LINGUIST List 13.2172

Sun Aug 25 2002

Sum: ESL/Typical Errors Made by Finns/Part 2

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


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

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

Date: Wed, 21 Aug 2002 16:20:13 +0300
From: Hammink, John <>
Subject: SUM: Typical "mistakes" made by Finns part 2 of 2

Continued from Part 1 (Linguist 13.2133)

[Modal Auxiliaries/Politeness Strategies]

Finnish lacks a direct correlate to the English word "please." Also,
in Finnish, one can follow a request with *kiitos*, which is a
multifunctional politeness marker that also means "thank you." That
means that if a Finn translates directly into English from Finnish,
there can be some confusion as to whether to use "please" or "thank
you" in English.

In English, we have to use a modal to ask a request, which we can put
in the conditional tense to soften it:

"Would you please give me the salt?"

In Finnish, a conditional may be used, but the structure of Finnish is
so that there is no modal (i.e., "will" or "would" required):

"Antaisitko suolaa?" 
Give (2nd person, conditional) the salt
Which translates as "Would you give me the salt?"

In Finnish it can be entirely appropriate to make a request consisting
of an imperative or a statement (e.g., Otan kahvia, literally 'I take

Even quite good Finnish writers seem to have trouble with English
conditional constructions due to a different use pattern of the
Finnish conditional (-isi) form (and, I suspect, this is not one of
the patterns stressed in Finnish school English). [Eg. "If I would
have 100 euros, I would lend you 50" for "If I had 100 euros, I would
lend you 50".]

Incidentally, while many Finns went so far as to inform me that
Finnish is a "rude language" without all those "small words," I found
that Finns used other strategies that corresponded with the use of
"please" and modals in English. For example, a higher imposition
request, made of someone a Finn didn't know very well, tended to
contain a verb in the conditional tense, or using the Finnish suffixal
morpheme -han to show "politeness."

The -han suffix is very mysterious for nonnative speakers, since its
function is hard to pinpoint in, for example, English. It can function
as an emphasizer, a mitigator, or a bunch of other stuff (there are
actually entire papers written on this one morpheme and its
functions). In one contributor's data, this suffix showed up with
high-imposition requests, iike asking to borrow someone's cell phone:

Olisikohan mahdollista etta" ma" voisin lainata sun ka"nnyka"si?

Is+conditional+question marker+"-han" possible that I can+conditional
borrow(infinitive) your cell phone+possessive marker

'Is there any way it would it be possible to borrow your phone?'


There tends to be an over-use (from the English point of view) of
compound past forms at the expense of the simple past because the
compound form occurs more frequently in Finnish. [Eg. "This book has
been published in 2002" for "This book was published in 2002".]


 To have / a bath, a shower.. To have lunch / dinner / tea... To have
a look / a try / a walk ... To have trouble To have a baby / a fight
/ a talk are all expressed differently in Finnish: "to shower", "to
eat dinner", "to drink tea", "to look", "to get a baby", "to
fight"... "He was born" is a sentence a Finn can't say at all, if s/he
doesn't know by heart how it is formed in English. In Finnish it would
simply be: "he *borned*"


Adverb placement "seems often" to be influenced by Finnish. (I'm told
by teachers of Swedish here in Finland that this is also a problem for

"Also" is likely to occur before noun phrases much more frequently
than it would for American or British writers.


Because the construction called "passive" in Finnish works differently
than the one called "passive" in English, there are occasionally
unacceptable passives such as "The door was wanted to be opened".


Regarding the personal pronoun he/she finns tend to refer to
both sexes as "he", since they have only "h�n" for "he" and "she", or
to simply mix the two


As for style, Finnish schools seem to be concentrating on a spoken or
fairly informal colloquial. This leads to the use of contractions (eg.
I'll, we've) in styles where (one hopes!) native speakers would use
the full forms.


The Finnish speaker is always saying 'ch' as in "chart" -- even in
words such as "character"

I'm indebted to the following people whose comments comprise this

Liz Peterson []

Ingvar Froiland []

Gordon Brown []

Hanna Outakoski []

Johannes Heinecke []

James Haines []

Jason Rudd []

Katja Hirvasaho []

Marianne Krause []

Raija Solatie []

Ronald Sheen []

Werner Abraham []

I will also post a discussion of some of the more interesting points
that people have written in since this summary was posted.
Subject-Language: Finnish; Code: FIN 
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