Colloquial Finnish

Colloquial Finnish

Colloquial Finnish (suomen puhekieli) is the "dialectless" colloquial standard of the Finnish language. It is spoken in the Greater Helsinki region, and in urbanized areas in the Tavastian and Central Finland dialectal areas, such as the cities of Jyväskylä, Lahti, Hyvinkää, and Hämeenlinna.[citation needed] In addition, this applies also to the coastal cities, such as Vaasa and Porvoo1, which have been traditionally Swedish-speaking, and have experienced an influx of Finnish speakers from a variety of dialectal areas.

The standard language takes most of its features from these dialects, i.e. most "dialectal" features are reductions with respect to this form of language. The combination of the common spoken Finnish and a dialect gives a regional variant (aluepuhekieli), which has some local idiosyncrasies but is essentially similar to the common spoken Finnish.

The basics of Finnish needed to fully understand this article can be found in pages about Finnish phonology and Finnish grammar.



As in any language, the spoken version(s) of Finnish often vary from the written form. Some of its constructs are either too arbitrary (e.g. "soft d", cf. Finnish phonology), or too dialectal, e.g. hän (see below), for use in the spoken language. Furthermore, some very common and "accentless" sound changes are not reflected in the standard language, particularly fusion, liaison and some diphthong reductions.

There is also the problem that purists want to avoid irregularity regardless of actual usage. This has left some sound changes common in spoken language out from the standard language. There is a tendency to favor "more logical" constructs over easily pronounceable ones. This ideal does reflect spoken Finnish usage to a degree, as Finnish is demonstrably a conservative language with few reduction processes, but it is not entirely accurate. The problem of avoiding "irregularity" is most pronounced in spelling, where internal sandhi is not transcribed, because there is the idea that morphemes should be immutable. For example, the "correct" spelling is syönpä ("I'll eat"), even though the pronunciation is usually syömpä. The explanation is that -n- and -pä are in different morphemes just like the explanation that English boys is not spelled with a z is that they are in different morphemes.

There are also a number of grammatical forms which are used in written Finnish, but only very rarely in spoken. For example, there are a number of constructions using participles which are usually rendered analytically in speech. Some cases and moods are rarely constructive in spoken Finnish, e.g. the instructive and comitative cases and the potential mood. Some survive only in expressions.

On the other hand, spoken language has its own features rarely or never found in formal language. Most importantly, there is very common external sandhi, and some assimilatory sound changes. (On the contrary, there is no vowel reduction.) In some variants (e.g. Vaasa, Kymenlaakso) of spoken Finnish -n kanssa is abbreviated into a clitic that is effectively a comitative case, e.g. -nkans or -nkaa.


Reflexes of dental fricatives

The most common reflexes for old Finnish dental fricatives are /d/ for /ð/, and /ts/ or /t(t)/ for /θ(θ)/. For example, metsä, metsän or mettä, metänmeθθä, meθän "forest, of the forest" and meidän < meiðän "ours". Loss of /d/ also occurs, e.g. meiän. These are seen as "accent-free" pronunciations. Dialects generally have different reflexes — in fact, the different reflexes are used as a distinguishing feature between different dialects. For more details, see Finnish phonology.

Word-final n

One important sound change, which has gone to completion in Estonian but occurs complicated in Finnish, is mutation of word-final /n/ into a glottal stop /ʔ/, orthographically represented by an apostrophe. In some dialects, such as Savo, word-final /n/ is systematically replaced by /ʔ/, e.g. isä'iänisän ääni "father's voice". Both pronunciations can be heard in the Helsinki area. This means that the genitive/accusative form -n, which is very common in any form of Finnish, is simply noted by a glottal stop. However, this glottal stop undergoes sandhi whenever followed by consonant, or more often than not (see below).

