Estonian grammar

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Estonian Grammar (1637) by Heinrich Stahl

Estonian grammar is the grammar of the Estonian language.

Grammatical processes

Consonant gradation

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Estonian consonant gradation is a grammatical process that affects obstruent consonants at the end of the stressed syllable of a word. Gradation causes consonants in a word to alternate between two grades, termed "strong" and "weak", depending on the grammar. Some grammatical forms trigger the weak grade, while others have the strong grade. It is not predictable which form will have which grade; this must simply be memorised. Not all words show gradation. In particular, words with stems of three or more syllables generally do not gradate, nor do words with stems of one syllable.

Gradation correlates with the appearance of extra length on a syllable. When a syllable is long, the strong grade will always be accompanied by extra length. The weak grade may or may not have extra length, depending on other factors. These are mentioned at Estonian phonology - Suprasegmental length. Some words show gradation only through the presence of absence or extra length, and the consonants themselves do not change. In this article, extra length is shown with a backtick ` before the vowel of the syllable.

The gradation patterns of geminate (long) consonants are relatively simple:

  • Standing alone after a short vowel, the strong grade appears as a double voiceless consonant, while a single voiceless consonant appears in the weak grade.
  • After a long vowel, or in a consonant cluster, the strong grade appears with a single voiceless consonant, while a voiced consonant appears in the weak grade.
  • Long ss only gradates when it appears at the end of a cluster, with s appearing in the weak grade.
Strong Weak Example
pp p s`epp : sepa
tt t v`õtta : võtan
kk k h`akkama : hakata
p b k`upja : kubjas, k`ilp : kilbi
t d s`aatev : saadan, k`artma : kardan
k g v`ilkuma : vilgun
ss s k`irss : kirsi

Patterns for single plosives are more varied and unpredictable. The weak grade may involve disappearance of the consonant altogether, with further consequences for vowels and extra length.

Strong Weak Example Notes
b v k`aebama : kaevata
tuba : t`oa When next to u.
d, t `aed : aia, l`eht : lehe Voiceless t appears in the cluster ht.
j rada : raja When followed by a and preceded by a short vowel other than e or i.
g, k `arg : ara, lugema : l`oen, h`ahk : haha Voiceless k appears in the clusters hk and sk.
j m`ärg : märja When followed by a or e and preceded by l or r which is preceded by e, ä or ü.

There are also four special assimilative patterns:

Strong Weak Example
mb mm h`amba : hammas
nd nn k`andma : kannan
ld ll p`õld : põllu
rd rr k`ord : korra

When a consonant is reduced to zero in the weak grade, this may cause the vowels of the two adjacent syllables to come together. These vowels undergo several changes:

  • If the first vowel is long, it is shortened. Examples: r`oog : r`oa, n`eedma : n`ean.
  • If either vowel is i, u or ü, it is lowered to e, o or ö respectively. Examples: nuga : n`oa, s`aagima : s`aen, süsi : s`öe.
  • If the first vowel is a diphthong ending in e, the e becomes j. Examples: p`oeg : poja, `aeglema : ajelda.
  • If the first vowel is a diphthong ending in u, the u becomes v. Examples: h`aug : havi.
  • If the first vowel is a diphthong ending in any other sound, the second vowel is removed if it is identical. Examples: t`eadma : t`ean, l`iug : l`iu.


Assibilation is a change that happened in Proto-Finnic: the sequence ti became si. This change is no longer productive or predictable, but a fair number of nouns still display the effects in certain forms. The effect is visible in that sometimes s appears where there would otherwise be a t or d. This also creates new variants of the gradation patterns mentioned above, with s appearing in some of the forms in both the strong and weak grade.

For example:

  • käsi, genitive singular käe, illative singular kätte, partitive plural käsi.
  • uus, genitive singular uue, illative singular uude, partitive plural uusi.
  • vars, genitive singular varre, illative singular varde, partitive plural varsi.
  • kaas, genitive singular kaane, illative singular kaande, partitive plural kaasi. Also an example of another change that happened in some words, in which n disappeared before s. Consequently, there is no n in the forms that have assibilation.
  • kolmas, genitive singular kolmanda. Here, too, n disappeared before s.
  • kaks, genitive singular kahe, illative singular kahte. In this particular case, ht becomes ks where assibilation occurred.
  • minema, first-person singular present lähen, first-person singular past läksin. Same as above.


