Estonian Verbs: Intro

Can't say much of anything without verbs, can you? Let's jump right in...

All Estonian verbs end in ~ma:
küsima: to ask
soovima: to wish
jalutama: to walk

What you are seeing is the infinitive (like in English how we'd say, 'I want to eat' - "to eat" is an infinitive, governed by the verb "want"). Estonian verbs conjugate depending on who is performing the action. The ending ~ma is removed, and a new ending is added:

I: add "n"
you (informal): add "d"
he, she, it: add "b"
we: add "me"
you (formal/plural): add "te"
they: add "vad"

Now we can see this in action:

(ma) küsin: I ask
(sa) küsid: you ask
(ta) küsib: he asks, she asks, it asks
(me) küsime: we ask
(te) küsite: you ask
(nad) küsivad: they ask

Not too hard, eh? It should be mentioned that although the verb makes the subject of the sentence clear, pronouns are still normally used in front of the verb. So, both "küsin" and "ma küsin" mean "I ask." (We'll do pronouns in-depth later.)

Even easier is the negative form of the verb - all you do is remove ~ma to get the verb stem, and then put the word "ei" in front of it: küsima -> küsi -> ei küsi. Of course, "ei küsi" can mean I don't ask, you don't ask, he doesn't ask, we don't ask, etc. This is where using pronouns becomes quite important. If I said "ma ei küsi", now it's clear that "I don't ask."

Naturally, there are exceptions in the verb world that don't conjugate so perfectly. The most important verb, olema (to be), is irregular:

olen: I am
oled: you are
on: he is, she is, it is
oleme: we are
olete: you are
on: they are

In this instance, he, she, it, and they all fall under the same irregular word, "on." But the negative follows the rules - "ei ole." A synonym for "ei ole" is "pole", something you might hear/see every now and then:

Sa ei ole... You are not...
Sa pole... You are not...

You'll find other irregular verbs based on pronounciation. Some general rules for verb mutations include:

kk -> k / pp -> p / tt -> t
k -> g / p -> b / t -> d
the letters k, t, g, b, d may disappear

If that made no sense to you, I'll give you some examples:

rääkima (to speak) - the "k" in this verb changes into a "g" when conjugated:

räägin: I speak
räägid: you speak
räägib: he speaks, she speaks, it speaks
räägime: we speak
räägite: you speak
räägivad: they speak
ei räägi: don't speak

kukkuma (to fall) - loses a "k" (kukun, kukud, kukub...)
leidma (to find) - loses its "d" (leian, leiad, leiab...)
And so on...

The irregularities just take some practice with the language, and I'll post a lesson on irregular verbs.

Many verbs can also be found as compound verbs. They have a normal infinitive, plus a noun. For example, the word "aru saama" is "to understand." Although you'll find these listed with the helping noun first, when they're conjugated, the order gets switched:

(ma) saan aru: I understand
(sa) saad aru: you understand
(ta) saab aru: he understands, she understands, it understands
(me) saame aru: we understand
(te) saate aru: you understand
(nad) saavad aru: they understand
ei saa aru: don't understand

As you can see, besides the addition of a word, the verb follows the same rules as any other verb. The only thing to watch out for is that the two words might not be side by side in a sentence:

Ma saan sind aru: I understand you.

Handling this okay so far? I'm going to drop a bombshell now. Every Estonian verb (including the compound verbs above) has a counterpart called the ~da infinitive. These always end in ~da, ~ta, or ~a. For example:

olema & olla: to be
küsima & küsida: to ask
rääkima & rääkida: to speak
maksma & maksta: to pay
jooma & juua: to drink
tegema & teha: to do, make
aru saama & aru saada: to understand

While some of them follow a simple pattern, others look completely different from each other, and again, it's just a matter of learning what's what. But the good news is that you don't need to conjugate the ~da form like we discussed above with the ~ma verbs. 90% of the time, you'll just be using it in the infinitive. Generally, this form of the verb is used to express wishes or feelings, rather than the ~ma form. Each verb form is also used with particular words. But the ~da verbs are going to have their own lesson, so that's why I'm going to leave off here.


