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1. Grammar and Spelling
2. Punctuation
3. Measurements and Abbreviations
4. Hyphenation
5. Miscellaneous Peculiarities
6. Geographic Distribution
7. Character Set

Section One - Grammar and Spelling

1. Gender and Articles: The language makes no distinction as to gender, and has no articles, either definite or indefinite.

2. Cases: The number of case forms for nouns is staggering - whereasGerman has four cases, Latin five, and Russian six, Finnish has no fewer than fifteen cases! In addition to the familiar nominative, genitive, partitive, andablative, there are also the elative, allative, illative, essive, inessive, adessive,abessive, and several others, e.g. tämä kaunis talo = this beautiful house; tältä kauniilta talolta = from this beautiful house; tässä kauniissa talossa = in this beautiful house, etc.

3. Plurals: There is no easy way of identifying the plural form, but the 't' ending shows plural in a basic form (when not declined in cases), e.g. kauniittalot = beautiful houses. It gets very complicated when nouns, adjectives and pronouns are declined, e.g. näissä kauniissa taloissa = in these beautiful houses. 'I' marks the plural, but it is difficult for a non-speaker to identify it as it is part of the declension, and there are cases where 'i' is changed to 'j', e.g. talojen (houses).

4. Capitalisation: Each sentence begins with a capital letter. Names, like surnames, cities, rivers etc. are capitalised, e.g. Lontoo, Matti, Thames. Holidays and historical periods are lower case, e.g. joulu = Christmas. If a name consists of several parts, only the first part is capitalised: Helsingin yliopisto = Helsinki University.

There is a polite form which uses upper case in writing, e.g. Sinun, Teidän, but it is rarely used nowadays. The third case plural (Te) can be used as a polite form in spoken language e.g. when addressing elderly people and in customer service. It is also used in written language, e.g. in customer correspondence, but increasingly rarely.

There are no one-letter words.

Section Two - Punctuation

1. Speech Marks: Speech marks are used as in English but the comma which separates the quoted part of the sentence is never inside the speech marks.

The sentence: "I'm so tired", he said, "I just want to go home." would be split into 2 sentences: "Olen niin väsynyt", hän sanoi. "Haluan vain mennä kotiin."

2. Full Stops: Full stops are used only after a complete sentence. No full stops after headings, titles, or bullet points, unless the bullet points are all complete sentences. There is a full stop after the last bullet point as it is considered the end of the sentence. For example:

A message can be

- significant
- insignificant

Viesti voi olla

- merkityksellinen
- merkityksetön.

Section Three - Measurements and Abbreviations

1. Measurement: Metric is the official system of measurement.

Time: 10am = 10.00; 3pm = 15.00

Date: 25/8/2004 = 25.8.2004

Decimal commas are used, e.g. = 3,7 %
Note also the space between the numeral and the percentage sign.

Numbers are divided in groups of three from the end and separated with a space: 2 000;16 000

A space is normally left between numbers and the measurement, e.g. 25 cm, 48 g, 34 C etc. Temperature is written: 38 °C.

2. Currency:

1 euro / 23 euroa
€ 1 / € 23
1 Yhdysvaltain dollari or USD 1 or 1 dollari / 23 dollaria
1 Ison-Britannian punta or GBP 1 or 1 punta / 23 puntaa

3. Abbreviations:

N/a = no abbreviation
No. = nro
e.g. = esim.
Q&A = kysymyksiä ja vastauksia [no abbreviation]
WxLxHxD = leveys x pituus x korkeus x syvyys
Days of the week: Mon, Tues, Wed, Thurs, Fri, Sat, Sun
Viikonpäivät: ma, ti, ke, to, pe, la, su

Titles such as Mr/Mrs/Ms/Miss or their abbreviations are not used in written language. Honorary titles are used. Letters are started with no address or with the addressee's full name and with the honorary title if applicable.

E.g. Dear Matti Turunen - Hyvä Matti Turunen
The ordinal numbers are marked with a full stop after the numeral:

1st, 2nd, 3rd
1. 2. 3.

Section Four – Hyphenation

Hyphenation is very common. It is used especially when linking different words together, such as names.

As a general rule, a hyphen is used with no space e.g.

This is split as follows:

When there are 2 or more words preceding a noun, there is a space and hyphen, e.g. LaserJet 840 -tulostin. This is split: LaserJet 840

End-of-line hyphenation: Finnish can be hyphenated before or after a single letter, e.g. a-voin, but stylistically it is not recommended. Never hyphenate monosyllabic words; do hyphenate between 2 consonants; do try and hyphenate between grammatical elements of the word.

Section Five – Miscellaneous Peculiarities

The correct translation for 'technology' is often tekniikka, NOT teknnologia, as in Finnish, technology primarily refers to the theory and study of technology.

Nouns, adjectives and pronouns decline in 15 cases in plural and singular.

Verbs decline too, depending on personal pronouns.

