Monday, January 13, 2014

Figuring out the Finnish consonant change (in nouns)

The consonant gradation is a topic that hardly ever causes any joy in students. The consonants just seem to come and go as they want, and there's already enough annoying rules to remember.

In short, it's all about the syllable structure: If a syllable ends with a vowel, it's open, and there's a strong grade in the beginning of the syllable, or between the two syllables. If a syllable ends with a consonant, it's closed, and there's a weak grade in the beginning of it. 

Here's a link where you can check out which consonant combinations change and how. The change happens only when the consonants are between the two last syllables of the word when the word is in the basic form. (Of course, knowing how the Finnish words are divided into syllables is another story.)

I'll demonstrate with kuppi, where pp alternates with p.

  • kup-pi = a cup (Strong grade in the beginning of an open syllable.)
  • 2 kup-pi-a = two cups  (Strong grade in the beginning of an open syllable.)
  • ku-pit = cups (Weak grade in the beginning of a closed syllable.)
  • ku-pis-sa = in a cup (Weak grade in the beginning of a closed syllable.)
  • kup-piin = into the cup (Wait. Here it goes differently, but why? Well, it used to be kup-pi-hin, and still is in some dialects. The syllable used to be open, so that's why there's a strong grade.)

I know, it's a bit confusing. And there's even a thing called a reverse consonant change! Then again, it's just one or two consonants, and usually people will understand you even if you'd say matot (rugs) instead of madot (worms). Remember that the consonant change only occurs with k, p and t. Don't try to apply it to all consonants, no matter how excited you get about it.

Here are some sentences organized according to whether the grade is strong or weak. The example word is sänky, a bed.

In singular, the strong grade is used in these four cases:

  • nominative: Tämä on mun sänky. - This is  my bed. 
  • partitive: Minulla ei ole vielä sänkyä. - I don't have a bed yet.
  • illative: Mennään sänkyyn! - Let's go to bed! 
  • essive: Käytän tätä riippumattoa sänkynä. - I use this hammock as a bed. 

All the other cases have a weak grade:

  • genitive: Ostin uuden sängyn. - I bought a new bed.
  • inessive: Kummassa sängyssä sinä haluat nukkua? - In which (of these two) beds do you want to sleep?
  • elative: Ota lakanat pois sängystä. - Take the sheets off the bed.
  • adessive: Ei saa hyppiä sängyllä! - No jumping on the bed!
  • ablative: Tule alas sängyltä. - Come down from the bed. 
  • allative: Älä laita kenkiä sängylle. - Don't put the shoes on (to) the bed. 
  • translative: Oho, luulin tätä mun sängyksi. - Oops, I thought this was my bed. 

With plural, the nominative is weak and the genitive is strong.

Strong grade:

  • partitive: Onko teillä kerrossänkyjä? - Do you have bunk beds?
  • genitive: Tarkista, onko sänkyjen alla mikrofoneja. - Check if there are any microphones under the beds. 
  • illative: Menkää omiin sänkyihin! - Go to your own beds!
  • essive: Suomessa käytetään pahvilaatikoita vauvansänkyinä. - In Finland, they use cardboard boxes as baby beds.

Weak grade:

  • nominative: Pedatkaa sängyt! - Make the beds! 
  • inessive: He nukkuivat eri sängyissä. - They slept in separate beds. 
  • elative: Hotellivieraat valittivat sängyistä. - The hotel guests complained about the beds.
  • adessive: He olivat tanssineet sängyillä. - They had been dancing on the beds. 
  • ablative: Lapset olivat hyppineet sängyiltä sohville. - They had been jumping from the beds to the sofas.
  • allative: Sängyille oli läikkynyt punaviiniä. - Some red wine had spilled on the beds.
  • translative: Kenen sängyiksi te luulitte näitä? - Whose beds did you think these were?

Notice that with some words, both grades are possible in partitive and illative cases:

  • laatikko > laatikkoja / laatikoita - boxes
  • mansikka > mansikoihin / mansikkoihin - into strawberries 

You can read more about this topic here:

And yes, I left out he weird cases. Feel free to come up with practical examples with

One more thing: Notice that sänky is actually pronounced [säŋky]. The weak grade ng is pronounced as in sängyssä,[säŋŋyssä]. It's called velar nasal.

Lue lisää: 

About the author of this blog: 

My name is Hanna Männikkölahti. I am a professional Finnish teacher who gives private online lessons and simplifies books into easy Finnish. Please read more in and follow this blog, if you want to be the first one to know when I post something new. 


Anonymous said...

"Remember that the consonant change only occurs with k, p and t. Don't try to apply it to all consonants, no matter how excited you get about it."

I read somewhere that it also applies to b and g in some new slang words such as blogata or digata.

Random Finnish Lesson / Hanna Männikkölahti said...

Yes, that's correct! Thanks for pointing that out.:) Here's an article about it:

Unknown said...

can somebody also post when to use -lle vs vvn ( illative vs allative..) these two really confuses me,.. Why Kirkkoon and not kirkkolle, when to use -lle if i want to emphasize -TO..

Anssi Räisänen said...

I know I join the conversation awfully late, but in the passage when it is mentioned that in the plural, partitives and essives are strong grade, you use the example "käyttää pahvilaatikoita vauvansänkyinä" ("to use carboard boxes as baby beds") where the essive is strong, like it should, but the partitive is weak! (laatikko - laatikoita) ("laatikkoja" would be a strong grade). Similarly, besides the partitive plural, the illative can be either strong or weak, "laatikoihin" or "laatikkoihin" (not with all words, but with some). This is variation that takes place in some individual words but maybe it might be confusing to the reader in the above examples.

Anonymous said... the link is broken.

Random Finnish Lesson / Hanna Männikkölahti said...

Kiitos, korjasin nuo linkit.

Random Finnish Lesson / Hanna Männikkölahti said...

Kiitos, Anssi! :) Lisäsin jälkeenpäin tuon jutun, että monikon partitiivissa ja illatiivissa voi olla sekä heikko että vahva muoto.