Saturday, March 13, 2010


I really like the coursebook Naljaga pooleks by Mare Kitsnik and Leelo Kingisepp. The reason is that the audio dialogues are humorous and the language is fun and everyday. The title translates along the lines of With Half a Laugh. All in all it's a very extensive and interesting course for learners who also have completed a basic course in the language.

Below are some phrases taken from the first chapter of the coursebook.

Vabandage, et ma nii hilja tülitan.
I'm sorry to disturb you so late.

Mulle tuli see järsku meelde.
I just remembered it.

Sool on otsas.
We/ I have run out of salt.

Pole tänu väärt!
You're welcome!

See on tühiasi!
Don't mention it! 

No peaks ikka saama.
It should be OK.

Ei, mis te nüüd!
No, no problem!

Üks hekt!
One moment!

Ma olen teid vist täiesti ära tüüdanud!
I must be really annoying you.

Selles häda ongi.
That's the problem.

Kui ma tohiksin paluda.
Could I ask for a favour?

Peaaegu oleksin unustanud.
I have almost forgotten.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

-da infinitive

I discussed the -ma infinitive in my last post. In this post I will deal with the -da infinitive.

Forms of the infinitive

While it is called 'the -da infinitive' the infinitive form can end in either -da, -ta or simply -a. View:

luge/da 'read', rääki/da 'talk', laul/da 'sing'
tõus/ta, seis/ta 'stand', vasta/ta 'answer'
vii/a 'take, transport', käi/a 'walk', müü/a 'sell'

If the stem of the verb already ends in d or t, this consonant is not normally repeated in the suffix, i.e. suffix only appears as a. See:

and/a 'give', sõit/a 'ride, drive', saat/a 'send'. The -ma infinitive forms of the verbs are and/ma, sõit/ma and saat/ma, in which all the consonant appears in the verb stem. Note however, that in a limited number of instances, the verb stem is doubled. Know that a double consonant is of the third degree (see here). Examples: võt/ma, võtt/a 'talk', kat/ma, kat/ta 'cover'.


The -da infinitive is with the following verbs or constructions:

a) verbs expressing a wish, an intention, or a possibility.

aitama, aitan 'help' --- oskama, oskan 'be able, know how' --- jõudma, jõuan 'have time, manage'
jaksama, jaksan 'have strength' --- otsustama, otsustan 'decide' --- paluma, palun 'beg'
kavatsema, kavatsen 'plan' --- proovima, proovin 'attempt' --- käskima, käsin 'command'
laskma, lasen 'let' --- lootma, loodan 'hope' --- lubama, luban 'permit, promise'
mõistma, mõistan 'understand how' --- mõtlema, mõtlen 'think' --- märkama, märkan 'notice'
nägema, näen 'see' --- püüdma, püüan 'strive' --- saama, saan 'get, be able'
soovima, soovin 'wish' --- suutma, suudan 'manage' --- tahtma, tahan 'want'
teadma, tean 'know' --- tohtima, tohin 'have permission' --- võima, võin 'have leave, be able'


Ma ei jõua töötada 'I cannot bear [manage] to work'.
Ta mõistab õigel ajal lõpetada 'He understands (how) to end at the right time'.
Kas sa oskad bridži mängida 'Do you know how to play bridge?'
Mida võin teile pakkuda? 'What may I offer you?'
Kas soovite natuke puhata? 'Do you wish to rest a little?'
Ma tahan teada, mis see tähendab 'I want to know what this means'.
Kas ma saan sind aidata? 'Can I help you?'
Palun sind siia tulla? 'I beg you to come here'.


Note that in the following the -ma infinitive is used.

Ma saan hakkama 'I can manage.'
Palun teid tantsima 'I invite you to dance'.

b) verbs expressing an emotion or feeling.

armastama, armastan 'love' --- kartma, kardan 'fear'
jalgema, julgen 'dare' --- meeldima, meeldin 'like, appeal'

Ma armastan jalutada värske õhu käes 'I love to (go for a) walk in the fresh air.'
Kas sulle meeldib teatris käia? 'Do you like to go to the theatre? [Does going to the theatre appeal to you?]'
Üliõpilane kardab minna eksamile '' The student is afraid to go to (take) the test'.
Ta julgeb ütelda, mis ta mõtleb 'He dares to say what he thinks.'

c) impersonal expressions:

on aeg 'it is time' --- saab 'it is possible' --- tohib 'it is permitted' --- on raske 'it is hard'
on kasulik 'it is beneficial, useful' --- tuleb 'one ought to, one must' --- võib 'one may'
on tarvis 'it is necessary' --- on vaja 'it is necessary' --- on valus 'it is painful'