Case Singular
Basic/grammatical cases
Nominative ∅ (no vowel) -d Subject, object of imperative
Accusative ∅ (with vowel) -d Complete (telic) object
Genitive ∅ (with vowel) -de/-te Possession, relation
Partitive -d, -t, ∅ (with vowel) -id, -sid, ∅ (modified vowel) Partial object, indefinite amount
Interior ("in") locative cases
Illative -sse, -∅ (with vowel) -desse/-tesse, -isse In, into
Inessive -s -des/-tes, -is In, inside
Elative -st -dest/-test, -ist Out of
Exterior ("on") locative cases
Allative -le -dele/-tele, -ile Towards, onto
Adessive -l -del/-tel, -il At, on, upon
Ablative -lt -delt/-telt, -ilt From, off
Other cases
Translative -ks -deks/-teks, -iks Becoming, turning into
Terminative -ni -deni/-teni Till, until, up to
Essive -na -dena/-tena Being, acting as
Abessive -ta -deta/-teta Without, lacking
Comitative -ga -dega/-tega With, in company of, in combination with

Inflectional endings as listed below are added to the stem of a noun, which is formed from:

  • singular genitive: singular cases except nominative and partitive, plural nominative,
  • singular partitive: plural genitive,
  • plural genitive: plural cases except nominative and partitive.

Singular nominative, singular genitive and singular partitive are not predictable and have to be taken from the vocabulary (gradation may also apply).

Singular genitive always ends in vowel. When formed from a stem that ends in consonant, it can take the following endings: -a, -e, -i, -o, -u.

Singular partitive can take the following endings: -d, -t, -a, -e, -i, -u.

Plural partitive is formed from either singular genitive or singular partitive and can take the following endings (some words have two forms):

  • -id: one-syllable words with long vowels aa, ee, õõ, uu, öö, ää, two-syllable words with long vowels or endings -em, -en, -el, -er, -ar, -ur, -e, -ne, -s or singular genitive with one or three syllables, three-syllable words with endings -ne, -s,
  • -sid: one-syllable words with long vowels ii, üü or a diphthong, two-syllable words with short vowels, three-syllable words with endings -um, -on, -er, -ar, -är, -ov, -nna,
  • -e: words with singular partitive endings -i, -u, -j, or singular partitive ending -a with the preceding syllable containing u,
  • -i: words with singular partitive ending -e, or singular partitive ending on consonant with singular genitive ending -e, or singular partitive ending -a with the preceding syllable containing vowels e, o, ä, ö, ü or a diphthong with one of these vowels as the first sound with the exception of ei, äi,
  • -u: words with singular partitive ending -a with the preceding syllable containing vowels a, i, õ or diphthongs ei, äi.

Singular illative has a short form in some words. It can take the following endings: -de, -he, -hu, -a, -e, -i, -u. In case it takes the vowel ending, this vowel is the same as the ending vowel of the singular genitive form of the given word, but the vowel (if it is already long or a diphthong) or its preceding consonant (if the vowel is short and the consonant either short or long) is lengthened to the third degree and thus becomes overlong. If illative ends with -sesse, then the short form is -sse.

Plural illative, inessive, elative, allative, adessive, ablative, translative have a short form in some words. If the plural partitive ends with -id, then the short plural stem is this form without -d (instead of plural genitive with -de-); if it ends with a vowel, then the short plural stem is this form; if it ends with -sid, then the short plural cannot be formed.

Emphasis: noun + -gi (after a final voiced consonant or vowel) / -ki (after a final voiceless consonant).

New nouns can be derived from existing nouns, adjectives and verbs using suffixes like -ja (agent, from -ma infinitive), -mine (gerund, from -ma infinitive), -la, -nna, -tar, -ur, -stik, -ndik, -nik, -ik, -k, -ng, -lane, -line, -kene, -ke, -e, -ndus, -dus, -us, -is, -kond, -nd, -istu, -u.


Estonian: Declension of personal pronouns
1 2 3
singular nominative m(in)a s(in)a t(em)a
genitive m(in)u s(in)u t(em)a
partitive mind sind teda
plural nominative m(ei)e t(ei)e n(em)ad
genitive m(ei)e t(ei)e nende
partitive meid teid neid
  • reflexive (nominative - genitive - partitive, singular / plural): ise - enese/enda - ennast/end / ise - eneste/endi - endid (-self)
  • demonstrative (nominative - genitive - partitive, singular / plural): see - selle - seda / need - nende - neid (this/that), too - tolle - toda / nood - nonde - noid (yonder)
  • interrogative (nominative - genitive - partitive): kes - kelle - keda (who), mis - mille - mida (what), milline - millise - millist (which out of many), kumb - kumma - kumba (which out of two)
  • existential (nominative - genitive - partitive): keegi - kellegi - kedagi (someone), miski - millegi - midagi (something), mõni - mõne - mõnda (some), ükski - ühegi - ühtegi (one)
  • free choice (nominative - genitive - partitive): mingi - mingi - mingit (anyone/anything/any), kumbki - kummagi - kumbagi (either)
  • universal (nominative - genitive - partitive): kõik - kõige - kõike (everyone/everything/each), mõlemad - mõlema - mõlemat (both)


