Monday, June 11, 2012

Agent Nouns

In today's post we are going to look at the creation of agent nouns in Estonian, nouns such as walker, builder, teacher, actor etc. as well as nationalities and other identities built from place-names.

Oftentimes we can construct such agent nouns with the suffix -ja added to the -ma infinitive stem.

õpetama 'teach', stem õpeta- + -ja = õpetaja 'teacher'
näitlema 'act', stem näitle+ -ja = näitleja 'actor'
ehitama 'build', stem ehita+ -ja = ehitaja 'builder'
tantsima 'dance', stem tantsi+ -ja = tantsija 'dancer'
kõndima 'walk', stem kõndi+ -ja = kõndija 'walker'

There are other endings too such as -lane, -nik and -ur.

For nationalities or names for inhabitants of place-names, the root word loses its final vowel.

Soome 'Finland', soom- + -lane = soomlane 'a Finn'
Läti 'Latvia', lät- + -lane = lätlane 'a Latvian'
Rootsi 'Sweden', roots- + -lane = rootslane 'a Swede'

Tallinn 'Tallinn', tallinn- + -lane = tallinnlane 'a Tallinner'

The marked female form ends in -lanna

Eesti 'Estonia', eest- + -lane = eestlane 'an Estonian'
Eesti 'Estonia', eest- + -lanna = eestlanna 'an Estonian woman'

Beware that some countries do not follow this rule. The Poles for example.

Poola 'Poland', poola- + -kas = poolakas 'a Pole'

The plural of eestlane is eestlased and the plural of poolakas is poolakad. 

Examples using -nik are:

ajakirjanik 'journalist' from ajakiri 'journal, magazine'
kunstnik 'art' from kunst 'art'
kirjanik 'writer' from kiri 'letter'
ametnik 'officer' from amet 'office, profession'
talunik 'farmer' from talu 'farmstead'

Examples using -ur, -är, -mees are:

lendur 'aviator' from lendma 'fly'
pensionär 'pensioner' from pension 'pension'
ärimess 'businessman' from äri 'business'
põllumees 'farmer' from põllu- 'agrestic'
meremess 'sailor' from meri 'sea'


  1. If you don't mind my suggesting it, I think that this might be a good subject for comparison in your Finnish/Estonian blog (which is very interesting, by the way).

    Also, just noticed a possible typo:
    "Tallinn 'Tallinn', tallinn- + -lane = tallinnlane 'a Finn'"
    Surely 'tallinnlane' means someone from Tallinn?

  2. Thanks! The old trick of copy and paste but forgot to change everything.

  3. Great post, answered my question =)