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The supernatural realm in Finnish

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Nouns in Finnish are declined in four or five realms, with three aspects to each realm and a few other cases.

There are realms of the whole, the part, inner and outer locality, and a kind of formal instrumentation subject to miscellaneous extra grammatical rules.

There are aspects of departure, sojourn, and arrival, respectively, for each realm.

  • the whole: nominative, accusative, genitive
  • the part: partitive, essive, translative
  • inner locality: elative, inessive, illative
  • outer locality: ablative, adessive, allative
  • instrumentation: abessive, instructive, comitative

There is another realm that only exists for a few pronouns that are not fully nouns in their own right.

  • supernatural: excessive, superessive, superlative

In Finnish, yli means “over,” ylä means “above,” and ylös means “up.” These words are thought to be suggestive or imitative of a wolf howling at the moon.

When the Bible says that the Lord ascended up far above all heavens, the superlative case is used in the Finnish language because that is considered so high as to be entering the supernatural realm.

  • Herra on noussut ylhäälle.

Now the wolf's ears are laid all the way back and she is howling toward the heavens in abject fright and terror of her life. When it is said in English, “God dwells on high,” the superessive case is used.

  • Jumala asuu ylhäällä.

Human beings are mortified and crumble to dust before anything that high. God is so high that He has to come down, but then it is said,

  • Jumalan viha ilmestyy ylhäältä.

The wrath of God is revealed from on high.

The Finnish word alas means down, suggestive of a cry of regret. In the superlative it is put alhaalle, suggesting the hideous scream of one falling into the underworld, condemned to eternal torment.

(There is something called “Pimpnet” and a malicious Android app called “RC Collect.”)

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Finnish verb infinitives are declined somewhat like nouns.

The first infinitive “-ä/a/tä/ta/dä/da” occurs only in the translative case, although that case ending “-ksi” is not used unless a possessive suffix is appended after it in the so-called “long form.”

The second infinitive “-e/te/de/i/ti/di-” is like the first, but it only occurs in the instructive and inessive cases to denote a “side action,” something that may be said to occur “by the way,” but more formally than that.

The third infinitive “-mä/ma” denotes the “main action” and the fourth infinitive “-minen” denotes the “process” or “function” of a verb.

For some reason, the partitive, essive, and translative cases (the realm of the part) of the third and fourth infinitives are not used: instead the elative, inessive, and illative cases (the realm of inner locality) are substituted. The instructive case, used almost exclusively in a formal plural for nouns, is used in the singular for the third infinitive, and not at all for the fourth.

A fifth infinitive, “-mäisillään/maisillaan,” is rarely used in the adessive case in a poetically emphatic repetition of a conjugated main verb. The possessive suffix is mandatory and matches the subject.

Certain verbs are “absolute” in meaning and lack some of the infinitives: elää, to live, and kuolla, to die, are among them. The adessive and inessive cases of the third infinitive are substituted for the instructive and inessive of the missing second infinitive of these verbs, and the fourth and fifth infinitives are not used. The verb olla, to be, has the second and third infinitives, but not the fourth or fifth, and generally not the long form of the first.

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The short form of the first infinitive in Finnish is used unchanged in the passive voice, as in English.

  • That's a good book to read. (passive infinitive)
  • That's a good boy to read the book. (active infinitive)

However, the long forms of the first and fifth infinitives and the instructive of the second are reserved for the active voice.

On the other hand, there seems to be a distinct passive voice for the third and fourth infinitives, and the inessive case of the second. The distinct forms of infinitives for the passive voice, which use the hard grade of the passive stem, are sometimes a little bit awkward and they tend to sound overconstructed and overeducated, and as in English, it is often better style to rephrase the clause to use the active voice. In Finnish, it is often as simple and usually quite correct to use the active form of the infinitive in place of the passive.

The passive voice of the verb olla, to be, is not used in correct Finnish.

And when I think about it something very strange happens to the verbs elää and kuolla in the passive voice. They seem to be “lifted” to a causative form by the insertion of an extra syllable, which seems automatic.

elätetään

kuoletetaan

There is something unnatural or premeditated, and almost progressive about these passive forms: to say that people are living when they should be dead, or else they are being murdered or deadened or mortified by an unknown human agent.

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the progressive tenses in Finnish

Finnish has progressive tenses, much as English does, but there are some differences.

The progressive is limited to the present and imperfect, as it does not indicate a completed action. It is somewhat archaic and informal, poetic, perhaps, and it is a mistake to try to be too proper or correct with it: the conjugation is singular only and never pluralized. For the verb puhua, to speak:

Liittopreesens

  • minä olen puhuva // en ole puhuva
  • sinä olet puhuva // et ole puhuva
  • hän on puhuva // ei ole puhuva
  • me olemme puhuva // emme ole puhuva
  • te olette puhuva // ette ole puhuva
  • he on puhuva // ei ole puhuva
  • on puhuttava // ei ole puhuttava

Liittoimperfekti

  • minä olin puhuva // en ollut puhuva
  • sinä olit puhuva // et ollut puhuva
  • hän on puhuva // ei ollut puhuva
  • me olimme puhuva // emme olleet puhuva
  • te olitte puhuva // ette olleet puhuva
  • he oli puhuva // ei olleet puhuva
  • oli puhuttava // ei ollut puhuttava

The third person plural conjugation is rather rudely dropped to singular, which some people object to, but the «-vat» or «-vät» ending is much too formal, and more than redundant and unnecessary for the progessive tenses.