On aeg tõusta 'It is time to get up'
On raske leida paremat kohta 'It is hard to find a better place'
Suvel on kasulike supelda 'It is beneficial to go swimming in the summer'
Seda pole tarvis teha 'That is not necessary to do'
Tõde on valus kuulda 'The truth is painful to hear'


Nüüd peab koju minema 'Now one must go home'. The impersonal expression peab 'one must' takes the -ma infinitive.

d) after the conjunction et, when in means 'in order to' (normally it is translated by 'that'):

Ma sõidan maale, et puhata 'I am driving to the country, in order to rest.'

e) when the infinitive is used as the subject in a sentence, or when it modifies a subject:

Eksida on inimlik 'To err is human'. Mul on lust laulda 'I have a desire to sing'.


In cases the two infintives have the same stem:

luge/ma, luge/da 'read' --- õppi/ma, õppi/da 'learn, study' --- rääki/ma, rääki/da  'talk'

In other cases, the stems may be different.

If the stem of the infinitives ends in -oo or -öö in the -ma infinitive, this will be -uu or üü in the -da infinitive, respectively.


too/ma --- tuu/a 'bring'
söö/ma --- süü/a

Other examples of differences between the stems of the two infinitives follow:

jooks/ma --- joos/ta 'run'
tege/ma --- teh/a 'do'
mõtle/ma --- mõ(t)el/da 'think'
ole/ma --- oll/a 'be'
oota/ma --- ooda/ta 'wait'
tule/ma --- tull/a 'come'
ütle/ma --- ütel/da, öel/da 'say'

Source: Juhan Tuldava, Estonian Textbook, 1994

Monday, March 8, 2010

-ma infinitive

I have mentioned before about the fact that Estonian verbs have two infinitives, "the -ma forms" and "the -da forms". In this post I would like to discuss the situations in which the -ma forms appear. In a later post I will deal with the -da forms. Note: In Estonian, infinitives are of one form unlike in English where the infinitive comes in two parts, i.e. 'to read', 'to speak' etc.

Infinitive and Present forms

Oftentimes the stems of the -ma infinitive and the present are different. Compare the following:

luge/ma --- loe/n 'I read'
rääki/ma --- räägi/n 'I speak'
taht/ma --- taha/n 'I want'
õppi/ma --- õpi/n 'I learn'
tead/ma --- tea/n 'I know'
sundi/ma --- sunni/n 'I force/ compel'
pida/ma --- pea/n 'I have to'

The verb 'go' has two completely different stems:

mine/ma --- lähe/n 'I go'


The -ma infinitive is used with the following verbs:

1) after verbs of motion:

minema, lähen 'go' ---- tulema, tulen 'come' --- jooksma, jooksen  'run'
sõitma, sõidan 'ride, drive' --- istuma, istun 'sit' --- panema, panen 'put, set'

Ma lähen jalutama 'I go (out) for a walk [in order to walk]'
Ta jookseb vaatama, mis seal juhtub 'She runs to see what is happening there'.
Me istume laulma 'We sit in order to sing.'
Pane masin käima 'Turn on the machine [Set the machine to go]'.

2) after these following verbs:

hakkama, hakkan 'begin' --- juhtuma, juhtun 'happen' --- jätma, jätan 'leave (behind)'
jääma, jään 'remain' --- kutsuma, kutsun 'invite, call' --- kõlbama, kõlban 'be suitable'
pidama, pean 'have (an obligation) to' --- sundima, sunnin 'force, compel'
õpetama, õpetan 'teach' --- õppima, õpin 'learn, study'

Ma hakkan kohe minema 'I will begin to go right away'.
Jää seisma! 'Stop! [Remain in order to stand].'
Kutsu lapsed sööma 'Call the children to (come and) eat'
Sa pead siia tulema 'You have to come here.'
Ma õpin joonistama 'I am learning to draw.'

3) After certain adjectives and participles:

harjunud 'accustomed, used to' --- sunnitud 'forced, compelled' --- nõus 'willing'
osav 'capable, skilled' --- valmis 'ready'

Ma olen valmis aitama 'I am ready to help'.
Ta on nõus tulema 'S/he is willing [agrees] to come'.
Me oleme harjunud kõvasti rääkima 'We are used to talking loudly.'