alohahola    Lun, 13/09/2010 - 15:58

Very well written article, and interesting. Ending of words in Estonian are changing very similar to Hungarian, however,
I did not noticed any similar stem, all verbs above are completely different in Hungarian... Special version of verbs for usage in feelings or wishes - thats very interesting. Thanks! Regular smile

Mauler    Lun, 13/09/2010 - 23:14

the conjugation use with or without pronouns is similar like in slavic languages...
but the -da-infinitiv: has it the same function like the vidy/aspects for instance in Russian?
by the way: how many auxiliary verbs does estonian have?

Lumekuninganna    Mar, 14/09/2010 - 01:36

Well, Estonian and Hungarian are part of the uralic family of languages, so I would think there's similarities. Regular smile Besides slavic and uralic, I find a lot of languages drop pronouns, with or without subject-specific conjugation, including some romance and east asian languages.

Just in its infinitive form, no, the DA verbs do not relate to the Russian aspect. It's more like the MA verbs are used when there's an implied reason or need for what will be done, but the DA verb doesn't carry that connotation:

MA: I have to go (Ma pean minema)
DA: I want to go (Ma tahan minna)

Which I guess is why it's easy to say that DA infinitives express wishes or feelings, although each type of verb has its own set of verbs that govern them. However, in the past tense, the DA verbs are used to form the present perfect and past perfect, so they could be related to the Russian aspect in that way. I could discuss those DA verbs for a long time, which is kinda sad... x_x

As for auxiliary verbs, you'll see a handful of words like aru, ära, läbi, välja attached to many different verbs that change the meaning. Opposite that, there are many common verbs (olema, tegema, minema, panema, etc) that can be combined with any number of words to also change the meaning. I suppose knowing what each part means can allow for educated guesses, although the initial words I mentioned don't often add their own meaning to the overall definition of the verb.

Let me know if that made any sense whatsoever.

Mauler    Mar, 14/09/2010 - 02:19

Well, yes, would be interesting to know what "aru, ära, läbi, välja" mean. Are they (ir-)regular? In most languages "do" and "have" are the only regular auxiliaries.
I just had to think of a funny German irregular: "Der Fels DROHT zu stürzen." (The rock THREATENS to fall down.) A rare case in which DROHEN (to threat) is an auxiliary verb! (I think there's no equivalent for instance in English or other language...) So there must be also curious irregulars in other languages as well.

Lumekuninganna    Mer, 15/09/2010 - 00:32

XD I think a rock that's going to fall is making a valid threat.

Now, I looked at the wiki to see if I knew what I was talking about, and I think what I'm talking about are compound verbs, not auxiliary verbs. Because I guess in an auxiliary verb, both words are verbs? The Estonian verbs we're discussing have a verb plus a noun - aru, ära, läbi, välja, and others, are nouns, making up compound verbs. (I've never been good with the technical terms for language... that's why I'm not a linguist.) ;3

Because, "aru" literally means "intellect", but it's a noun. So in the compound verb "aru saama", you get "intellect" + "to get" (saama), which gives you the overall verb "to understand." Not all combinations make as much sense as that one.

Sorry about the confusion, but at least you taught me something! Haha.

Mauler    Mer, 15/09/2010 - 00:53

In an auxiliary verb, both words are verbs: right; this is learning by teaching ;-)

yksiklaul    Mar, 19/04/2011 - 19:14

ära - away; don't!
Mine ära! - Go away!
Ära tee! - Don't do [it]!

läbi - through
välja - out
Sometimes they are just a part of an expression that doesn't make much sence, once you start analyzing it Regular smile
läbi käima - go through, but also socialize
välja tegema - notice; to pay for somebody's lunch or dinner

So pleased to see that people are interested in Estonian Regular smile

Tiny correction:
I undestand you: Ma saan sinust aru.

yksiklaul    Mar, 19/04/2011 - 19:35

I understand you: Ma mõistan sind.
It means the same thing Regular smile

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