Partitive case

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The partitive case (abbreviated ptv or more ambiguously part) is a grammatical case which denotes "partialness", "without result", or "without specific identity". It is also used in contexts where a subgroup is selected from a larger group, or with numbers.



In the Finnish language, this case is often used to express unknown identities and irresultative actions. For example, it is found in the following circumstances, with the characteristic ending of "a" or "ta":

  • After numbers, in singular: "kolme taloa" -> "three houses" (cf. plural, where both are used, e.g. sadat kirjat "the hundreds of books", sata kirjaa "hundred books" as an irresultative object.)
  • For atelic actions (possibly incomplete) and ongoing processes: "luen kirjaa" -> "I'm reading a book"
    • Compare with telic actions in accusative case: "luen kirjan" -> "I will read the (entire) book"
  • With atelic verbs, particularly those indicating emotions: "rakastan tätä taloa" -> "I love this house"
  • For tentative enquiries: "saanko lainata kirjaa?" -> "can I borrow the book?"
  • For uncountables: "lasissa on maitoa" -> "there is (some) milk in the glass"
  • In places where English would use "some" or "any": "onko teillä kirjoja?" -> "do you have any books?"
    • Compare with nominative case: "onko teillä kirjat?" -> "do you have the (specific) books?"
  • For negative statements: "talossa ei ole kirjaa" -> "in the house, [there] is not [a] book"

Where not mentioned, the accusative case would be ungrammatical. For example, the partitive must always be used after singular numerals.

As an example of the irresultative meaning of the partitive, ammuin karhun (accusative) means "I shot the bear (dead)", whereas ammuin karhua (partitive) means "I shot (at) the bear" without specifying if it was even hit. Notice that Finnish has no native future tense, so that the partitive provides an important reference to the present as opposed to the future. Thus luen kirjaa means "I am reading a/the book" whereas luen kirjan means I will read a/the book". Thus "luen" can mean "I am reading" or "I will read" depending on the case form of the word that follows. The partitive form kirjaa indicates incompleted action and hence the meaning of the verb form is present tense. The accusative form kirjan indicates completed action when used with the past tense verb but indicates planned future action when used with a verb in the present tense. Hence luen kirjan means "I will read the book".

The case with an unspecified identity is onko teillä kirjoja, which uses the partitive, because it refers to unspecified books, as contrasted to nominative onko teillä (ne) kirjat?, which means "do you have (those) books?"

The partitive case comes from the older ablative case. This meaning is preserved e.g. in kotoa (from home), takaa (from behind), where it means "from".

A Western Finnish dialectal phenomenon seen in some dialects is the assimilation of the final -a into a preceding vowel, thus making the chroneme the partitive marker. For example, suuriisuuria "some big --".


Of the Sámi languages, Inari and Skolt Sámi still have a partitive, although it is slowly disappearing and its function is being taken over by other cases.

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