Mutta and Vaan – The Difference Between Conjunctions

The conjunctions mutta and vaan both get translated as “but” in English most of the time. If you want to be precise, you could say that mutta is “but” and vaan is “but rather”. However, in English you generall use “but” in both sentences. Fairly often, you can omit the vaan completely when translating.

The topic of this article was suggested by Ylli on our Discord server. Thanks, Ylli!

Explanation for Beginners

If you’re only just getting started with learning Finnish, you can focus on the generalization in this section. While it is a generalization, it will allow you to make accurate sentences most of the time.

While both conjunctions mean “but”, in most situations, you will want to use mutta.

The conjunction vaan is only used with negative sentences. It corrects a wrong statement in these sentences. The vaan part of the sentence does not have to form a full sentence; it can be as short as one word! The goal is just to correct the incorrect statement of the first sentence.

Finnish English
Minä olen surullinen, mutta minä en itke. I’m sad but I don’t cry.
Minä en ole surullinen vaan iloinen. I’m not sad; (but rather) I’m happy.
Minä juon kahvia, mutta en tykkää siitä. I drink coffee but I don’t like it.
Minä en juo kahvia vaan teetä. I don’t drink coffee, but rather tea.
Hän ei tule tänne, mutta se ei haittaa minua. He’s not coming here, but that doesn’t bother me.
Hän ei tule tänne, vaan hän matkustaa Helsinkiin. He’s not coming here; he’s traveling to Helsinki.

Explanation for Intermediate Learners

Rules for the conjunction mutta

  1. Mutta is used to add nuance to a statement.
  2. Mutta can be used after both positive and negative statements.
  3. Mutta forms a phrase that could be a sentence on its own.
Finnish English
Minä matkustan Ranskaan, mutta haluaisin Espanjaan. I’m traveling to France, but I’d rather go to Spain.
Minä matkustan Ranskaan, mutta jäisin mieluummin kotiin. I’m traveling to France, but I’d rather stay home.
Minä matkustan Ranskaan, mutta siskoni jää kotiin. I’m traveling to France, but my sister is staying home.
Minä en matkusta Ranskaan, mutta se on ihan ok minulle. I’m not traveling to France, but that’s fine with me.
Minä en matkusta Ranskaan, mutta haluaisin kyllä. I’m not traveling to France, but I would like to.

Rules for the conjunction vaan

  • Vaan is used to correct an incorrect statement.
  • Vaan will always be used after a negative sentence.
  • Vaan doesn’t have to form a sentence that can exist on its own (though it CAN).
Finnish English
Minä en matkusta Ranskaan vaan Espanjaan. I’m not traveling to France but rather to Spain.
Minä en matkusta Ranskaan, vaan jään kotiin. I’m not traveling to France; I’m staying home.
Minä en matkusta Ranskaan, vaan siskoni mene sinne. I’m not traveling to France; my sister is going there.

Additional Information for Advanced Learners

Subtleties

This is quite subtle, but in some cases, you can use both vaan and mutta. These sentences always start with a negative one, with the vaan version simply fixing an incorrect statement – while the mutta version doesn’t focus on disagreeing but rather adds some additional nuance or information to the situation.

 

Finnish Explanation
Minä en mene, vaan siskoni menee. Purpose: correcting a wrong statement
Minä en mene, mutta siskoni menee. Purpose: adding information
Meillä ei ole kissaa vaan koira. Purpose: correcting a wrong statement
Meillä ei ole kissaa mutta kylläkin koira. Purpose: adding information
Anja ei osaa, vaan minä osaan. Purpose: correcting a wrong statement
Anja ei osaa, mutta minä osaan. Purpose: adding information

Punctuation

Both mutta and vaan will follow the same punctuation rules. If the sentence starting with mutta/vaan is a full sentence – with a subject – you will use a comma. This sentence has to be able to exist on its own (eg. minä en mene, mutta/vaan siskoni menee). If the second sentenice is incomplete, no comma is used (eg. minä en juo kahvia vaan teetä). You can see this in all the example sentences above.

 

If you’re wondering what the difference is between vaan and vain, you will have to wait a bit. We will have an article about that coming soon!

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