You may have seen Finnish verb forms like syömään, syömässä and syömästä. These are the 3 most common ones out of the 5 different varieties of the third infinitive.

These three cases (yes, Finnish verbs can take cases) that I will talk about in this post are illatiivi, inessiivi and elatiivi.

  • ILLATIIVI answers to mihin? / where to?

  • INESSIIVI answers to missä? / where?

  • ELATIIVI answers to mistä? / from where?

Watch this video for a brief introduction to the Finnish third infinitive:

The Finnish third infinitive

How do you form the third infinitive?

If you know how to use the verb with he (‘they‘, third person plural), you’ll know how to work with the 3rd infinitive. Just remove the personal ending -vat/vät and replace it with -maan/-mään, -massa/-mässä, -masta/-mästä. For example:

  • juosta – he juoksevat – juoksemaan/juoksemassa/juoksemasta

  • tavata – he tapaavat – tapaamaan/tapaamassa/tapaamasta

  • lukea – he lukevat – lukemaan/lukemassa/lukemasta

  • käydä – he käyvät – käymään/käymässä/käymästä

Ok, so forming the third infinitive is quite straightforward if you know the conjugation of the he form. But when do you use it?

When to use the third infinitive

Let’s take the verb ripustaa, ‘to hang’ (washing/laundry) as an example.
He ripustavat –> the stem is ripusta-. See the image below for the endings:

The Finnish third infinitive

Example dialogues:

man carrying laundry basket


– Mihin sinä menet?
(Where are you going?)

– Menen ulos ripustamaan pyykkejä.
(I’m going out to hang the washing.)

With –maan, you can express what you’re going somewhere for– what you’re going to do once you get there.

man hanging washing


– Missä sinä olet?
(Where are you?)

– Olen ulkona ripustamassa pyykkejä.
(I’m outside, hanging the washing.)

Here, –massa expresses what you’re doing. But very often, –massa is also carrying information on where someone is. The above dialogue would be different if Risto could see Lauri. Let’s imagine Risto asks Mitä sinä teet? (What are you doing?) while looking out the window and actually seeing Lauri. Lauri’s answer is likely to be:

– Ripustan pyykkejä.

No –massa? Most probably not. Why? Because Risto can see Lauri, so Lauri is only focusing on what he’s doing, not where he is. So, it’s best not to take –massa as the exact equivalent of the English “I’m sitting /I’m running / I’m sleeping” etc. If the person can clearly see you, knows your whereabouts and asks you what you’re doing, use the finite verb in the present tense, like (minä) ripustan pyykkejä.


man coming in through the door


– Mistä sinä tulet?
(Where are you coming from?)
– Tulen ripustamasta pyykkejä.
(I’m coming back from hanging the washing/”I’ve been outside hanging the washing“)

This last one is quite hard to translate. Just think of it all as a timeline. This -MASTA form is what you would say you “came from” when you come back from the garden where you have just been hanging the washing. Notice that this is where context comes in and you don’t have to mention the place you came from – it’s simply enough to say what you have just been doing.



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Other examples

That was the usage of -MAAN-MASSA-MASTA in a nutshell. My example was quite a concrete one, however, there are some common expressions with these forms, especially with -MAAN and -MASTA, that are more abstract in meaning:

Hän oppi nopeasti puhumaan suomea.
(He/she quickly learned to speak Finnish.)

Auta minua nostamaan tämä laatikko.
(Help me lift this box.)

Me aloimme seurustelemaan viime vuonna.*
(We started dating last year.)
*This used to be considered puhekieli, even “bad Finnish”, and Me aloimme seurustella was preferred over it. However, in the recent years, the -MAAN form has been accepted as standard Finnish.

Lakkaa puhumasta!
(Stop talking!)

Hän kielsi minua kertomasta kenellekään.
(She/he forbade me from telling anyone.)