The three degrees of comparison for Finnish adjectives - an introduction

 

The positive degree

 

Meidän talomme on pieni.
Our house is small.

The positive degree in the nominative singular has no marker - you just use the same form as the one you find in the dictionary entry. This is pretty self-evident to a lot of learners because it works in the same way in a lot of other languages, too.

When you move on to compare things, there are things to consider.

 

The comparative degree

 

In English: nicer, cooler, more interesting...

It’s relatively straightforward when we have a word like iso, big (my favourite for examples because it’s so simple!).

So, the positive is iso. To put it in the comparative, we simply add the comparative marker,
-mpi → isompi

Hänen talonsa on isompi kuin meidän.
His/her house is bigger than ours.

Another example:

tärkeä (this word has 3 syllables, bare this in mind for later)
Tämä on tärkeämpi puhelu.
This is a more important phone call.

However, not all the words are as simple as iso.
Take pieni, small.
Meidän talomme on pienempi kuin hänen.
Our house is smaller than his/hers.

Now you’re probably wondering how that i turned into an e. Well, it’s because I added the comparative marker -mpi to the stem of the word, which for pieni is piene-. Another reason why the stem is so important to understand in Finnish.

A couple of examples:

onnellinen, happy → stem: onnellise- → the comparative: onnellisempi
Minä olen onnellisempi kuin koskaan.
I’m happier than ever.

väsynyt, tired → stem: väsynee- → the comparative: väsyneempi
Olen väsyneempi kuin eilen.
I’m more tired than yesterday.

There are instances where you have to change the stem a little before putting it in the comparative. The following conditions must be filled:

  • The word has two syllables
  • The stem ends in a or ä.

2-syllable word: halpa, cheap → stem: halva- → change a to ehalve- → the comparative: halvempi

2-syllable word: kylmä, cold → stem: kylmä- → change ä to akylme- → the comparative: kylmempi

Exceptions that have a life of their own:

hyvä (good) - parempi (better) - paras (the best)
pitkä (long) - pitempi / pidempi (longer) - pisin (the longest)

 

One more thing. Don’t forget the 2-syllable rule (like I sometimes do!). You may have noticed that the stem for the word tärkeä is tärkeä. Yes, it ends in ä but don’t be fooled - the word has 3 syllables: tär-ke-ä. So keep the ä. Having said that, in spoken language, that ä often turns in to an e regardless.

Standard Finnish: Tämä on tärkmpi puhelu.
Spoken Finnish: Tää on tärkeempi puhelu.

The same goes for a lot of adjectives that have a similar form:

vaa-le-a, light, fair
Standard Finnish: vaaleampi
Spoken Finnish: vaaleempi

kor-ke-a, tall (building, not person)
Standard Finnish: korkeampi
Spoken Finnish: korkeempi

 

Ps. To emphasize the comparative degree, i.e. to say much bigger etc. you can use the following words:

vielä isompi - even bigger (in French: encore plus grand)
paljon isompi - much bigger
vähän isompi - a little bit bigger
huomattavasti isompi - considerably bigger

 

The superlative degree

 

Remember, we’re still talking about the nominative.

The superlative marker that you add to the stem is -in (the equivalent of the -est / the most ---).

For the superlative, there are a few more rules when it comes to the stem:

o, ö, u and y remain as they are
helppo → stem: helpo- → superlative: helpoin

a, ä and e get deleted
halpa, cheap → stem: halva- → superlative: halvin

i and ii turn in to an e
kiltti, nice, well-behaved → stem: kilti- → superlative: kiltein
kaunis, beautiful → stem: kaunii- → superlative: kaunein

→ VV → V
(two of the same vowel turn in to just one)
hidas, slow → stem: hitaa- → superlative: hitain


Exceptions:

hyvä, good - paras / (parhain)
pitkä, long - pisin
uusi, new - uusin
lyhyt, short- lyhyin / lyhin

 

The next step is to practise forming the degrees of comparison in the nominative singular, and as you move on to different cases and the plural, I recommend learning the cases little by little at the same time, if you haven’t already.

If you’d like to practise with flashcards what you’ve just studied, check out this Anki flashcard set I made exactly for this purpose. You’ll have audio and images to help you memorize the forms (and hints to help you if you want!).