Final vowels

In standard Finnish, there is a word-final /i/ is in some words, which can be reconstructed as consonant roots. This /i/ is not original in many cases, and it appears only by liaison when case endings are added. Also, in standard language, an "I-E mutation" is seen, where /i/ is used in the nominative and /e/ in some oblique forms (see Finnish phonology). This /i/ is "removed" or "added" according to the particular construction, and in spoken Finnish, a variety is seen.

anteeksianteeks "sorry"
yksiyks "one", cf. yhden "of one"
cf. tuli "fire", takki "jacket", nupi "tack", taksi "taxi", all unchanged

Particularly in Helsinki, the deletion of some, but not all word-final vowels even beyond /i/ occurs sometimes especially if no ambiguity results from its disappearance. This is a feature of Western Finnish dialects, found also in Savonian dialects and Estonian.

muttamut "but"
-sta-st elative case, "away from the inside of"

Vowel clusters and diphthongs

Word-final vowel clusters ending in /a/ or /ä/ have much variation in dialects of Finnish. Especially in Helsinki they assimilate, where only the resulting chroneme marks the partitive in many words.

puhun suomeapuhun suomee "I speak Finnish"
pitkiäpitkii "(some) long (things)"

An /eä/ or /ea/ cluster also appears in many adjectives:

pimeäpimee "dark"

In other areas of Finland, these clusters may have a different fate. Another common dialectal variant is the raising of /e/ to /i/ in the adjectives: pimiä. (Partitives are unaffected by this.) Some rarer versions of this suffix include -jä / -ja, -ie, and even -ii.

Similar to the diphthongization of older */ee öö oo/ to /ie yö uo/ (unchanged in Estonian), many eastern dialects of Finnish diphthongize also the long vowels /ää aa/ to /eä oa/. In Savonian dialects, these have shifted further on to /iä ua/.

/ie yö uo/ can become /ii yy uu/ when in contact with another vowel. In many cases this results from colloquial deletion of /d/. For example:

  • tiiän for standard tiedän "I know"
  • viiä for standard viedä" "to take away"
  • lyyä for standard lyödä "to hit"
  • ruuat for standard ruoat "foods" (singular ruoka)
  • tuua for standard tuoda "to bring"


A related phenomenon is the final consonant sandhi. It improves the rhythm of speech and allows the speech to not to "get stuck" to word boundaries, and because of this, may be heard even in formal language. When a word ends in a stressed mora, which ends in a vowel or an omittable consonant, the consonant beginning the next word is doubled and it connects the words. The two words end up being pronounced with auxiliary stress is on the syllables beginning the words. This is virtually never written down, except in dialectal transcriptions. For example, "Now it arrives! You go first":

Nyt se tulee! Mene sinä ensin. (standard)
Ny se tulee! Mee sä ekaks. (spoken, usually spelled like this)
Nysse tulee! Meessä eka. (pronunciation in some forms of possibly dialectal spoken language)

If the consonant cannot be omitted without ambiguity, this does not happen. For example:

Menetkö sinä ensin?
Meeksä/meetsä ensin? = "Will you go first?"

The meaning would change, if the consonant was omitted:

Mene sinä ensin.
Meessä ensin. = "You go first."

Generally, you should notice that spoken Finnish is not neatly divided up into words as the spelling would suggest, due to other phonotactical sandhi effects. For example, regardless of word boundaries, np is always mp, nk is always ŋk (where ŋ is a velar nasal).

Personal pronouns

Some dialects have the full-length personal pronouns 'minä' and 'sinä', but most people use shorter equivalents, like these found in Greater Helsinki region:

minä → mä
sinä → sä

The root words are also shorter:

minu- → mu-, e.g. minun → mun "my"
sinu- → su-, e.g. sinun → sun "yours"

The third-person pronouns 'hän' ('he' or 'she') and 'he' ('they'), are commonly used in spoken language only in Southwestern Finland, and increasingly rarely also there. Elsewhere they are usually replaced by their non-personal equivalents - note that there is no pejorative sense in talking about people as 'it', unlike in English. Do note when speaking of animals, they are always called it, even in written Finnish.

hän → se
he → ne

For example, the sentence "Did he mistake me for you?" has these forms:

Luuliko hän minua sinuksi?
Luuliks se mua suks? or :"Luulikse mua suks?"


Numerals 1-10 in colloquial spoken Finnish:

  1. yks (yksi)
  2. kaks (kaksi)
  3. kol (kolme)
  4. nel (neljä)
  5. viis (viisi)
  6. kuus (kuusi)
  7. seittemä(n) (seitsemän)
  8. kaheksa(n) (kahdeksan)
  9. yheksä(n) (yhdeksän)
  10. kymmene(n) (kymmenen)

Numbers 11-19 are formed by appending -toista, which can be shortened to -toist. Numbers 20-90 are formed by appending -kymmentä, which can be shortened to -kymment or even -kyt(ä).

