Are you confused about the object cases in Finnish? In this blog post, we’ll go through a few sentences and how using the partitive or the accusative can affect the meaning.

The above photo shows me painting a door at the summer cottage.

Minä maalasin oven. = I painted the door.

I could also say Huomenna minä maalaan oven. = Tomorrow I’ll paint the door.

The fact that I’m saying oven (the accusative, which actually looks like the genitive and can also be called the genitive) and not ovea (the partitive) means that I’m talking about also finishing painting the whole door.

Here’s how the partitive could change the meaning of the sentence:

Now, if I say Minä maalasin ovea (with the partitive), I’m saying I painted SOME of the door. There is no mention of finishing painting the door! That’s how subtle the difference is. It’s usually not the end of the world if you get it wrong. But just be aware of how the partitive can change your sentence.

Let’s practice!

The accusative can also look like the nominative – depending on the sentence structure!

If the object is not in the partitive, it’s in the accusative, and the accusative can look like the genitive or the nominative. In the following sentences, you can’t use the genitive object, because the sentence structure doesn’t allow it.

1.      Maalaa ovi!Paint the (whole) door! (command)

Could you tell someone Maalaa ovea ? Yes, you could. But with the partitive, you’d be telling them to paint (some of) the door.

If there is no reason to use the partitive object ovea, then you need to use the accusative. But you can’t use oven. This sentence is a command, which means the accusative will look like the nominative ovi.

2.      Ovi maalataan.The (whole) door will be painted. (the passive voice)

If you used ovea, the sentence would be Ovea maalataan, and this would mean “the door is being painted”. Again, there would be no mention of finishing the painting. As for the sentence structure, Ovi maalataan is in the passive, which is another sentence structure that requires the accusative to look like the nominative ovi.

3.      Minun täytyy maalata ovi.I have to paint the (whole) door. (“minun täytyy” construction, necessity)

If this sentence was Minun täytyy maalata ovea, it would mean “I have to paint (some of) the door”. It’s certainly grammatically correct to use the partitive ovea! But we’re not using the partitive, because we want to talk about painting the whole door, not just some of it.

4.      Minulla on aikaa maalata ovi. I have time to paint the (whole) door. (”I have time to..”)

You could also say Minulla on aikaa maalata ovea. But that would mean “I have time to paint (some of) the door”. We want to talk about painting the whole door. Therefore, we use the accusative. And the sentence structure here requires the nominative ovi again. When you’re using the “Minulla on aikaa + verb” structure, you can’t use oven.

5.      Oli kivaa maalata ovi.It was nice to paint the (whole) door. (“olla kivaa/hauskaa” tehdä jotakin)

With the partitive, this would be Oli kivaa maalata ovea, and that’s grammatically correct. But again, the meaning would be more like “some of the door”. That’s probably perfectly ok! If, however, we choose not to use the partitive, then we use the accusative, and in this “Olla kivaa + verb” structure we have to use the nominative ovi.

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