Finnish and Estonian

[diacritics] | [vowels] | [diphthongs] | [consonants] | [stress] | [notable exception] | [the Swedish question] | [bottom]

Of all the European languages that use Latin letters, Finnish is one of the most phonetic, that is, the written and spoken forms coincide very closely. Linguistically, it's completely unrelated to Swedish, Danish or most other European languages; its only close relative is Estonian. The following rules apply to Estonian as well as Finnish.


Both Finnish and Estonian use umlauts (ä, ö, ü) similarly to German. Estonian also uses the tilde (õ) to change the sound of the letter o.


Any vowel may be doubled, which elongates the sound but does not change its quality; for radio purposes, aa and ii are basically the same as a and i (these are analogous to the accented vowels in Hungarian and Czech). Otherwise Finnish and Estonian vowels are fairly predictable.

a, aaah
ä, ääa, as in English "as", but may also be pronounced as eh, just like German, e.g. Neeme Järvi = nay-muh yehr-vee [audio sample], Arvo Pärt = ar-voh pehrt [audio sample]
e, eeeh, ay
i, iiee
o, oooh, e.g. Joonas Kokkonen = yoh-nahs koh-ko-nen [audio sample]
ö, ööö, as in German ö or French eu
õ, õõuh (only in Estonian)
u, uuoo, as in "root"
ü, üüü, as in German ü or French u (only in Estonian)
y, yyü, as in German ü or French u (only in Finnish)


Diphthongs follow the same pattern as in Spanish and Italian: if you see two different vowels juxtaposed, pronounce them separately according to the rules above, but slur them together and round off to the nearest sensible-sounding vowel sound. For example:

äia-ee (approximated as ay) but sometimes people say iy as in "eye"; thus for Lemminkäinen you'll hear both leh-min-kay-nen and leh-min-kiy-nen [audio sample]


Most consonants are pronounced the same as in English, with one perfectly sensible exception:

jy, e.g. Einojuhani Rautavaara = ay-no-yoo-hah-nee row-tah-vah-rah [audio sample], Jukka Pekka Saraste = yoo-ka peh-ka sah-rahs-tay [audio sample]

Like vowels, consonants may also be doubled, which makes no difference for radio purposes.


Always on the first syllable. (Yet another uncanny similarity to Hungarian and Czech...)

Notable Exception

The most famous Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius, does not have a Finnish name; his first name is French (pronounce it as such) and his last name is Latin. Do not attempt to stress the first syllable of Sibelius, please.

The Swedish Question

Before reading this you may have harbored the common misconception that Finnish is a Germanic language, closely related to its geographic neighbor, Swedish. And there are valid reasons why you might have thought this: indeed, within the borders of Finland lives a large population of Swedish speakers, and a still larger population of Finns with Swedish surnames. The collected piano works of Sibelius, for example, have been recorded on BIS (a Swedish record label) by a Finnish pianist whose name is Swedish: Erik T. Tawaststjerna. In addition to the settings Sibelius wrote of Finnish texts, he also set a large number of texts in Swedish (and even some in German). The point: don't assume that everything having to do with Finnish music also involves the Finnish language -- when you encounter a Finnish performer or composer whose name looks more Germanic, see the section of this guide on Swedish and Norwegian.

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