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


  1. It seems that distinguishing when to use the -ma and when the -da infinitive is the trickiest bit of Estonian for a non-native speaker. Even people who are otherwise entirely fluent make mistakes with this. I guess the only cure is exposure to the language, lots and lots of it, so that certain patterns are stored in your brain and you don't have to think about it.

  2. I know for me personally I find it quite tricky. It was especially hard at the start as it used to drive me up the wall. However. with more exposure and time it is just getting (slowly) hard-wired into my brain. :-)

  3. I was just reading this section in the Estonian Textbook a couple of weeks ago, and even though I had read about this before, it still seemed a little hard to wrap one's head around. I found I could read the differences well enough, but I wouldn't say I'd know which one to use in a sentence.

  4. Yah. In the heat of a conversation it can be tricky. But Estonians tell me that even fluent speakers make mistakes, kinda like fluent Estonian speakers of English making mistakes with use of the articles in English even after years of study in and use of the language.

  5. It seems like the -ma infinitive (generally) is used when the action expressed is more definitely going to happen, whereas the -ta infinitive expresses more theoretical or conditional actions, like a subjunctive or an optative mood in some Indo-European languages.