Source: Juhan Tuldava, Estonian Textbook, 1994

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Estonian impersonal


The Estonian impersonal (umbisikuline tegumood or impersonaal) is a valence-reducing construction with no overt subject and a distinct non-active verbal morphology. It is among the world's most common type of impersonal construction, a construction whose two central characteristics is that 1) it lacks an overt subject and 2) its implied impersonal agent displays a strong preferance for human agency.

The Estonian impersonal has a full conjugational paradigm with indicative, conditional and jussive forms, as well as inflecting for tense. An example using the verb rääkida 'talk' is given below:

Present Indicative: räägi-ta-kse 'one talks'
Past Indicative: räägi-t-i 'one talked'

Present Conditional: räägi-ta-ks 'one would talk'
Past Conditional: räägi-ta-nu-ks 'one would have talk'

Jussive: räägi-ta-gu 'let them talk'

Present Perfect: on räägi-tud 'people have talked'
Past Perfect: oli räägi-tud 'people had talked'


The present and past impersonals are formed by using the stem of the -tud participle and adding -takse and -dakse (present) and -ti and -di (past). If the verb's tud-partciple was of the form tud then the impersonal will take -takse or -ti and if the verb took the form dud then the impersonal will end in -dakse or -di. See some examples below:

luba/tud 'allowed'  ----  luba/takse (luba/ti)
keela/tud 'forbidden' ---- keela/takse (keela/ti)
kirjuta/tud 'written'---- kirjuta/takse (kirjuta/ti)
laul/dud 'sung' ---- laul/dakse (laul/di)
saa/dud 'received' ---- saa/dakse (saa/di)
mõel/dud 'thought' ---- mõel/dakse (mõel/di)

For some verbs the -d- in the -dakse suffix is replaced by a lenghtening of the l, n, or r consonant that precedes it (the exception is like the -da infinitive with a -kse- ending).

ol/dud 'been' ---- ol/lakse
tul/dud 'come' ---- tul/lakse
min/dud 'gone' ---- min/nakse
pan/dud 'put' ---- pan/nakse
sur/dud 'died' ---- sur/rakse

For some verbs with one syllable stems, the -d- in the -dakse disappears with no replacement. This is especially likely when there is a shift in vowel sound. Here again, the impersonal is in effect the -da infinituve with a -kse ending.

too/dud 'brought' ---- tuu/akse
loo/dud 'created' ---- luu/akse
joo/dud 'drunk' ---- juu/akse
söö/dud 'eaten' ---- süü/akse
löö/dud 'struck' ---- lüü/akse

Examples without vowel shifts:

käi/dud 'walked' ---- käi/akse
müü/dud 'sold' ---- müü/akse
vii/dud 'transported' ---- vii/akse

Two verbs drop the -t- of the -takse suffix.

teh/tud 'done' ---- teh/akse
näh/tud 'seen' ---- näh/akse


The impersonal construction can appear either with an object or without.

With an object:
Kassa avatakse kell 8. 'The cashier's window is opened at 8 [One opens...]'
Sind oodati. 'You were awaited [One waited for you.]'
Ojamaa saart kutsutakse Läänemere pärliks 'The Island of Gotland is called the peral of the Baltic.'
Meest mõõdetakse mõistusest 'A man is measured [judged] by his reason [intellect].'

Tullakse ja minnakse. 'People come and go [There is coming and going].'
Võidakse küsida, miks see nii on 'One can ask why it is so.'
Siin lauldakse ja seal tantsitakse. 'People sing here and dance there [There is singing here and dancing there].'

The object of an impersonal can be either 'total' or 'partial'. In non-impersonal declarative sentences, total objects normally take the genitive. However, in an impersonal that lacks an overt subject, the total object appears in the nominative as if it were the subject of the clause. Partial objects appear, per usual, in the partitive. Compare:

Siin ehitatakse uut maja. 'Here a new house in being built' [partial object due to its unfinished nature].
Uus maja ehitati kiiresti valmis. 'The new house was built (to completion) quickly' [total object as action is completed].

It is not only transitive and intransitive verbs that can be impersonalised but also modals (a) and unaccusatives (b)

(a) Õlletehas võidakse reostuse eest sulgeda. 'The brewery may be closed because of pollution.'
(b) Tihti pettutakse illusioonide ja tegelikkuse erinevuse tõttu. 'One is often disappointed because of the difference between illusions and reality'.

More on the Estonian impersonal and the difference between the impersonal and true passives in later posts.

Estonian Textbook by Juhan Tuldava, 1994.
Valency Reduction in Estonian, Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, by Virve-Anneli Vihman, 2004