Think in Finnish

Consonants

Finnish has thirteen core consonants and several borrowed consonants.

Core consonants

Finnish has thirteen core consonants:

Letter IPA Finnish English
d [deː] diplomaatti diplomat
g [geː]1 geometria geometry
h [hoː] helmikuu February
j [jiː] joulukuu December
k [koː] kaksi two
l [æl] lokakuu October
m [æm] maaliskuu March
n [æn] nolla zero
p [peː] poika boy
r [ær] raha money
s [æs] sisko sister
t [teː] tyttö girl
v [veː] veli brother

Borrowed consonants

Finnish has several borrowed consonants:

Letter IPA Finnish English
b [beː] banaani banana
c [seː], [k] CD-ROM, costaricalainen CD-ROM, Costa Rican
f [æfː] farkut jeans
q [kuː] Qatar [‘ka.tar] Qatar
w [kaksois.veː] Waltari2 Waltari
x [æks] - -
z [tset] Zaire [‘tsaire] Zaire

Consonant gradation

Consonant gradation effects three letters in Finnish: k, p, t:

Strong Neutral Weak
kk k -, v, j
pp p v
tt t d

A case takes either strong or weak consonant gradation. As you learn each case, learn the consonant gradation rule for each. A recommendable resource for Finnish grammar is Finnish A Comprehensive Grammar, which is essentially the same as Finnish: An Essential Grammar.

Note

In grammar references, the term neutral is not used. I use it here as a placeholder for the regular ol’ letter.

There is a more thorough (and much more complicated) explanation on Wikipedia about Finnish consonant gradation.

Consonant lengths

Finnish consonants (konsonantit) are either short or long:

  • K
  • KK

If the length of a short (or single) consonant is K, the length of a long (or double) consonant is K * 2. For example, the letter k in the word black is pronounced [k], and the double k sound in black cat is pronounced [kː].

The letter l in the word tuuli (wind) is pronounced [l], and the double l in tulli (customs—at a border crossing) is pronounced [lː].

Note

The distinction between short and long sounds is important. It can mean the difference between saying tapaamme (we meet) or tappaamme (we kill).


  1. If the letter g immediately follows an n within the same syllable, the letters ng form the sound /ŋ/. For example, the ng in Helsingissä (in Helsinki) is pronounced /helsiŋisːæ/. The sound /ŋ/ exists at the end of the English word sing. [return]
  2. Mika Walteri is a famous Finnish author. [return]
Last updated on 20 Apr 2019

© 2019 Ursula Kallio