LINGUIST List 13.2133

Tue Aug 20 2002

Sum: ESL/Typical Errors Made by Finns

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. John Hammink, Sum: Typical "mistakes" made by Finns part 1 of 2

Message 1: Sum: Typical "mistakes" made by Finns part 1 of 2

Date: Thu, 15 Aug 2002 07:33:48 +0000
From: John Hammink <>
Subject: Sum: Typical "mistakes" made by Finns part 1 of 2

I wanted again to thank everyone who responded to my earlier query

In many cases, I've quoted people directly. Please bear with me as
I'll list your names at the end of part 2. Answers came from Finns
working with language, as well as native English speakers working with

I've removed duplicate submissions for the sake of brevity. Please
forgive any grammar or punctuation inconsistencies in this

Below are the answers, sorted, more or less, by topic:


Non-natives try to copy their syntactical (or other) structures into
the foreign language, even if the foreign language does not "know"
these structures. Most of the speakers concerned know English on a
basic enough level to use regularly in their work/daily life.


[Articles] -Finns don't have articles (a, an, the) in their language,
so they tend to forget them altogether. Even if they use articles,
they often have trouble choosing the right one. Structures like "too
great a distance" are incomprehensible for Finns since the word order
seems funny. (As does "half an hour") "Clothes for nice price" is
something I saw at a store window last summer in Helsinki. The same
writer complained about the book title "Rise and Fall of Soviet

[Pronouns] -Wrong antecedent for 'which' or especially 'that'. This,
I think, is due to the fact that since Finnish is a case-based
language, the case endings tell us which word refers to which modifier
or is in other ways related to a part of a statement. So, the writer
has to be extra careful to check that 'that' or 'which' really refers
to what he-she thinks it refers to.

-Some have trouble in keeping relative pronouns (that and who)
separate from each other. Many use 'that' when referring to
animate/human referents.

[Prepositions] -The prepositions 'at' and 'of' are, I think, overused
at the expense of 'in' and 'for'. (For example, the announcement heard
in the train: "We will shortly arrive at..." for every town except
Tampere and Helsinki, which are "in.")

[Nouns, Count and Noncount] -Common nouns that mean food, beverages,
or any substance in English have no article: Do you want more sugar?
Is there enough gas? Of course, Finns are used to NOT using articles,
but sometimes the emphasis on English courses is on the use of
articles, and Finns then tend to put them anywhere without
consideration. Word pairs like a crime / crime, a room / room, a
fortune / fortune, a science / science, a demand / demand and so on
are hard for Finns, since they mean different things, but look the
same to a Finn, who does not see the article.

[Verbs] -overusing the progressive form of verbs (e.g. "I am coming
from Finland")

[Primary Auxiliary Verbs] - In Finnish, there's no structure like "How
do you say..?", but rather "How you say..?" - Be, have, and do are
difficult verbs for Finns to use in the English language. A Finn would
say: "You have (a) car?" instead of "Do you have..?" You would expect
to hear something like: "I must do this?" and "When you last serviced

To be continued in Part 2.


Subject-Language: Finnish; Code: FIN 
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