Finns love to claim that Finnish is spoken the same way it's written. This is indeed true in the sense that Finnish spelling is quite regular, so it is easy to read Finnish out loud... assuming, of course, that you've mastered the somewhat tricky pronunciation.

What is less often advertised is that spoken Finnish is radically different from written Finnish. While every region and major city of Finland has its own dialect -- including the notoriously incomprehensible Rauma dialect and the hilariously stretched tones of Savo -- thanks to modern mass communications the de facto standard these days is the Helsinki dialect. Mind you, I am specifically not referring to the bizarre, heavily Russian and Swedish-influenced subcultural Helsinki slang (Stadin slangi) that reached its peak around WW2, just the "everyday" language spoken by most Finns on non-formal occasions.

The most distinctive features of spoken Finnish are that vowel-consonant-vowel clusters become long vowels, final vowels are dropped and words are elided. Naturally, these occurs in other languages as well, written Finnish just entirely fails to take these into account. Every now and then, scholarly debates flare up about whether it might be possible to accept an alternate form of the 1st person plural or spell sydämellisesti with two M's (the way it's actually pronounced), inevitably ending in the failure of the revisionists. Written Finnish is carved in stone, dammit, and if any of its 5 million speakers try to say otherwise they're just wrong!


The basic conjugations of "to be" (as presented in the Finnish node) sound like this in spoken Finnish:

Written     Spoken     English
minä olen   mä oon     I am
sinä olet   sä oot     you are
hän on      se on      he/she/it is
me olemme   me ollaan  we are
te olette   te ootte   you all are
he ovat     ne on      they are
There are a few bonus irregularities hidden in that table: the formal pronouns hän and he are nearly always replaced with se and ne, and the formal 1st person plural olemme is always replaced with the passive form ollaan. In addition, some of these forms can be reduced even further, for example m'oon is an often-heard contraction of minä olen.

The stem shortening seen above happens in lots of other verbs as well, eg. menen -> meen (I go) and tulen -> tuun (I come). One little oddity is the verb panna, which in its formal form panen colloquially means "I fuck", but in its abbreviated form paan retains the original meaning, "I put".


The stem changes carry over to inflected forms as well. Using the pronouns as an example, minun (my) becomes mun, sinun (your) becomes sun, etc. Naturally some of the inflections themselves change a bit: cases ending in -a/ä drop the final vowel (eg. kirjas, kirjast, kirjalt, kirjal), except the rare essive and abessive cases (which stay as kirjana, kirjatta).

The negation ei often simply becomes e and elides onto the following verb, often doubling the initial consonant: eg. minä en mene (I won't go) becomes mä emmee.


Adjectives ending in "-ea" (nopea, fast) or "-eä" (kipeä, sick) all become "-ee" (nopee, kipee) in spoken Finnish. Those ending in "-ainen" (eg. punainen, red) becomes "-ane(n)" (punane(n)); the n is usually dropped when the adjective is used with a noun (punane auto, "red car").


Regular adverbs are still formed by the usual rules, although changes in the originating adjective may cascade onward, eg. nopea/nopeasti (quick/quickly) becomes nopee/nopeesti.

Prepositions, particles and miscellaneous funny bits

Unpredictable things happen to most common words of time, place, relation, etc. There are no real rules that I know of, so all I can do is list a few examples:

Written     Spoken     English
nyt         ny         now
sitten      sit        then
kun         ku         when
tässä       täs        here
missä       mis        where
tämä        tää        this
tuo         toi        that


Finally some good news: nouns, even long but frequently used ones like huomenna (tomorrow), pretty much stay the same. Also, the complicated possessive suffix tacked onto nouns (eg. minun taloni, "my house") can be left out with impunity (mun talo).

Putting it all together

A few sentences in written Finnish, spoken Finnish and translated to English.

Sitten hän tuli esiin sieltä ja sanoi, "Hyvää päivää."
Sit se tuli esii sielt ja sano "Moro."

Then he came out and said, "Hi."

Sinun koirasi on minun pihallani.
Sun koira on mun pihal.

Your dog is in my yard.

Kirjoitetulla suomen kielellä ei ole mitään tekemistä todellisuuden kanssa.
Kirjoitetul suomen kielel ei oo mitää tekemist todellisuuden kans.

Written Finnish has no correlation to reality.


As a few Finns from the boondocks have pointed out, the above is pretty Helsinki-specific and even "modern" spoken Finnish elsewhere may not retain all these features. But rest assured that you will still be understood...

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