The meaning is not exactly the same as that of the progressive tenses in English, that something is happening, but more that something is supposed to happen or expected to happen or about to happen.

  • Laki on sitova. == The law is binding.
    • Not that one is already being arrested or placed in handcuffs, but that one can fully expect to be if one is doing anything wrong.
  • Pojat on alkava käymään koulussa. == The boys are supposed to start going to school.
    • Not that they aren’t playing hooky or being held back by their mothers for some cause or another.
  • On satava tänään. == It’s raining today.
    • In the sense that one might have just checked the weather forecast and expect it to rain; not a comment on present continually pouring rain.
  • Ei ollut satava tänään. == It wasn’t raining today.
    • That is, not according to the forecast; but now it’s pouring.

the potential mood

  • Koira puree. == The dog bites.
  • Koira purree. == The dog might bite.
  • Minä puhunen. == On a peur que je ne parle…
  • Minä en puhune. == On a peur que je ne parle pas…

Might or might not. A fine distinction, actually little more than a mark of hesitation or fear in the conjugation of the verb.

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I had to correct the table above. My memory is vague, recalling the speech patterns of the old ones from when I was a child, as a tape recorder, although I did not understand the words and grammar at that time, and those who now ought to know better do not tell the truth. It is:

he eivät olleet puhuneet = they had not spoken

and

he ei olleet puhuva = they were not [supposed] to speak

This seems correct, as I have heard it before, but it sounds rather rude to me to say,

he ei ollut puhuva

as I put it initially on the table, although this form is probably as acceptable as the other anymore these days.

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# the instructive case in Finnish

The instructive case is somewhat irregular and usually denoted by one of the endings

- -in
- -an
- -äin
- -än
- -itse

The most common ending «-in» is sometimes interpreted as a formal plural of the instructive, but the instructive case is too abstract to respect number.

- käsi -> käsin (“by hand”)

The instructive is almost always distinct from the genitive plural (e.g., «käsien») and the final syllable «-in» is pronounced with a very short vowel.

The ending «-an» is also common; when this form occurs, it is spelled identically to the genitive singular, but again, the final vowel is very short in spoken Finnish. The front-vowel form «-än» is usually diphthongized to «-äin» except in the instructive of the third infinitive of a verb.

- kerta -> kerran (“once upon a time” in the past or “one day” in the future, etc. )
- jalka -> jalan (“on foot” or “by foot” etc.)
- puhuma -> puhuman (“by speaking”)
- elämä -> elämän (“by living”)
- pää -> päin (“heading” e.g., «Helsinkiin päin» = “heading toward Helsinki” etc.)

The instructive case of the third infinitive of a verb, _preceded by its subject, if any, in the genitive case,_ is used idiomatically with «pitää» (“shall”) or «ei pidä» (“shall not”) to express a formal injunction or absolute future tense in Finnish.

- Ei sinun pidä tappaman. (“Thou shalt not kill”)
- Maasta olet sinä tullut; maaksi pitää sinun jälleen tuleman. (“Dust thou art; unto dust shalt thou return.”)

(Remember that the instructive is in a realm of “formal instrumentation” where one has to “face the music.”) The second infinitive takes the ending «-en» in the instructive, or «-in» in older Finnish.

When a noun already ends in «-in» in the nominative singular, the instructive takes the ending «-imitse».

- puhelin -> puhelimitse (“by telephone”)
- istuin -> istuimitse (“by means or instrumentation of the throne”)

This ending is sometimes called the “prolative” but it is not really a separate case from the instructive; only a variant of the instructive perhaps borrowed from Estonian.

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no future tense in Finnish?

Sometimes the claim is made that there is no future tense in the Finnish language.

To a certain extent this is true of everday informal speech: when something is happening at a more or less definite time and date in the future, the simple present tense is used, especially for any sort of event of happening within the range of ordinary discourse.

The Finnish word for “future” is «tulevaisuus» in the sense of «se, joka on tuleva,» that is, that which “is coming” or “is to come,” to use the compound (or progressive) present tense in Finnish, which indicates an action present or imminent, yet not having taken place or been completed.

“will” & “shall”

There are formal auxiliary verbs in Finnish that do correspond directly to English “will” and “shall” but their usage is very distinct and formal, and uncommon in modern everyday spoken Finnish.

  • tahtoa = “will”
  • minä tahdon sanoa = “I will say”
  • minä en tahdo sanoa = “I will not say”

The Finnish auxiliary verb «tahtoa», used with the “dictionary form” or first infinitive of the main verb, is a formal “will” in two senses:

  • determination, desire or intention of action; or
  • indeterminacy or positive possibility of action;

in either case, a rather formal kind of “philosophical future” and not really a full-fledged grammatical tense.

pitää = “shall” minun pitää sanoman = “I shall say” ei minun pidä sanoman = “I shall not say”

The auxiliary verb «pitää» is the definitive “shall” in two senses:

  • a direct formal future tense; or
  • a general commandment or legal statute or directive.

The verb «pitää» in this sense is conjugated impersonally without a grammatical subject, and the true subject is attached directly to the main verb.

The subject of an infinitive verb in Finnish is always in the genitive case and always precedes it, although unlike the genitive-case possessor of a nominal object, other words and phrases may freely intervene.

The main verb is formally placed in the instructive case of the third infinitive, with the «-män» or «-man» ending. For less formal speech, the first infinitive or dictionary form of the main verb is sometimes suggested, but «pitää» as an auxiliary verb is just too formal to take such a shortcut. «Minun pitää sanoa» is too much like a man dressing up in a suit and tie only to use gangsta-rap inner-city slang.

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