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Finnish language

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Suomen kieli
Pronunciation [ˈsuo̯mi]
Native to Finland, Estonia, Ingria, Karelia, Norway, Sweden
Native speakers c. 5 million  (2011)[1]
Language family
Writing system Latin (Finnish alphabet)
Finnish Braille
Official status
Official language in

 European Union
recognised as minority language in:
 Russian Federation:

Regulated by Language Planning Department of the Institute for the Languages of Finland
Language codes
ISO 639-1 fi
ISO 639-2 fin
ISO 639-3 fin
Finnish language map, large areas.png
     Official language.      Spoken by a minority.

The Finnish language is a Finno-Ugric language, a group of languages belonging to the Uralic language family. It is one of the two official languages of Finland. It is also an official minority language in Sweden. Finnish is one of the four national languages of Europe that is not an Indo-European language. The other three are Estonian and Hungarian, which are also Uralic languages, and Basque.

Related languages

The Finnish grammar and most Finnish words are very different from those in other European languages, because Finnish is not an Indo-European language. The two other national languages that are Uralic languages as Finnish are Estonian and Hungarian. Estonian and Finnish are very close to each other, and Estonians and Finns usually may understand each other. Even though Finnish and Hungarian are related languages, they do not look or sound similar. The Finnish and Hungarian languages separated a long time ago, and each language developed its own vocabulary. People who can speak Finnish cannot understand Hungarian without extra study, and Hungarians cannot understand Finnish. However, there are some basic words that are very similar, for example: 'hand' (Finnish 'käsi' vs. Hungarian 'kéz') 'to go' (Finnish 'mennä' vs. Hungarian 'menni'), 'fish' (Finnish 'kala' vs. Hungarian 'hal').

Finnish grammar

Finnish is a synthetic and an agglutinative language. This means that words in Finnish have a stem called "body", and other parts inside them which make up the meaning. Finnish is similar in this respect to the Japanese language, Turkish language, and Latin language. In Finnish, there are 17 cases/word types (sanatyyppit). You can think of a "case" as an ending added to a word that helps describe its purpose in the sentence. Verbs have 5 tempora (present tense, past tense, perfect, pluperfect and future tense). In addition, verbs have two participle (active and passive) cases. Gerunds, which are nouns made from verbs (for example: reading - to read) also exist in Finnish (lukeminen - lukea), are abundant in Finnish.

Finnish is a complex, self-morphing language. It has been ranked as the most difficult language for native speakers of English by the U.S. Department of State. The difficulty is due not only to the grammatical structure of the language, but also pronunciation and intonation as compared to English.

Finnish spelling and pronunciation

Finnish is pronounced the way it is spelled. The pronunciation of some letters is similar to English. However:

  • 'j' is like English 'y' in 'yes'
  • 's' is like English 's' in 'sad' (never like 'z')
  • 'h' is always pronounced, even at the end of a syllable e.g. 'ahdas' ('narrow')
  • double vowels make the sound long
  • 'ä' is similar to 'a' in English 'cat'
  • 'ö' is almost like english article 'a'. It is pronounced with rounded lips, like 'eu' in French 'peur' or German 'ö'
  • the letter 'c' is not used. It is replaced either by 'k' or 's' to avoid confusion and make writing simple.
  • the letter 'q' is not used. It is replaced by either 'k' or 'kv' to make writing simple.
  • the letter 'y' is pronounced like the 'u' in French language, or 'i' in 'in' but with rounded lips, very close to 'ö'.
  • the letter 'z' is pronounced 'ts' as in German language. It is often written as "ts" to make writing simple.
  • the letter 'x' is usually written out as 'ks' to make writing simple, for example in the word "taksi" instead of "taxi".

English speakers aspirate certain consonants, such as "k", "p", and "t". In Finnish, there is no aspiration (breath) and to "swallow the sound", as the old saying goes, takes considerable practice.

Particularly difficult is the proper pronunciation of Finnish diphthongs, for example öy, yö, äy, eu, etc.

Examples of Finnish words

Yksi One
Kaksi Two
Kolme Three
Kyllä Yes
Ei No
Minä I
Sinä/Te You
Hän He/She
Me We
He They
Olen/Minä olen I am
Suomi Finland
Talo House
Koti Home
Tie Way
Äiti Mother
Isä Father
Tyttö Girl
Poika Boy
Vauva Baby
Auto Car
Juna Train
Lentokone Airplane
Ravintola Restaurant
Nukke Doll
Sänky Bed
Tuoli Chair
Kaupunki City/Town
Puisto Park
Polkupyörä Bicycle
Kukka Flower
Kevät Spring
Kesä Summer
Syksy Autumn/Fall
Talvi Winter

Basic Finnish expressions

hei Hello
Kuinka sinä voit? How are you?
Kiitos hyvää Very well, thank you
Kiitos Thank you
Kiitos paljon Thank you very much
Hyvää huomenta Good morning
Hyvää iltaa Good evening
Hyvää yötä Good night
Hyvästi Goodbye
Nimeni on Anna My name is Anna
En osaa puhua suomea I can't speak Finnish
Puhutteko englantia? Do you speak English?


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