If one is forced to count fast then even shorter forms are used:

  1. yy
  2. kaa
  3. koo
  4. nee
  5. vii
  6. kuu
  7. sei / see
  8. kasi
  9. ysi
  10. kymppi

-toista becomes -toi, -too or even -to. -kymmentä becomes -kyt, with 20-60 typically retaining their longer numeral forms (e.g. kakskyt rather than **kaakyt for 20). 70 is typically seitkyt or seiskyt, while 80 and 90 do with kasi- and ysi-.

The numerals 1–9 have their own names, different from the cardinal numbers used in counting. Numbers that have longer names are often shortened in speech. This may be problematic for a foreigner to understand, if she/he has learned words by book:

ykkönen (number one)
kakkonen (number two)
kolmonen (number three)
nelonen (number four)
viitonen (number five) (→ vitonen, femma [Helsinki slang])
kuutonen (number six) (→ kutonen)
seitsemäinen (number seven) → seiska
kahdeksainen / kahdeksikko (number eight) → kasi / kaheksikko
yhdeksäinen / yhdeksikkö (number nine) → ysi / yheksikkö
kymmenen → kymppi, kybä (Helsinki slang)

The -kko suffix normally denotes a group of x people, but on 8 and 9, it doubles as a synonym for the numeral's name. Kahdeksikko is also used to describe a lemniscate-like shape.

The regular -Onen / -inen forms can additionally be used of objects with an ID number. For example, bus 107 is called sataseiska, and a competition winner is an ykkönen (not *sataseittemän or *yks.)


The plural first ("we") and third ("they") persons are not used as in literary language. The forms used are not considered to be proper for written language, yet they are extensively used in spoken language. As noted in the Finnish grammar page, the passive form with a pronoun me "we", instead of a separate suffix -mme, is normally used in speech for first-person plural. This happens in all forms of the verb. The third person plural suffix -vat is not used in the spoken language; instead, the third person singular form, preceded by the pronoun ne "they", is used. Therefore, the full present-tense paradigm of puhua "to speak" in everyday speech is:

mä puhun (spoken) — (minä) puhun (standard)
sä puhut — (sinä) puhut
se puhuu — hän puhuu
me puhutaan — (me) puhumme
te puhutte — (te) puhutte
ne puhuu — he puhuvat

Some e-stem verbs have abbreviated (irregular) oblique forms, where /n/ or /l/ is elided. This class includes only four frequently used verbs. In Finnish, verbs have an infinitive form, marked with -ta and used in the infinitive, and an oblique form, which is used in personal forms. Consonant gradation and assimilation of the 't' in -ta may be applied. In the standard language, the correspondence between the two is always regular. In spoken language, some verbs have assimilated oblique forms, while retaining the regular infinitive:

engl. I inf. oblique stem irreg. stem
be olla ole- oo-
come tulla tule- tuu-
go mennä mene- mee-
put panna pane- paa-

For example, these forms, as such, are represented by the imperatives:

Mene tai tule, mutta pane se ovi kiinni ja ole hiljaa (standard)
Mee tai tuu, mut paa se ovi kii ja oo hiljaa. (word-by-word) "Go or come, but put the door closed and be quiet."

To demonstrate the use of the personal form, the reply is:

Meen tai tuun, paan oven kii ja oon hiljaa ("I go or come, (I) put the door closed and (I) am quiet").

The infinitives are unchanged, as in:

Mennä tai tulla, panna ovi kii ja olla hiljaa ("To go or to come, to put the door closed and to be quiet").

As are participles, despite them using the oblique stem:

menevä tai tuleva, oven kii paneva ja hiljaa oleva ("going or coming, door closed-putting and quiet-being").


In everyday speech, the -ko/kö suffix has the -s clitic added, becoming -kos/kös, which in turn reduces to -ks:

olenko minä hengissä?oo(n)ks mä hengis? "am I alive?"
puhutko sinä englantia?puhut sä enkkuu? or puhuks(ä) enkkuu? "do you (sg.) speak English?"
tuliko hän jo?tulikse jo? (via tuliko se jo?) "did he/she come yet?"