There are traditionally considered to be 14 noun cases in Estonian:[1]

# Case Singular Plural
Example in Estonian Example in English Example in Estonian Example in English
1 Nominative ilus raamat a beautiful book ilusad raamatud beautiful books
2 Genitive ilusa raamatu of a beautiful book;
a beautiful book
(as total object)
ilusate raamatute of beautiful books;
beautiful books
(as total object)
3 Partitive ilusat raamatut a beautiful book
(as a partial object)
ilusaid raamatuid beautiful books
(as a partial object)
4 Illative ilusasse raamatusse into a beautiful book ilusatesse raamatutesse into beautiful books
5 Inessive ilusas raamatus in a beautiful book ilusates raamatutes in beautiful books
6 Elative ilusast raamatust from a beautiful book ilusatest raamatutest from beautiful books
7 Allative ilusale raamatule onto a beautiful book ilusatele raamatutele onto beautiful books
8 Adessive ilusal raamatul on a beautiful book ilusatel raamatutel on beautiful books
9 Ablative ilusalt raamatult off a beautiful book ilusatelt raamatutelt off beautiful books
10 Translative ilusaks raamatuks [to turn] (in)to a beautiful book ilusateks raamatuteks [to turn] (in)to beautiful books
11 Terminative ilusa raamatuni up to a beautiful book ilusate raamatuteni up to beautiful books
12 Essive ilusa raamatuna as a beautiful book ilusate raamatutena as beautiful books
13 Abessive ilusa raamatuta without a beautiful book ilusate raamatuteta without beautiful books
14 Comitative ilusa raamatuga with a beautiful book ilusate raamatutega with beautiful books

Locative cases make up six or eight of these fourteen (depending on interpretation).

There are also some additional cases such as the prolative (jalgsi, "by foot"; käsitsi, "by hand"),[2] which are not traditionally counted among the 14 grammatical cases.


Inflectional endings as listed below are added to the stem of an adjective, which is formed like the one for nouns.

The stem for the comparative and superlative forms is the singular genitive of an adjective; if a word has two syllables in the genitive or a vowel following -ke(se), then -ke(se) is left out and the last vowel in the stem changes to -e. The genitive and the partitive of the comparative itself are formed with -a and -at.

New adjectives can be derived from existing words by means of suffixes like:

-v (active present participle, from -ma infinitive),
-nud (active perfect participle, from -da infinitive),
-tav (passive present participle, from -tud participle),
-tud (passive perfect participle), and -lik, -line, -lane, -ne, -ke, -kas, -jas, -tu.

Antonym can be formed by preprending eba or mitte to an adjective. Eba- is considered to be the only derivational prefix in Estonian; as mitte can also occur as a separate word, mitte + adjective can be regarded as a compound rather than derivative. Alternatively, for an adjective formed from a noun or a verb, an antonym can often be constructed using the suffix -tu or -matu.


  • numeral (nominative - genitive - partitive, with noun in singular nominative for 1 and in singular partitive for others): null - nulli - nulli (0), üks - ühe - üht (1), kaks - kahe - kaht (2), kolm - kolme - kolme (3), neli - nelja - nelja (4), viis - viie - viit (5), kuus - kuue - kuut (6), seitse - seitsme - seitset (7), kaheksa - kaheksa - kaheksat (8), üheksa - üheksa - uheksat (9), kümme - kümne - kümmet (10), -teist(kümmend) - -teist(kümne) - -teist(kümmet) (11-19), -kümmend - -kümne - -kümmet (20-90), sada - saja - sadat (100), -sada - -saja - -sadat (200-900), - tuhat - - tuhande - - tuhandet (1.000-999.000), - miljon - - miljoni - - miljonit (1.000.000-999.000.000), - miljard - - miljardi - - miljardit (; ordinal: esimene - esimese - esimest (1.), teine - teise - teist (2.), kolmas - kolmanda - kolmandat (3.), cardinal_genitive-s - cardinal_genitive-nda - cardinal_genitive-ndat (others)
  • demonstrative (nominative - genitive - partitive, singular / plural): niisugune - niisuguse - niisugust (this kind), see - selle - seda / need - nende - neid (this/that), too - tolle - toda / nood - nonde - noid (yonder)
  • interrogative (nominative - genitive - partitive): missugune - missuguse - missugust (what kind), milline - millise - millist (which)
  • existential (nominative - genitive - partitive): mingisugune - mingisuguse - mingisugust (some kind), mõni - mõne - mõnda (some)
  • free choice (nominative - genitive - partitive): mingisugune - mingisuguse - mingisugust (any kind), ükskõik milline - ükskõik millise - ükskõik millist (any)
  • universal (nominative - genitive - partitive): kõik - kõige - kõike (every kind), iga - iga - iga (every)
Declension of adjectives
Number Nominative Genitive Partitive Illative Inessive Elative Allative Adessive Ablative Translative Terminative Essive Abessive Comitative
Singular - - - -sse -s -st -le -l -lt -ks - - - -
Plural -d -de / -te -id / -sid / -e / -i / -u -sse -s -st -le -l -lt -ks - - - -
Comparison of adjectives
Degree General
Positive -
Comparative -m
Superlative -im / kõige -m


