How many cases are there in Hungarian and Finnish? (2)

I have written before about the major cases in Finnish and Hungarian. https://languagemiscellany.com/2022/03/how-many-cases-are-there-in-hungarian-and-finnish
In this post, I cover the local / spatial cases in those languages. These cases express such concepts as location, movement to or from a place.

Finnish

Finish has 6 of these cases, made up of 2 series, each containing 3 cases. Cases in one series express internal location. Cases in the other series express external location. Within each series, one case expresses location at rest, another case expresses motion from a location and the 3rd case expresses motion to a location.

Structural table: Finnish

Table 1 shows this structure. For each case, it gives: the traditional name in Finnish grammar; the case’s meaning; and the inflectional ending that marks a noun bearing that case. The top row shows the internal series and the bottom row shows the external series.

Vowel harmony

In Table 1, capital letters show vowels subject to vowel harmony:

  • the capital letter <A> shows that the vowel is the back vowel [a] if the inflectional ending attaches to a noun stem containing a back vowel ([a], [o] or [u]) but [ä] when the ending attaches to a noun stem containing no back vowels.   
  • the capital letter <V> shows that the vowel is the same as the nearest preceding vowel. For example, the illative singular of talo (‘house’) is talo-on.
At restMotion fromMotion to
inessive
inside
-ssA
elative
out of
-stA
illative
into
-(h)Vn, -seen
adessive
on
-llA
ablative
off
-ltA
allative
onto
-lle
Table 1: Finnish local / spatial cases

Comments on the Finnish inflectional endings

With one exception (the illative), the Finnish inflectional endings show the structure very transparently. Each ending has 2 components:

  • the 1st component shows which series contains the ending (-s for the internal series, -l for the external series).
  • the 2nd component shows whether the ending shows location at rest (-CA), motion from the location (-tA) or motion to the location (-Ce). In these endings, capital <C> means that the preceding consonant is doubled. For example, in the inessive, -s + CA = -ssA.

Hungarian

Hungarian has 9 local cases, made up of 3 series containing 3 cases each:

  • The 3 cases in one series express internal location.
  • The 3 cases in the 2nd series express location on a surface.
  • The 3 cases in the 3rd series express external location.

Within each series, as in Finnish, one case expresses location at rest, another case expresses motion from a location and the 3rd case expresses motion to a location.

Thus, the overall structures of the Finnish and Hungarian systems are similar, except that the Hungarian system contains an extra series of 3 surface cases, alongside the 3 external cases.

Structural table: Hungarian

Table 2 shows the Hungarian structure. For each case, it gives: the traditional name in Hungarian grammar; the case’s meaning; and the inflectional ending that marks a noun bearing that case. The top row shows the internal cases, the middle row shows the surface cases and the bottom row shows the external cases.

Vowel harmony

In Table 2, capital letters show vowels subject to vowel harmony:

  • the letter <A> shows that the vowel is: the back vowel [a] when the inflectional ending attaches to a noun stem containing a back vowel ([a], [o] or [u]); but the front vowel [e] when the ending attaches to other nouns. The accented letter <Á> shows that the vowel is the long version of those vowels.  
  • the capital letter <Ó> shows that the vowel is: (a) the long back unrounded vowel [ó] when the inflectional ending attaches to a noun stem containing a back vowel vowel; but (b) the long front rounded vowel [ő] otherwise.
  • For the allative, the ending is -hez/-hoz/-höz. This ending contains: the unrounded back vowel [o] after noun stems containing a back vowel; the rounded front vowel [ö] after other noun stems if the vowel preceding the ending is itself rounded (ö or ü); and the front unrounded vowel [e] after other noun stems.

The above description of vowel harmony is simplified.

At restMotion fromMotion to
inessive
inside
-bAn
elative
out of
-bÓl
illative
into
-bA
superessive
on
-(o)n / -(e)n
delative
off
-rÓl
sublative
onto
-rA
adessive
at
-nÁl
ablative
from
-tÓl
allative
to
-hez/hoz/höz
Table 2: Hungarian local / spatial cases

Comments on the Hungarian inflectional endings

Naming

As some authors note, the name sublative is inconsistent with the patterns underlying the other names. A more consistent name would be superlative, but that name would cause confusion with the superlative form of adjectives (eg best, biggest, most interesting).

Structure

The Hungarian inflectional endings show their structure very transparently for:

  • all 3 cases of the internal series
  • 2 out of 3 cases in the surface series (not the superessive)
  • one case (ablative) of the external series.

Each of those 6 endings can be analysed as being made up of two components:

  • the 1st component shows which series the ending belongs to (-b for the internal series, -r for the external series, -t for the surface series).
  • the 2nd component shows whether the ending shows location at rest (-An), motion from the location (-Ól) or motion to the location (-e).

Finnish and Hungarian inflectional endings compared

Table 3 compares the components of the Finnish and Hungarian endings, as analysed above.

 FinnishHungarian
Internal series-s-b
External series-l-r
Surface seriesnot applicable-t
At rest-CA-An
Motion from-tA-Ól
Motion to-Ce-e
Table 3: components of Finnish and Hungarian local / spatial case inflectional endings

As table 3 shows, the overall structure of the cases is very similar between the 2 languages, but the endings themselves are quite different.