The choice of morphemes -kos/kös or -ks is not always purely dialectal or accidental. Many Finns regularly use more than one variation in their speech. The choice might depend among others on the rhythm of the sentence or the (wished) tempo of the discussion. Sometimes it has other clearly communicational purposes e.g. the longer variation might be used to soften an intruding question.

The clitic -s is also found in imperatives, e.g. me(n)es "(I expect you to) go!" It can also be, that the -tkö elides not to -ks, but -t before a 's', e.g. menetkö sä ? me(n)et sä. Because this is identical to sä menet except for the word order, questions are indicated by word order.

Possessive suffix

Spoken language has a different grammar for the possessive suffix. For direct addresses, save for one form it is not used, so that the pronoun cannot be omitted. Even in the second-person singular, the pronoun is virtually never omitted. In contrast, in the literary language, the pronoun is optional and typically omitted.

Formal Spoken English
(minun) taloni mun talo my house
(sinun) talosi sun talo(s)/talos your (sg) house
(hänen) talonsa sen talo his/her house
(meidän) talomme meiän talo our house
(teidän) talonne teiän talo your (pl) house
(heidän) talonsa niitten/niien talo their house

Here, the pronoun of the literary form is also shown.

Notice one fact: Finnish has no possessive adjectives. The pronouns are regularly inflected, like if "I's house", "you's house", "we's house".

However, the suffixes -s, -nsa and -nne are used to avoid repeating a pronoun, e.g. "He took his hat and left" is Se otti lakkinsa ja lähti. (The translation from English *Se otti sen lakin ja lähti would mean "He took his/her hat and left" or "He took the (specific) hat and left".)

Omission of the negative verb

When a negative sentence is formed, the main verb goes into the imperative mood and gives all of its inflections to the negative verb ei, e.g. tuemmeemme tue. Usually the word mitään ("anything") and an expletive is added to the sentence. This means that even if the negative verb ei is left out, the meaning is indicated by this context. For example:

Ei se mitään osaa. "He doesn't know anything."
Se mitään osaa. "He know anything." ("doesn't" omitted)

This omission of the negative verb ei is considered one of the most recent changes in Finnish. Usually this construction indicates mistrust or frustration. (There is a less than serious text calling this aggressiivi.) However, it can be a neutral negative statement: Tästä artikkelista mitään opi (From this article, you don't learn anything).

Important regional variations

Linguists such as Mielikäinen argue that the dialects of Finnish have been considerably homogenized by 20th century developments of urbanization and other internal population movements to the point that "pure" dialects have disappeared. "Local spoken languages" have developed from standard Finnish to give variety with essentially standard Finnish structure but with some local features. Considerable stigma has been associated with dialects (accurately or not) perceived as rural in the 20th century. People who have moved to the city have adopted a variety resembling standard Finnish, which has been imposed upon dialect speakers by the school, the military and the employers.