The following lists are not exhaustive.


  • with the genitive case and declinable (illative/allative - inessive/adessive - elative/ablative): alla - all - alt (under), ette - ees - eest (in front of), juurde - juures - juurest (at), järele - järel - järelt (after), keskele - keskel - keskelt (in the middle), kohale - kohal - kohalt (above), kõrvale - kõrval - kõrvalt (beside), kätte - käes - käest (in the hand of), lähedale - lähedal - lähedalt (near), peale - peal - pealt (on), sisse - sees - seest (in), taha - taga - tagant (behind), vahele - vahel - vahelt (between), äärde - ääres - äärest (by)
  • with the genitive case and non-declinable: eest / jaoks (for), järgi (according to), kaudu (via), kohta (about), pärast (on account of), vastas (vis-à-vis), vastu (against), üle (over), ümber (around)
  • with the partitive case: mööda (along)
  • with the elative case: alla (down), läbi (through), peale / saadik (since)


  • with the genitive case: läbi (through), peale (besides), üle (over), ümber (around)
  • with the partitive case: alla (down), enne (before), kesk / keset (amid), mööda (along), piki (alongside), pärast (after), vastu (against)
  • with the terminative case: kuni (until)
  • with the abessive case: ilma (without)
  • with the comitative case: koos / ühes (with)


Inflectional endings as listed below are added to the stem of a verb, which is formed from:

  • indicative mood active voice singular first person of positive present tense (by dropping -n): indicative mood active voice of present tense, conditional mood active voice of present tense, imperative mood active voice singular second person of present tense,
  • -ma infinitive (by dropping -ma; if the stem ends with a consonant, an additional -i- is added in the singular third person of the imperfect or an additional -e- is added in the singular nominative of the participle, the consonant is doubled if it was short and preceding a short vowel; if the stem ends with -e while being two-syllable or if it ends with a long vowel, then the -s- is left out in all numbers and persons, ei is changed to i, a long vowel becomes short and o, ö are changed to õ): indicative mood active voice of positive imperfect, quotative mode active voice of present tense,
  • -da infinitive (by dropping -da / -ta / -a; long final l, r become short, in spoken language -nud is shortened to -nd): indicative mood active voice of negative imperfect, indicative mood active voice of pluperfect, imperative mood active voice of present tense except singular second person, active voice of perfect,
  • participle of passive voice perfect (by dropping -tud): passive voice.

-ma infinitive and -da infinitive are not predictable and have to be taken from the vocabulary. Present tense form and -tud participle are derived from the infinitives on the basis of gradation.

-ma infinitive is used after verbs of motion and after participles. It can be declined: -ma (illative), -mas (inessive), -mast (elative), -maks (translative), -mata (abessive).

-da infinitive is used after verbs of emotion, after impersonal expressions, after et (in order to) and as a subject. It can be declined: -des (inessive).

Verb derivation: -ta- (transitive/passive), -u- / -i- (reflexive), -el- / -le- (reciprocal), -ne- (translative), -ata- (momentane), -el- / -skle- (frequentative), -tse- (continuous).

Emphasis: verb + -gi (after a final voiced consonant or vowel) / -ki (after a final voiceless consonant), verb + küll (positive), verb + mitte (negative).