Section Six – Geographic Distribution

There are approximately 6 million speakers of Finnish. Besides being the national language of Finland, where it is spoken by around 5 million people or 94% of the population, it is spoken by about 300,000 people in Sweden, approximately 12,000 people in the northern parts of Norway, 70,000 people in the United States and 50,000-100,000 people in north-western Russia.

Finnish is one of the few languages of Europe not of the Indo-European family. Like Estonian, spoken across the Gulf of Finland, it is one of the Finno-Ugric languages, which constitute the main branch of the Uralic family.

Finnish is undoubtedly an exceedingly difficult language to learn. Aside from foreign borrowings (mostly from the Germanic languages), the long, often compound words bear no similarity whatever to their counterparts in the Indo-European languages.

Finnish is spoken/used in the following countries:
Finland, Sweden, Russia, Norway, Estonia, United States of America.

Language Family
Family: Uralic
Subgroup: Finno-Ugric
Branch: Finnic

Source: - Copyright © Kenneth Katzner, The Languages of the World, Published by Routledge. Research Institute for the Languages of Finland

Section Seven – Character Set

[ ] = Alt key codes

a ä [0228] A Ä [0196]
(b) (B)
(c) (C)
d D
e E
(f) (F)
g (G)
h (H)
i I
j J
k K
l L
m M
n N
o ö [0246] O Ö [0214]
p P
(q) (Q)
r R
s S
t T
u U
v V
(w) (W)
(x) (X)
y Y
(z) (Z)



By McElroy Translation,
Austin, Texas 78701 USA

quotes [at] mcelroytranslation . com


What are some pitfalls to avoid, specific to this language, a client should be aware of when translating into this language?

Perhaps the most important pitfall the client should be aware of when translating a text into Finnish is this: the structure and the vocabulary in Finnish are different from the Indo-European languages. Many people do not even realize the structure is so much different. Finnish is not an Indo-European language but a Finno-Ugric language.

Ironically, even if there is more work, the word count is actually lower in Finnish than in English for the same amount of text. If anything, that should demonstrate how different the structure really is. It means that the translator may have had to work harder to get the word count so low. Sometimes that may be frustrating.

At the level of terminology, the translator cannot use some "shortcuts" that would be available to translators in some other languages. Many international words do not have direct Finnish equivalents. For instance, in EU context, many common terms have to be translated into a more Finnish equivalent: "integration" has the official Finnish translation "yhdentyminen," "subsidiarity" has the official Finnish translation "toissijaisuus" etc. That may slow down the translator's work considerably. For instance, one would have to find out what subsidiarity "really" means!

The real challenge is to develop Finnish equivalents that have no standard translations as yet! Finding, or in this case developing, a Finnish equivalent when there is no Finnish equivalent yet can be a daunting - and time-consuming - task.

The agglutinative structure is a challenge with modern software. The text is rarely translated on a blank page these days. Translators use translation tools and the like. It seems most of the modern software has been developed with the Indo-European languages in mind. Here are three examples: 1) the segmenting in translation tools, such as Trados, 2) Excel sheet strings and 3) tags in Tag Editor.

  1. When the translation tool does not cut the text into segments quite neatly, that may cause difficulties. Often this happens when Trados is used in documents that have been converted from pdf to Word. Long prepositional phrases may be spread over more than one segment, which means that the individual segments may not match the phrase that appears in the source text.
  2. An even greater problem may present itself with Excel sheets. When the translation is done in strings in an Excel sheet, the fact that Finnish follows different grammatical rules may cause problems when the strings are put together in the final translation. When strings contain single prepositions, for instance, there is nothing the translator can do.
  3. The fact that Finnish hardly uses any prepositions at all has been known to be a problem with texts that have tags. Of the three examples mentioned here, this is by far the most troublesome. Where English can simply place a preposition before a tag, for instance "in [whatever the tag is]," Finnish cannot! Finnish would have to inflect the tag, which in most cases is not possible. The translator has to find different circumlocution so that the tags do not have to be tampered with. For instance, the translator may use the passive voice instead of the active voice because the words do not have to be inflected in the passive voice as frequently.

What are characteristics of this language that are unique or different from English and/or other languages?

Finnish is different from English in a number of respects. Since Finnish is not an Indo-European language, the grammar is different. Linguists call Finnish an agglutinative language.