Other meanings of local cases in Finnish

This section summarises some Finnish uses of the local cases that may not be obvious from their original local meaning.

Writing convention used below
In both languages, case markings are typically suffixes added to the end of a word. To make it easier to identify the suffixes, in the examples below I separate the word from its suffix with a dash <-> and place the suffix in bold type. That dash does not appear in normal Finnish and Hungarian writing. For instance, one Finnish example below includes mi-stä. This would normally be mistä, with no hyphen separating the elative suffix stä.

Inessive

The inessive can express inalienable possession: tietokonee-ssa on kovalevy (the computer has a hard disc (literally: in the computer is a hard disc)

Elative

The elative:

  • can indicate what substance something is made of
  • can express something’s origin or cause:
    Mi-stä sen tiedät? (How do you know that? From what do you know that?)
  • often translates ‘about’ after many verbs of speaking, writing, thinking, understanding, liking or knowing:
    Mitä luulet tä-stä (what do you think of that?)
    En pidä muu-sta kahvi-sta (I don’t like black coffee)

Illative

The illative marks:

  • the complement of some verbs
    rakastua (fall in love with), kelvata (qualify for, keskittyä) (concentrate on), osallistua (take part in), vaikuttua (influence), vastata (answer), verrata (compare to)
  • some expressions of time:
    ilta-an (until evening), maaliskuu-hun (until March), kolme-en viikko-on ([not] for 3 weeks)

Adessive

The adessive marks:

  • the possessor of another noun
    Minna-lla on uusi tietokone (Minna has a new computer, literally ‘at Minna is a new computer’)
  • some expressions of time or manner:
    talve-lla (in winter); päivä-llä (in the day); yö-llä (at night); tä-llä hetke-llä (at the moment)
    tä-llä tava-lla (in this way); kov-älla äänne-llä (in a loud voice); juna-lla (by train)

Ablative

The ablative:

  • expresses the removal of something from someone who possessed it:
    Lainaan raha äidi-ltä (I’ll borrow money from mother)
  • marks the complement of some verbs of sense-perception:
    Tämä näyttää hyvä-ltä (this looks good)

Allative

The allative expresses a recipient or beneficiary (a function often performed in Hungarian by the dative):

  • kerro asia minu-lle (tell me about it, literally: ‘tell the matter to me)
  • annan lahjan poikaystävä-lleni (I give a present to my boyfriend)

Other meanings of local cases in Hungarian

This section summarises some Hungarian uses of the local cases that may not be obvious from their original local meaning.

As explained above, to make it easier to identify the suffixes, in the examples below I separate the word from its suffix with a dash <-> and place the suffix in bold type.

Inessive

The inessive marks:

  • the object of some verbs, such as bízik (trust)
  • the complement of some adjectives, such as érdekelt (interested in), bűnos (guilty of), vétkes (guilty of)
  • some nouns used to express manner, such as csend-ben (in silence), harag-ban (in anger).
  • nouns expressing the cause of death: rák-ban (of cancer)

Elative

The elative marks:

  • the object of some verbs, such as kap (receive from), kiszeret (fallout of love with).
    Sára kiszeretett Márton-ból (Sara fell out of love with Martin).
  • the source of the object of some verbs, such as nyer (be obtained from), fakad (stem from)
  • the complement of some adjectives, such as jó (good at)
  • nouns bearing a partitive meaning. (Finnish has a separate main case for the partitive, as discussed in the first post in this series. https://languagemiscellany.com/2022/03/how-many-cases-are-there-in-hungarian-and-finnish)
    Eb-ből a tartá-ból kérek (I want a slice of this cake)
  • some nouns to express manner: szív-ből (with all one’s heart).
  • some causes: gyávaság-ból (out of cowardice)

Illative

The illative marks the object of some verbs, such as beleszeret (fall in love with) and kerül (cost).

Superessive

The superessive marks the object of some verbs, such as csodálkozik (be surprised at) and töpreng (brood over).

Delative

The delative marks:

  • the object of some verbs, such asgondoskodik (take care of) and lemond (renounce give up)
  • the complement of some verbs, expressing a source, such as származik (originate from)
  • the complement of some verbs of communication, expressing reference: szól (be about, mention), beszél (speak), ír (write), gondolkodik (think)

Sublative

The sublative marks:

  • the object of some verbs, such as emlékszik (remember), vár (wait for) and figyel (listen, pay attention to)
  • the complement of some adjectives, such as jó (good for), büszke (proud of).
  • some nouns expressing distance from another point: két cintiméter-re (2cm away)

Adessive

The adessive expresses a standard of comparison:

  • a zongara nagyobb a gitár-nál (the piano is bigger than the guitar)
  • Ann több könyvet olvasott Péter-nel (Anna read more books than Peter)

Ablative

The ablative marks:

  • the object of some verbs, such as függ (depend on), fél (fear).
  • the complement of some adjective, such as független (independent of)
  • the source of the object of some verbs, such as kap (receive)
    ezt a levelet Györgyi-től kaptam (I received this letter from Georgina)
  • some causes: fáradtság-tól (of tiredness)

Allative

The allative marks:

  • the object of some verbs, such as hasonlít (resemble) and tarozik (belong to)
  • some nouns expressing purpose: müütét-hez (for the operation)

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