Conjugation of verbs
Present Imperfect Perfect Pluperfect
Mood Voice Number Person Positive Negative Positive Negative Positive Negative Positive Negative
Singular First -n ei - -sin ei -nud olen -nud ei ole -nud olin -nud ei olnud -nud
Second -d -sid oled -nud olid -nud
Third -b -s on -nud oli -nud
Plural First -me -sime oleme -nud olime -nud
Second -te -site olete -nud olite -nud
Third -vad -sid on -nud olid -nud
Passive / -takse ei -ta -ti ei -tud on -tud ei ole -tud oli -tud ei olnud -tud
Singular First -ksin ei -ks / oleksin -nud ei oleks -nud /
Second -ksid oleksid -nud
Third -ks oleks -nud
Plural First -ksime oleksime -nud
Second -ksite oleksite -nud
Third -ksid oleksid -nud
Passive / -taks ei -taks oleks -tud ei oleks -tud
Singular First / / / /
Second - ära -
Third -gu ärgu -gu olgu -nud ärgu olgu -nud
Plural First -gem ärgem -gem /
Second -ge ärge -ge
Third -gu ärgu -gu olgu -nud ärgu olgu -nud
Passive / -tagu ärgu -tagu olgu -tud ärgu olgu -tud
Singular First -vat ei -vat / olevat -nud ei olevat -nud /
Plural First
Passive / -tavat ei -tavat olevat -tud ei olevat -tud


Inflectional endings as listed below are added to the stem of an adverb, which is formed from:

  • singular genitive of an adjective (-sti, -ti, -ldi, -li, -kesi): genetival type,
  • singular ablative of an adjective (-lt; some are declinable in allative, adessive, ablative): ablatival type.

Some adverbs are special words - original or vestigial forms of an ancient instructive case.


  • demonstrative (illative/allative - inessive/adessive - elative/ablative): siia - siin - siit (here), sinna - seal - sealt (there), nüüd (now), siis (then), seega (thus), seepärast (therefore)
  • interrogative (illative/allative - inessive/adessive - elative/ablative): kuhu - kus - kust (where), millal (when), kuidas (how), miks (why)
  • existential (illative/allative - inessive/adessive - elative/ablative): kuhugi - kuskil - kuskilt (somewhere), kunagi (sometime), kuidagi (somehow)
  • free choice (illative/allative - inessive/adessive - elative/ablative): ükskõik kuhu - ükskõik kus - ükskõik kust (anywhere), ükskõik millal (anytime), igatahes (anyhow)
  • universal (illative/allative - inessive/adessive - elative/ablative): igale poole - igal pool - igalt poolt (everywhere), alati (always)
Comparison of adverbs
Degree Genetival Ablatival
Positive - -lt
Comparative -mini -malt
Superlative kõige -mini kõige -malt


The neutral word order in Estonian is subject–verb–object (SVO). Conjunctions: aga (but), et (that), ja (and), kas (whether), kui (if), nagu (as), sest (because), või (or). Questions begin with an interrogative word (interrogative pro-forms or kas (yes/no-question), eks (yes-question), ega (no-question)), followed by the SVO word order (in spoken language, interrogative words are sometimes left out, but instead there is either a change in intonation or VSO word order); answers: jah/jaa (yes), ei (no). An adjective precedes the noun it modifies. An adverb of time precedes an adverb of place.

However, as one would expect from an agglutinative language, the word order is quite free and non-neutral word order can be used to stress some parts of the sentence or in poetic text, as in Finnish grammar. For example, consider the sentence mees tappis karu which means (a/the) man killed (a/the) bear and uses the neutral SVO word order. The sentence can be rephrased using OVS word order as karu tappis mees — a normal Estonian sentence that could be more precisely translated as it was (a/the) man who killed the bear, i. e. the sayer emphasizes that the killer was a man, probably assuming the listener knows that a bear was killed. The other four word orders (tappis mees karu, tappis karu mees, mees karu tappis, karu mees tappis) are also possible in certain contexts, especially if more words are added to the three-word sentences.

Sometimes the form of the verb, nouns and adjectives in the sentence are not enough to determine the subject and object, e. g. mehed tapsid karud (the men killed the bears) or isa tappis karu (father killed the bear) — in the first sentence because in plural, the nominative case is used in Estonian both for subject and telic object, and in the second sentence because in singular, the nominative, genitive and partitive forms of the word isa are the same, as well as those of the word karu (unlike the word mees which has different forms: sg. nom. mees, sg. gen. mehe, sg. part. meest). In such sentences, word order is the only thing that distinguishes the subject and the object: listener presumes that the former noun (mehed, isa) is the subject and the latter (karud, karu) is the object. In such situations, the sayer cannot interchange the subject and the object for emphasis (at least unless it is obvious from the context which noun is the subject).


  • Moseley, C. (1994). Colloquial Estonian: A Complete Language Course. London: Routledge.
  • Tuldava, J. (1994). Estonian Textbook: Grammar, Exercises, Conversation. Bloomington: Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies, Indiana University.
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