For instance, prepositions are not used much in Finnish. Instead, Finnish uses case endings. That means that the words follow each other in a completely different order than in English. Long prepositional phrases may pose problems when translated into Finnish. This is a challenge especially in legal texts. Another example is an expression which uses double prepositions, such as "in or on foodstuffs." Since Finnish cannot use any prepositions here, the translator has a problem. That particular example was translated into Finnish as "elintarvikkeissa tai niiden päällä." That is a problem that has more to do with technical texts, such as medical or legal texts. In a text that is not technical, the style can make or break the translation. Finnish likes to dispose of "useless" words, such as "please," or titles, such as "Mr," "Mrs," and "Ms." When translating speeches or advertisements, you have to find a balance between sounding too flowery and too curt. How do these characteristics make it important to use properly qualified, professional translators? Because the grammar is so different in Finnish and in English, the translator has to be conversant with grammar! Of course, that is a requirement in every language but rarely does it preoccupy the translator so much. The translator also has to feel comfortable in doing this so the style does not become contorted in the process. Since the vocabulary requires extra effort in Finnish predilection, research can take up a lot of time in more technical texts. In the process, the translator will have to have, or acquire, quite a good grasp of the material. The research would therefore have to go far beyond simple terminological research. Do you know examples where translation or localization mistakes have occurred with this language, such as, problems with text expansion, date/time formats, counting errors, character encoding, etc., or mistakes with the translation itself? Perhaps you've been asked to review a translation that did not seem to be the work of a properly qualified, professional translator.

Perhaps the three most common problems in Finnish translations are 1) inconsistent terminology, 2) grammatical errors, and 3) phrases that have not been translated at all.

  1. Due to the differences in vocabulary, the terminological research has often been done half-heartedly. When a translation tool is in use, the terminology can be found in the translation memory and independent terminological research does not have to be so extensive. However, searching terms in the translation memory can be a painful experience when previous translators have not paid enough attention to consistency. When the translation memory has several different translations for one and the same term, which one to choose? That is why many clients want the translator to compile a glossary for the terminological sticking points first, based on a translation memory search.
  2. Not everything is difficult in Finnish. Finnish orthography is phonetic and quite easy. That does not mean that translators always get it right. Since the orthography is so easy, incorrect orthography is especially disturbing. Compound nouns are a good example. In English, you have to know where a given compound noun is written as one word or two words. In Finnish, it is always one word (except for some special cases). Even if the text is still comprehensible when the rules have not been observed, they are too inflexible to make the punctuation or orthographical mistakes look good. When the translation is replete with apparently minor grammatical mistakes, one begins to have doubts about the accuracy of the translation in points where it does matter - a lot!
  3. When the translator is inexperienced, the different rules and terminological questions can be daunting. Despite their relative insignificance, they may preoccupy the translator to the extent that some phrases in the text may have been left out altogether!

Relate an example or two where you found a website page or form difficult to use because it was poorly localized into your language/locale. How might a business lose money, prestige or incur legal risk due to this bad translation?

Strings present a problem. When a website has been translated string by string, some grammatical errors may occur when the website is put together even if the translation itself is impeccable. When a string contains a word in the plural, like "videos," the translator has to translate it as "videot." However, when the strings are put together in the final document, the word may be preceded by a numeral, such as "3 videos." In that case, the previous Finnish translation of "videos" is wrong because a numeral is followed by the partitive singular in Finnish. Even if that is rarely fatal, it can reflect poorly on the website designers, especially when the website is about website designers!

Legal and medical texts are of course an area where the client cannot afford to have poor translations. Consider the instructions for medical devices. An anecdote has it that a translation told the physician to put something on the patient's left leg when it should have been put on the patient's right leg. Luckily, the physician understood it had to be the other way around.

Since errors in medical instruction can be fatal, many clients take no chances. They pay special attention to quality control. That can be done in the form of back translations, where a document is translated into Finnish and then back to English. Sometimes, the same text is given to two different translators and they are later given the opportunity to harmonize their translation, followed by a back translation!

Legal texts are another obvious example. In Finnish, they can be even more problematic than medical texts for the following reason: Finnish legal texts cannot use any international words but everything has to be expressed with homegrown Finnish words. When the source text is replete with international legal terms, the translator has to find adequate Finnish equivalents for all of them.

The wisest thing to do is to send a legal text to a lawyer who is also a translator. The EU institutions even have positions for people like that: they are called jurist-linguists. However, legal texts can be found anyway, such as the fine print at the end of a manual.

If possible, provide one example of a particular phrase or concept that only a properly qualified, professional translator would be able to correctly communicate.

A phrase, or actually a sentence, that is particularly tricky is one that has been written by a non-native speaker of English or one that has been translated from another language into English by an inexperienced translator from a third language. The latter is called the relay method.

Here is an example: "Your cabin does not know the cold with our heaters"

This sentence is not proper English, which makes it doubly difficult to translate it into Finnish properly. The text has been written by a non-native speaker of English and/or is rather a poor translation of a text that was originally written in some other language. When the text is being translated into Finnish, the translator has to realize the difficulties another translator may face in translating the text into English. It is a commercial text. The style has to "sell" regardless of whatever solution the translator arrives at. One way is to replace the unidiomatic expression with an expression that sounds idiomatic or witty in Finnish, like "hytissäsi ei tarvitse hytistä," which is a play on words between two similar sounding words "hytti" (cabin) and "hytistä" (shiver).

Published - November 2008

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