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Finnish Word Order

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Word order in Finnish tends to have minor influences on the meaning of a sentence, whereas word order in English is rather important.

Word Order Generally

Subject Verb Object is the general rule in both English and Finnish. In English it is absolutely critical as English does not have case forms specific to the object.

Consider the two statements

Mary loves Joe and Joe loves Mary

In English the subject almost always comes before the verb and the object afterwards. So the person doing the loving is changed

Now consider the following

Päivi rakastaa Hannua and Hannua rakastaa Päivi

The second Finnish phrase does NOT mean that Hannu loves Päivi! Because Hannua is the partitive case form of Hannu, Hannu has been marked as the object, whereas Päivi is still in the nominative form. So this sentence actually means Hannu is the person loved by Päivi (and not someone else!). Changing the word order modified the meaning, but only slightly. Therefore to express Hannu loves Päivi in Finnish we have to mark Päivi with the object form, which in the case of loving is partitive. Se we get Hannu rakastaa Päiviä.

Note: In Finnish sentences, the most important aspect will usually appear at the head of the sentence.

If this still seems a little odd, consider the equivalent sentence using English pronouns. English pronouns DO mark for object. For instance the object form of the pronoun "I" is "me".

so I love you in the revered meaning is you love me (not you love I)

We cannot just reverse the order to transform the meaning. We have to put "I" into the direct object form "me".

So in English "you love I" means the same as "I love you", even though the word order is slightly odd. And similarly we can quite easily understand "me you love" (object-subject-verb) because me is marked as the object. If these were not pronouns the meaning would be unclear (e.g. Mary Joe hit" is uncertain as to who is doing the hitting. We might be tempted to guess it was joe because the subject in English nearly always comes immediately before the verb, but the meaning is definitely unclear.

Word order in complex sentences

When a sentence contains lots of adjectives and verbs, it can sometimes seem difficult to unravel what is going on in some Finnish Sentences. Consider the following which is extracted from the Learning Newspaper Article "

Ilkka Jääskeläinen ottaa ensiaskeleitaan
IJ takes his first steps
Ilkka Jääskeläinen on ottamassa ensiaskeleitaan
IJ is taking his first stems
Ilkka Jääskeläinen on ottamassa ensiaskeleitaan ammattimuusikkona
IJ is taking his first steps as a professional musician
Suomen Idoli Ilkka Jääskeläinen ottaa ensiaskeltaan ammattimuusikkona
Finnish Idol IJ is taking his first steps as a professional musician
Suomen toinen virallinen Idoli Ilkka Jääskeläinen ottaa ensiaskeltaan ammattimuusikkona
Finland's second official Idol IJ is taking his first steps as a professional musician
Suomen toiseksi viralliseksi idoliksi valittu Ilkka Jääskeläinen on ottamassa vasta ensiaskeleitaan ammattimuusikkona
(transliteration) Finland's becoming second official Idol (the) chosen IJ is taking his first stems as professional musician.
(or reconstructed) Ilkka Jääskelaäinen, chosen to become Finland's second official Idol, is just taking his first steps as a professional musician.
The above illustrates quite nicely why it is a good idea to get the feel of how sentences are constructed, especially in written Finnish. As spoken Finnish this most like would be spoken with sub-clauses (like the English translation has) or even break the ideas into two or more sentences. So things are not so bad as they may seem!

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