Finnish for busy people

How to Say TO BREAK in Finnish – Vocabulary

If you’re a beginner at learning Finnish, it’s likely that you’ve learned to say “to break” and “broken” using the word rikki. This is a very easy way to talk about things breaking.

Finnish English
Puhelimeni on rikki. My phone is broken.
Puhelimeni meni rikki. My phone broke.

In this article, I want to take a closer look at verbs that can mean “to break”. Just like in English, we can use a variety of verbs. For example, there’s “to destroy”, “to smash”, “to tear” and “to crush”.

Table of Contents

1. Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

The verb “to break” can be both transitive and intransitive. Transitivity and intransitivity are two concepts you will need in order to understand these verbs.

On the one hand, we can break something; cause something to break. That’s the transitive use of the verb, eg. “I broke my phone”. These sentences have someone who does the action, and an object.

On the other hand, something can break (seemingly) by itself. That’s the intransitive use of the verb, eg “My phone broke”. These sentences will not have an object, and generally have more of a passive meaning.

You will find infoirmation about the transitivity of the verbs in this article in each table. They are marked with T for transitive verbs, and I for intransitive verbs.

2. Different Verbs for Different Connotations

There are many factors that go into the meaning of verbs that mean “to break”. Here’s a list of some example factors you might have to take into consideration when trying to distinguish these verbs from one another.

  • Is the action intentional? Some verbs inherently mean that something was broken on purpose. “Hän rikkoi autoni” doesn’t take a stand as to the intent of the action, while “Hän kolhi autoni” generally means that it happened accidentally.
  • Is there malicious intent? The sentence “Hän murskasi marjat” means crushing berries, is intentional but isn’t mean at all. In contrast, “Hän tuhosi marjat” means he destroyed the berries. This seems much more malicious.
  • Does it involve a lot of force? Some verbs express the usage of a lot of force, pressure or weight to break something. The sentence “Hän murtaa oven” means breaking the door required physical strain. The sentence “Hän naarmutti oven” means that he scratched the door, which generally doesn’t require much force at all.
  • Can the damage be repaired? Things can be broken beyond repair. For example, “Hän romutti autoni” means my car was totaled. If we say “Hän kolhaisi autoni”, the dent created to my car can be repaired.
  • Into how many pieces is something broken? Here we have many possible answers. Something can break into two, such as my nail in the phrase “Kynteni katkesi”. In contrast, if we say that “Lasi särkyi”, the glass shattered, we have many pieces.

3. Common Verbs Used to Say “To Break”

I’ve divided these verbs based on their characteristics. It’s only a rough division and there may be many crossovers. There are also situations where one verb can mean several different things. My main goal is to somehow divide these verbs so that they’re more easily distinguishable for you. I plan on having a more detailed article up later.

T = transitive; I = intransitive

3.1. Default verb “to break”

The default verb is rikkoa. This verb is neutral and works in most situations. It doesn’t specify why something was broken, in what way or with what intent.

Finnish English
T rikkoa to break something
I rikkoutua / rikkoontua to break, be broken

3.2. “To damage a little”

Superficial damage can include dents, bruises and scratches. These don’t require a lot of force. They can be both intentional and accidental. If it’s intentional, there is usually malicious intent in the action.

Finnish English
T kolhaista to dent something
I kolhia to be dented, bruised
T naarmuttaa to scratch something

3.3. “To Break Off”

These verbs express that the result of the breakage is a product that’s in two pieces. The pieces don’t have to be of equal size. This can also be more abstract.

Finnish English
T katkaista to break something off, cut it off, disconnect it
I katketa to break off, be cut off, be disconnected
T lohkaista to break something off, split it off, chip it
I lohjeta to break off, split off, chip

3.4. “To Break into Pieces”

You can use some verbs to mean breaking something into more than two pieces. The size of the pieces can differ.

Finnish English
T pirstoa to shatter something into small pieces
I pirstoutua to shatter, to break into small pieces
T repiä to tear something into pieces
I repeytyä, revetä to be torn into pieces
T särkeä to smash something, crush it into small pieces
I särkyä to crack, break up into pieces
T hajottaa to break something up, disperse, scatter it
I hajota to fall to pieces, to be scattered

3.5. “To Crush”

You can crush something: apply pressure or create an impact that crushes the thing.

Finnish English
T murtaa to destroy something violently, with force
I murtua to break down completely, devastatingly
T murskata to crush something to close to nothing, to defeat soundly
I murskautua to be smashed, crushed beyond repair
T rusentaa to crush something with great force by impact
I rusentua to be crushed with great force
T musertaa to crush something with pressure or weight
I musertua to be crushed by pressure or weight

3.7. “To Destroy Beyond Repair”

These verbs express that something was violently and devastatingly wrecked or destroyed. There will be no going back to repair the damage.

Finnish English
T romuttaa to wreck something, to cause severe damage
T murtaa to destroy something violently, with force
I murtua to break down completely, devastatingly
T tuhota to wreck something, decimate it, reduce it to nothing
I tuhoutua to be wrecked completely, demolished
T hävittää to wipe something out, destroy it without leaving a trace

4. Overview of transitive verbs and their meanings

  • Hän rikkoi puhelimeni. → Default verb; the phone is broken; needs to be fixed; either accidental or on pupose.
  • Hän särki sydämeni. → Most often used for breaking abstract things (eg. silence, illusions); done on purpose; broken into pieces.
  • Hän kolhaisi auton. → Causing superficial damage (eg. a dent); usually caused by something large and hard to maneuver (eg. car, furniture you’re carrying); usually accidental.
  • Hän naarmutti auton. → Causing a scratch in a surface; could be accidental or intentional; done with a sharp object.
  • Hän romutti auton. → The car is totaled, wrecked; can’t be recovered; utter destruction; no connotation as to the intent.
  • Hän hajotti puhelimeni. → The phone can’t easily be fixed; it’s completely destroyed or in pieces; violence involved; perceived malicious intent.
  • Hän mursi seinän. → Violently break open or crush; requires physical or mental strain.
  • Hän murskasi marjat. → Using pressure to crush something beyond recognition, irreparably; also used for crushing enemies or teams.
  • Hän pirstoi tuolin. → Making something that should be whole into multiple pieces; can’t be fixed; unwanted; usually done on purpose.
  • Hän rusensi kuivan lehden. → Crushing something with great force or impact; violent; very sudden; destruction is complete; can’t be repaired.
  • Hän musersi minut. → Crushing something with pressure or weight; usually intentional; can happen more slowly.
  • Hän katkaisi yhteyden. → Something (eg. connection) that’s normally continuous, is severed, cut off; done on purpose.
  • Hän repi paperin. → To tear or rip something; could be torn to pieces or just have a tear; could be intentional or accidental.
  • Pommi tuhosi talon. → It creates irrepairable damage; something is wrecked completely; there is violence involved; usually unexpected.
  • Hän hävitti kaupingin. → Something is destroyed, reduced to nothing; a person or group is responsible for it; sudden overwhelming violence; malicious intent.

I have multiple articles about this topic. Who knew breaking things could be such an interesting subject?!

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