Learning Finnish Through Puns

This post assumes a little bit of background in linguistics, and will not explain all of the generally used terms. However, terms specific to Finnish will be explained. I use the analysis of Iso suomen kielioppi from 2004.

Some quite important parts of Finnish grammar will be ignored here, as they are not needed to understand the comic in the question. For a more comprehensive overview, Wikipedia's article on Finnish grammar may be useful.

I have been translating Fingerpori strips for my friend for a little while now. However, many of the strips contain puns that simply do not translate well. When lamenting about this, said friend joked about having a "Learning Finnish Through Fingerpori Puns" course. After having thought about it for a bit, I think I shall indeed try to do something like that.

The aim of this post will be to teach enough about Finnish for a reader to be able to read this Fingerpori and understand the pun. There will be no guarantees about enjoying the pun, as this post can probably be considered explaining it to death.

Vowel harmony

In Finnish (non-compound) words generally¹ have either only the vowels ä, ö, y, e, i or a, o, u, e, i. The vowels ä, ö, y are called vowel harmonically front and the vowels a, o, u are vowel harmonically back. The remaining vowels i and e are usually referred to as vowel harmonically neutral.

Most endings have two versions, a front and a back version. A front version of an ending will attach to a word with vowel harmonically front vowels, and a back version will attach to a word with vowel harmonically back vowels. If a word has only neutral vowels, the front version of an ending is used.

When giving endings, A, O, U refer to either a, o, u or ä, ö, y depending on the vowel harmony.


The strip makes use of four Finnish cases, nominative, genitive, illative and adessive.

Case name Ending Approximate English translation
Nominative - (basic word form)
Genitive -n 's, of, (object case)
Illative -Vn, -hVn, -seen into
Adessive -llA on, at, near

(V means "the same vowel as the last of the stem")

Possession construct

In Finnish, a construct based on "there is" is used for saying "X has Y". For example, "I have a dog" is

Minulla on koira.
minä.ADE olla.3P.SG koira.NOM
on/at me is dog

The verb is always "on", regardless of person or number of either the owner or the owned.

Technically speaking, the thing being owned in this construct is considered a subject of the sentence.

Affix particles

The strip uses one affix particle, -hAn. Affix particles go after the case endings in nouns and after personal endings in verbs. They are quite hard to translate, but here -hAn means something like "sure is" or "indeed".

Finite verb forms

The strip uses only two finite verb forms, active indicative present first person singular and active indicative present third person singular. However, latter is only used with the verb olla ‘to be’, which has its on special form for that verb form.

While "active indicative present first person singular" can seem quite daunting, all but "first person" are unmarked.

Form Ending
1p.sg -n

Nonfinite verb forms and "mennä tekemään" structure

The strip uses only one nonfinite verb form, ma-infinitive.

Form Marker
ma-infinitive -mA-

Infinitives transform verbs into nominals, meaning you can then add case endings to them.

In the strip ma-infinitive is used in the so called "mennä tekemään" form, where you combine the verb mennä ‘to go’ with another verb in the ma-infinitive form and illative case to say "to go to/and do X". For example, "I'll go buy sand." is:

Menen ostamaan hiekkaa.
mennä.1P.SG ostaa.MA-INF.ILL hiekka.PART
I go into buy (some) sand

Transitive sentence with total object

There are two kinds of objects that can be used in transitive sentences, partitive objects (in partitive) or total objects (in either genitive or nominative, or accusative for certain pronouns). In this strip only total objects are used. Using a total object with present-form verbs is used to communicate future action. For example, "I will eat (a whole) fish" is:

Minä syön kalan
minä.NOM syödä.1P.SG kala.GEN
I eat (a whole) fish


Vowel stem is the form of the word used for forming all of the cases of nouns and verb forms discussed in this post, except for nominative, which is the dictionary form of nouns.

Word Vowel stem Meaning
sinä sinu- you
olla (on) ole- to be (is)
tämä tää- this
mukava mukava- nice, comfortable
mökki mökki- cottage
mennä mene- to go
panna pane- to put, (informal) to fuck
tuli tule- fire
tulla tule- to come, (informal) to ejaculate
takka takka- fireplace

"To put fire into X" is how you say "To light a fire in X" in Finnish.

Additionally, here is a list of endings, markers, and affixes:

Ending / Marker / Affix Usage
-Vn, -hVn, -seen Illative case ending
-hAn "sure is", "indeed"
-llA Adessive case ending
-mA- Ma-infinitive ending
-n First person verb form ending
-n Genitive case ending


¹ Modern loanwords often break this rule, but in native vocabulary there is only one exception: tällainen, which comes from "tämän lainen".