve seen that kova can be used as an adjective meaning either “difficult” or “not soft”. There are, however, many other situations where we use kova. Below, you can find the most common of these uses.

Finnish English
Kova patja hard mattress
Kova tyyny hard pillow
Kova timantti hard diamond
Kova tuuli strong wind
Kova pakkanen heavy frost, really cold weather
Kova maaperä hard soil (in winter)
Kova vesi hard water (lots of minerals)
Kova vatsa hard stomach (constipation)
Kova kipu severe pain
Kova nälkä severe hunger
Kova kiire in a great hurry
Kova työntekijä hard worker
Kova tyyppi tough guy, macho
Kova isku hard blow, painful hit
Kova tuomio severe judgement, sentence
Kova kohtalo hard fate, tough fortune
Kova maailma hard world, unforgiving
Kova onni tough, bad luck
Kova ääni loud noise, loud voice
Kova hinta high price
Kova kysyntä in great demand, wanted
Kovat ajat hard, difficult times
Kovat vaatimukset tough, high demands
Kova kuri hard discipline

That’s it for this article on kova vs vaikea! I hope this cleared up the difference between the two.

This topic can be explored further and will probably be expanded on with another article concerning the words kovaa, kovasti and kovin, which are all based on the adjective kova. These words are adverbs and all have their own contexts in which they are used. I will link to that article once it’s been published!

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