The Finnish accusative or partitive

Read and listen to examples with the accusative and partitive

Example sentences with the accusative (also called n-accusative or genitive)

  1. Minä haen Leenan koulusta. = I’ll pick up Leena from school.
  2. Herätän isän aamulla. = I’ll wake up Dad in the morning.
  3. Kirjoitan esseen päivässä. = I’ll write the essay in a day.
  4. Kutsun Mikan synttäreilleni. = I’m inviting Mika to my birthday party.
  5. Söin koko kakun. = I ate the whole cake.
  6. Ostin uuden auton. = I bought a new car.
  7. Siskoni sai työpaikan. = My sister got a job.

 
 

Example sentences with the partitive singular

  1. Minä haen uutta työpaikkaa. = I’m applying for a new job.
  2. Autan isää aamulla. = I’ll help Dad in the morning.
  3. Kirjoitan esseetä. = I’m writing an essay.
  4. Kutsun häntä Mikaksi. = I call him Mika.
  5. Söin paljon kakkua. = I ate a lot of cake.
  6. Ostin uutta saippuaa. = I bought some new soap.
  7. Siskoni sai hyvää palautetta. = My sister got some good feedback.

Oh, the partitive. Voi sinua, partitiivi. Miksi olet niin vaikea? Many Finnish learners face challenges when they’re studying the use of the partitive. While I think that learners should accept the fact that it will take time to fully master the differences between the accusative (we could also call it the genitive or the n-accusative) and the partitive, I’d like to help you by giving you some common examples of these two cases. Just bear in mind that all of these sentences are affirmative (i.e. positive). If we were dealing with negative sentences (or questions or commands!) different rules would apply.

hakea

  • The verb has several meanings. Here, I’ve used Leenan when I’m talking about picking someone up from school. However, when the meaning is to apply, I’m using the partitive.

herättää

  • to wake someone up

  • You could think of the act of waking someone up as a very straightforward action that has an end result. That’s when you can use isän. The speaker is assuming that they will succeed in waking up their dad, therefore, they’re using the accusative (which, in this sentence, looks exactly like the genitive case).

auttaa

  • to help someone

  • You can almost always count on the partitive being the correct choice of case with auttaa. There are instances where you might see the accusative here but then you’d have to add other, more advanced elements to it, too. When it’s this simple a sentence (X helps Y), then partitive it is.

kirjoittaa

  • Essee is in the accusative because the speaker is saying he/she is going to write and FINISH the essay in one day.

  • As soon as you switch to the partitive, we’re not sure whether the essay is going to be finished or not. The main message then would be that the speaker is writing/going to write at least some of the essay. There is no commenting on how much writing will be done.

kutsua

  • kutsua + accusative = to invite someone (somewhere –> often in the illative/allative…)

  • kutsua + partitive = to call someone (something; nickname etc. –> often in the translative case, –ksi)

syödä

  • the classic example: when it’s kakun, the speaker has eaten the whole cake, whereas the partitive expresses that he/she ate cake, but we really only know that that they ate some. With the partitive, we don’t know if an entire cake was eaten or not.

ostaa

  • uuden auton – the accusative (which, again, looks like the genitive) tells us that this singular object was bought in its entirety, a very straighforward and clean-cut purchase of a countable item. Whenever you talk about buying one countable thing like a car, you probably don’t need to use the partitive (unless the sentence is negative).

  • uutta saippuaa – the partitive used to express that some type of new substance was bought, a new type of soap. You could use uuden saippuan, here, and the meaning would be roughly the same, but you would probably be thinking about the countable item, the packed product. To give you another, possibly better example: 1. Minä ostan kaupasta kahvia = I buy (some) coffee from the supermarket (to use at home most probably). 2. Minä ostan kahvin. = I’m gonna get a coffee (like a take-away or a cup of coffee (“a portion”) from a cafe).

saada

  • In this context, the verb saada means to receive/to get.

  • the accusative is used because she got the whole job. A job is a countable thing. Just like in the car purchase example. She didn’t just get some of the job, she got an entire job.

  • But when it’s about receiving or getting something “indefinite” like some feedback, then you use the partitive. You could also use the accusative and say Hän sai palautteen which could mean that He/she got the feedback (that had been talked about and that he/she was probably expecting from someone).

While there are lots of rules, you’ll always find exceptions and more advanced uses, idiomatic expressions, alternative ways to say things… I don’t think that anything can beat getting as much listening and reading done as you can because you need to be exposed to a lot of input in Finnish. Knowing some rules will help to draw conclusions but please don’t get discouraged when you come across exceptions to rules!

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