Finnish for busy people

Finnish Sayings with Basic Adjectives

At some point during your Finnish studies, you’re bound to start wondering about Finnish sayings. Unfortunately, you’re likely to get discouraged when you find list after list online without the sayings even explained!

In this article, I try to focus on Finnish sayings with basic adjectives (iso, pieni, kaunis), thus keeping the vocabulary fairly simple. I also give my personal interpretation of what these sayings mean.

Finnish Sayings with Basic Adjectives

  • “Se voi repiä vanhat haavat auki.”
    Literally: “It can pull old wounds open”.
    Meaning: It can remind us of old issues rather forgotten.
  • “Minkä nuorena oppii, sen vanhana taitaa.”
    Literally: “What you learn when you’re young, that you can do when you’re old.”
    Meaning: It’s great to learn things when you’re still young.
  • Vanha koira ei opi uusia temppuja.
    Literally: “An old dog doesn’t learn new tricks.”
    Meaning: He’s too old to change/learn anymore.
  • “Yksi tyhmä kysyy enemmän, kuin kymmenen viisasta ehtii vastata.”
    Literally: “One stupid person asks more than ten wise ones can spare time answering.”
    Meaning: Don’t ask so many questions.
  • “Muna on kanaa viisaampi.”
    Literally: “The egg is wiser than the chicken.”
    Meaning: The youth is wiser than (learns from) their elders.
  • “Moni kakku päältä kaunis.”
    Literally: “Many cakes are beautiful on the outside.”
    Meaning: Don’t judge a book by its cover.
  • Kylmä kahvi kaunistaa.”
    Literally: “Cold coffee makes you beautiful.”
    Meaning: (this is commonly said when the coffee is cold)
  • “Kiertää kuin kissa kuumaa puuroa.”
    Literally: “To circle like a cat circles hot porridge.”
    Meaning: To talk about a difficult subject in a roundabout way.
  • Köyhällä ei ole varaa halpaan.”
    Literally: “The poor can’t afford the cheap.”
    Meaning: Quality is worth its price.
  • Helppoa kuin heinänteko.”
    Literally: “Easy as making hay.”
    Meaning: Extremely easy (or maybe not).
  • Terve sielu terveessä ruumiissa.”
    Literally: “A healthy soul in a healthy body.”
    Meaning: Only by keeping your body healthy you can stay happy as well.
  • Terve ruumis ei töitä kaipaa.”
    Literally: “A healthy body doesn’t need work.”
    Meaning: There are so many other things we’d rather do than work.
  • Tyhjät tynnyrit kolisevat eniten.”
    Literally: “Empty barrels rumble the most.”
    Meaning: The ignorant and stupid make the most noise.
  • “Mennä siitä mistä aita on matalin.”
    Literally: “Go through where the fence is the lowest.”
    Meaning: Take the easy way out.
  • “Hänen sydämensä on puhdasta kultaa.”
    Literally: “His heart is the cleanest gold.”
    Meaning: He has a heart of gold.
  • “Valheella on lyhyet jalat.”
    Literally: “A lie has short legs.”
    Meaning: You won’t get very far by lying.
  • Lyhyestä virsi kaunis.”
    Literally: “The short hymn is beautiful.”
    Meaning: Brevity is good.
  • “Odottavan aika on pitkä.”
    Literally: “The time of someone who waits is long.”
    Meaning: Things seem to go really slow when you wait for it.
  • “Hän on kuin kala kuivalla maalla.”
    Literally: “He is like a fish on dry ground.”
    Meaning: He doesn’t fit in, isn’t in his element.


General advice for learning Finnish sayings

My hope is that through this limited scope and with the explanations, learning Finnish sayings will be a little bit less daunting. One thing to keep in mind is that — unless you are the kind of person who really tries to actively use sayings — it’s often enough to just understand these. They could appear in the YKI-test for example, but you won’t be required to produce any of them yourself.

This list of sayings is fairly long, but I’m hoping you will do one of two things: Firstly, you could pick out the sayings that speak to you personally and start actively using those. Secondly, you could read all of them several times over and, thus, get an idea of what they mean that suffices for understanding them when you come across them in the future.

If you’re interested in sayings and idioms, and you live in Finland, borrow the book “Suurella sydämellä ihan sikana” by Muikku-Werner Pirkko, Jantunen Jarmo Harri and Kokko Ossi from your local library. It’s unfortunately not being printed anymore, but it’s a very cool dictionary for idiomatic phrases. Good luck with your studies!

5 4 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments