Cases in Finnish
has fourteen or fifteen cases for nouns. They correspond
to English prepositions roughly as shown in the following table.
The suffix and the sample word form are shown in singular and in plural,
separated by a colon.
The translation given is for the singular, except for the last
two cases, which are normally used in plural form even
when the meaning is singular. The notation “…”
indicates that there are other variants of the suffix.
|#||case ||suffix ||English prep.
||sample word form ||translation of the sample
|1||nominatiivi ||– : t ||–|| talo : talot|| house
|2||genetiivi || -n : -jen …||of || talon : talojen|| of (a) house
|3||essiivi || -na : -ina||as ||
talona : taloina || as a house
|4||partitiivi || -(t)a : -ja …||- || taloa : taloja ||house (as an object)
|5||translatiivi || -ksi : -iksi||to (role of)||
taloksi : taloiksi || to a house
|6||inessiivi || -ssa : -ssa||in || talossa : taloissa|| in (a) house
|7||elatiivi || -sta : -ista||from (inside)|| talosta : taloista|| from (a) house
|8||illatiivi || -an, -en … :|
|into || taloon : taloihin|| into (a) house
|9||adessiivi || -lla : -illa||at, on || talolla : taloilla|| at (a) house
|10||ablatiivi || -lta : -ilta ||from || talolta : taloilta|| from (a) house
|11||allatiivi || -lle : -ille||to || talolle : taloille|| to (a) house
|12||abessiivi || -tta : -itta||without || talotta : taloitta|| without (a) house
|13||komitatiivi || -ine- ||together with|| taloine(ni) || with my house(s)
|14||instruktiivi || -n : -in ||with (the aid of)||taloin ||with
- Nominatiivi (nominative) is the case of a subject
and has no ending in the singular. In plural it has the ending
whereas in most
other cases, the plural suffix is
-i- which appears before
the case suffix (e.g.: taloissa).
- Genetiivi (genitive) indicates mainly relations
similar to those expressed using the genitive or the "of"
preposition in English. It is also one of the cases of
a grammatical object. In plural, it has several possible suffixes,
partly depending on the stem, partly in free variation, as i
nomena : omenien ~ omenoiden ~ omenoitten ~ omenain,
- Essiivi usually indicates some sort of role.
- Partitiivi indicates, among other things,
the partiality of a grammatical object.
E.g., the sentence söin omenaa has such an object and
it would normally be translated as
'I was eating an apple'. In contrast,
söin omenan contains a so-called
total object (with the object in genitive),
meaning that the entire apple was eaten,
and it could be translated as 'I ate an apple' or 'I ate the apple',
depending on the context. However,
in many situations, partitiivi is simply the grammatical
form "required" by the verb, as in
rakastan sinua 'I love you'.
It is also used (in singular!) with numerals, e.g.
kolme taloa 'three houses’.
- Translatiivi may indicate the result of a state
transition, e.g. tulla opettajaksi 'become a teacher'.
It has many other uses as well, e.g. suomeksi
- Inessiivi usually
refers to being within or in close
contact with something.
- Elatiivi typically
indicates movement from within (or from close contact with) something.
It is also used in more abstract meanings, as in
minusta 'in my opinion'.
- Illatiivi normally
indicates movement into (or to close contact with) something.
can refer to being near or on the surface of something. It has several
other uses as well, including the indication of instrument or method
or manner, as well as idiomatic expressions like minulla on
'I have' (literally, 'at me there is').
indicates movement from the neighborhood (or from the surface of) something.
indicates movement to the neighborhood (or to the surface of) something,
or indicates the recipient (of giving something, for example).
corresponds to English preposition "without". It is used rarely, except
in sayings and in nominal forms of verbs.
indicates company. The ending is followed by a possessive suffix
(except in adjective attributes).
It is used rarely and always grammatically in plural.
may indicate an instrument, but is has other meanings as well.
One might regard
it as vanished, remaining
only in sayings and adverbs,
such as jalan (by foot) and usein (often).
However, it has some modern literary
use, often regarded as artificial style,
where it means 'together with' or 'including'.
Normally, an instrument is
expressed using adessiivi or other cases.
- Akkusatiivi (accusative, objective,
the case of a grammatical object)
is often listed as a case, too. However, its form coincides with
the form of the nominative or the form of the genitive, except
for the personal pronouns
(minä, sinä, etc.)
and the interrogatory
pronoun kuka ~ ken, which
have specific accusative forms
(minut, sinut, etc., and
Among the cases, the six cases
inessiivi, elatiivi, illatiivi, adessiivi, ablatiivi, allatiivi
form a rather orthogonal system of
locative cases, with the first
three referring to inner relations (in, from, into)
and the rest to corresponding outer relations. In practise, the
rules for selecting inner or outer locative case are complicated
and have a lot of exceptions. For instance, we say Helsingissä
'in Helsinki' but Tampereella 'in Tampere' with no easily
(Even Finns have problems in selecting the correct case when
using a less common municipality name. A large database
of names of habited places and their inflection,
has been built
for such purposes.)
Moreover, the cases essiivi and partitiivi
originally had locative meanings, too, and this is still preserved
in some adverbs and sayings (e.g. ulkona 'outside'). Translatiivi
can be regarded as an abstract locative case. Thus, in total nine
of the fourteen cases can be explained as referring to locality of
The table has talo (house) as the sample word, intentionally
chosen so that it has an immutable stem, to which suffixes are just
“glued” without causing any modifications to the start of
the word, and so that it has a fairly simple concrete meaning and many of the
cases have concrete meanings, too, like talossa (in/inside a/the house).