  • Breaking up some consonant clusters on syllable boundaries with an epenthetic vowel. This is a feature of several dialects, such as those of Ostrobothnia and Savonia: The neutral vowel is the same as the preceding vowel. For example, juhlajuhula "celebration", salmisalami "strait", palvelupalavelu "service", halpahalapa "cheap", äffäähävä (via ähvä) "letter F". Pairs of dissimilar consonants with /l/ or /h/ (in Savo, also /n/) as the first consonant are subject to epenthesis; other clusters or geminates are not. However, a strong epenthetic vowel is seen as dialectal, and in Helsinki and urbanized areas, indicates origins "in the countryside" (since for Helsinki people, everything but Helsinki is rural).
  • Tavastian dialects are diverse because other, surrounding dialects have influenced them. The following features are all found in Finnish spoken in Helsinki, and many of them occur also in some other Tavastian dialects.
    • Word sillai "in that way", which is usually something else like silleen elsewhere.
    • Partitive plurals ending -ja/-jä in generic Finnish become -i, and likewise the partitive plural -ia/-iä simplifies to -ii: märkiä takkejamärkii takkei "wet jackets". (also in Nurmijärvi, Kotka)
    • The first infinitive, e.g. juosta "to run", is replaced by the third-person form juoksee "runs" by some speakers. For example, standard Voisitko sinä juosta hakemaan sen becomes Voisitsä juoksee hakeen sen "Could you run to get it". This form is probably historically speaking not the third-person form, but the colloquial, shortened form juokseen of the third infinitive form juoksemaan, which exhibites a tendency to oust the first infinitive even in the formal language, cf. the old dispute, whether alkaa juoksemaan ("to start running") should be allowed in the formal language or not (the current norm is still alkaa juosta with the first infinitive). (also in Tuusula and Nurmijärvi)
    • Abbreviations are common in Finnish spoken in the Southern coast of Finland. Final syllables in frequently used words may erode, like sittensit, muttamut. Case endings might be abbreviated, usually by the loss of the final vowel, e.g. siltäsilt. (If a geminate would be "left dangling" at the end of the word, it becomes a single consonant, e.g. talossa → *talosstalos.)
    • Helsinki also has a local slang, containing foreign loanwords which may be unintelligible to people from other parts of Finland. Some slang words have spread to the spoken language of youngsters elsewhere in Finland.
  • Tampere is also in the area of Tavastian dialects.
    • Occasional flapping or deletion of intervocalic "L"; the resulting sound is orthographically nil: kyllä siellä olisikyä siä ois. This is seen even in the accentless form oisko ← standard olisiko.
  • Karelia: minä → mie, sinä → sie
  • Southwestern dialects
    • Abbreviation occurs very often.
    • In Turku: minä → mää, sinä → sää
    • A unique characteristic of Turku dialect is the "S" imperfect tense, where an 's' is added before the final i, e.g., sattuisattusi.
  • Savonia: some pronoun changes, me → myö, and te → työ. Notice that the Savo dialect has complicated changes in grammar, vowels and consonants compared to the standard language, e.g. eilenöylen, menimänj (palatalization), omaa rataansaommoo rattoosa. The Savo dialect is the largest single dialect, and as such, has variants that differ significantly.
  • Ostrobothnia: Consonant clusters with -j- are not allowed, so that a -i- is pronounced instead, e.g. kirjakiria. Minor vowel changes, for example, taloatalua. Particularly, the half-long vowels (found in word-final codaless single-vowel syllables) are lengthened into full-blown long vowels, as in isoisoo. The sound D is completely replaced with R, which produces problems such as that there is almost no contrast between veden (of water) and veren (of blood). There exists a small contrast difference that can be distinguished by people who actually live there, but from other people's view there is no difference. Usually the R replacing D is a bit shorter than actual R is, and you can also distinguish between R and D with other words surrounding the word.
  • Vaasa, Ostrobothnia, to an extent generic Finnish, too: Many frequently used expressions become clitics - this is optional, though. E.g. pronouns become clitics for the negative verb ei and for the verb "to be". In this table, the apostrophe (') is something between a full J and no sound at all.
Written Spoken Written example Spoken example
minä m' minä olen, minä en, minä en ole moon, mäen, mäen o
sinä s' sinä olet, sinä et, sinä et ole soot, säet, säet o
hän s' hän on, hän ei, hän ei ole son, sei, sei'oo
me m' me olemme, me emme, me emme ole mollaan, mei, mei'olla
te t' te olette, te ette, te ette ole tootte, tette, tette oo
he n' he ovat, he eivät, he eivät ole noon, nei, nei'oo

Additionally, the interrogative pronoun kuka ("who") is replaced by its partitive form, ketä ("at who"), e.g. Ketä siellä oli? ("Who was there?") Other differences in case for interrogative words are mihinä (std. missä, "where") and mihkä (std. mihin, "into where"). Here, the word mihinä uses the ancient Finnish locative currently known as the essive case, instead of the standard specialized locative inessive case.

See also


  1. Aila Mielikäinen, Marjatta Palander. Suomalaisten murreasenteista. [1]PDF (182 KiB)
  2. Aila Mielikäinen. Puhekielen varieteetteja.PDF (33.9 KiB)
  3. Heikki Paunonen. Suomi Helsingissä.PDF (547 KiB)

External links

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