A monophthong is a single vowel sound and a diphthong is a blend of two different vowel sounds within a single syllable.
Finnish has eight vowels that make up eight monophthongs, and 16 common diphthongs and two uncommon diphthongs.
Finnish monophthongs are as follows:
If two vowels are next to each other, they might or might not create a diphthong. If one vowel belongs to one syllable and the other vowel belongs to a another syllable, they are monophthongs and pronounced individually.
Finnish diphthongs are as follows:
|oi||soittaa||to phone, call|
|ou||outo||strange, odd, peculiar|
|äy||täysin||fully, completely, entirely, totally, utterly, perfectly|
|ey||leyhyä||to waft 1|
|iy||siistiytyä||to tidy up, to clean oneself up 2|
If your native language is English, pay close attention to how you pronounce uo (
ou) and ie ( ei).
To practice diphthongs, swap the letters of each diphthong with each other and listen to the difference between them.
Finnish vowels are categorized in three groups:
- back (a,o,u)
- front (ä,ö,y)
- indifferent (i,e)
The vowels in a simple (non-compound) word are either back and/or indifferent, or front and/or indifferent.
The vowels in a compound word, which is a word that contains more than one simple word, can have a combination of back and front vowels. The boundary of vowel harmony is at the simple-word level. For example, the compound word pääasia is made up of simple words pää (main) and asia (issue, thing), and as a compound word, it contains both front, back, and indifferent vowels.
Vowel harmony is very consistent in Finnish and with a bit of practice it becomes second nature.
Finnish vowels are either short or long:
If the length of a short (or single) vowel is V, the length of a long (or double) vowel is V * 2. For example, the letter a in the word appelsiini is pronounced /ɑ/, and the double a in aamu is pronounced /ɑː/.
Finnish sounds are either short or long. For example, 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/. This distinction between short and long sounds is important; it can mean the difference between saying, “we meet (ta p aamme)” and “we kill (ta pp aamme)“.
The distinction between short and long sounds is important; pronouncing a vowel too long or too short can change the meaning of a word completely and lead to Finnish speakers not understanding you.