There are different complications to such simple inflection:
- The case suffix may depend on the stem. The most common variation is the so-called
consonant gradation: depending on the sounds in the stem, the vowel
“a” may be replace by “a”, e.g. talo : talossa but
kylä : kylässä.
- The stem, too, may vary. Two common types of variation are the consonant gradation,
where a double kk, pp, or tt changes (under certain conditions)
to a single one or a singe k, p, t changes to
another consonant or vanishes. Examples of the formation of the genetiivi:
lukko : lukon, katto : katon, tatti : tatin, jalka : jalan, lupa : luvan,
kato : kadon.
- The meanings of a case suffix varies.
As a simple example. the essiivi also has a temporal meaning,
as in maanantaina (on Monday).
- In particular, the choice of a case is often grammatical in the sense that
some verb or other word “requires” an associated noun to be in a specific
case, perhaps with no relation to its original concerete meaning.
For example, the Finnish translation of I like you is normally
Pidän sinusta in written language (or
Mä tykkään susta in spoken language), so that the
word sinä corresponding to you is grammatically
not an object at all, but an adverbial in the elatiivi case.
Such relations, or requirements, are usually not explicitly specified in
grammars or dictionaries, though they can often be derived from the examples
given in dictionaries, such as
Frequency of usage
The cases can be roughly divided into three categories
- the common cases nominatiivi, genetiivi and partitiivi,
which cover about 70% of all occurrences
- the nine locative cases in the broad sense, as explained above
- the rare (or “marginal”)
cases abessiivi, komitatiivi and instruktiivi,
which mostly live in special phrases only.
For more detailed statistic, see
Iso suomen kielioppi,
Sijojen yleisyys teksteissä, which describes the nominative
as having 31‐37% frequency, the genetive 22–23%, the partitive 14%,
the locative cases varying from 1% to 7% and the rare cases 0.1–0.3%,
though the instruktiivi scores 2% under a
rather weird interpretation where a wide range
of adverbs are classified as instances of this case.
The variation in the number of cases in different sources
of information about Finnish is mostly explained by the inclusion
or exclusion of akkusatiivi
as a separate case. Otherwise there is
little disagreement about the matter, but for completeness I mention
a few issues:
- Sometimes a case called
prolatiivi, with ending -tse
and corresponding to English prepositions 'through' or 'via',
is suggested, but most linguists
regard -tse simply as an adverbial suffix.
Kirjeitse annettu määräys. Suomen kielen prolatiiveista.
- Sometimes a case, eksessiivi,
with ending -nta
(combined from the -na of essiivi and
-ta of partitiivi)
is suggested, meaning
'from the role of', thus making the system of
cases more orthogonal. It has been reported to have been used
in a few dialects, but many
references to occurrences
of eksessiivi in dialects seem to be based on
misinterpretations. In some dialects, adverbs like
luonta occur, but just as dialectal variants
of luota (which is morphologically a partitiivi form
and is purely locative in meaning).
- A case ending with -nkaa,
with a meaning corresponding to
actually exists in some dialects, possibly due to influence of
Estonian -ga case. However
it is explainable as simple contraction:
talon kanssa > talonkaa.
- In composite words the first word often undergoes changes:
hevonen 'horse' + voima 'power' >
One might argue that this means that there is a separate
case, kompositiivi. See
Suomen kielen yhdyssanamuodot
- A case called
latiivi, with endings such as -s
and a generic
locative meaning 'to', has actually existed in the language
but only survives in some adverbs (e.g. ulos)
and in peculiar
derivations which are between
adverbs and cases of nouns (!) in the
comparative form, e.g.
rannemmas (from ranta 'beach, coast' + comparative suffix +
indicating movement to nearer a beach or coast
and synonymous with rannemmaksi (with the translatiivi
ending). Note that similar forms,
e.g. rannempana and rannempaa, are used,
with clearly locative meanings for essiivi and partitiivi.
- There are several very productive suffixes for deriving adverbs,
such as -sti. It is sometimes suggested that some of them
might be interpreted as case endings.
has included such cases into his
list of Finnish cases. He regards e.g. -sti as
a suffix for multiplikatiivi, obviously due
its use with numbers, e.g. kolme 'three' -
kolmesti 'three times, thrice'. However, a much more
common use for that suffix is to derive adverbs from adjectives,
with the generic meaning 'in a ... manner',
or corresponding to the English suffix -ly.
iloinen (stem: iloise-) 'happy, joyful' - iloisesti
'happily, with joy'. Often the adessiivi of a noun is used
in a similar meaning,
e.g. ilolla (from ilo 'happiness, joy')
though purists may not regarded this as fully
correct, since it reflects the influence
of other languages (mainly Swedish). Since the -sti ending often has
the same function as the -lla suffix, which is undeniably a case
ending, and since it can be formed from all numerals and most
adjectives, it looks like a good candidate for a case suffix.
However no grammar seems to take such a position.
Confused? That's understandable. Please notice that none of the
suggested cases in the list above passes the following
in Finnish, an adjective attribute (almost always) complies in its form
with the noun, e.g. isossa talossa,
isoilla taloilla etc. That is,
the case (and number) is expressed both in a noun and in an attached
adjective attribute. And none of the proposed cases can take such
an attribute, so they are more adequately regarded as classes of
adverbs or as other constructs than cases.