Estonian language

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Estonian (eesti keel)

Spoken in

EstoniaEstonia Estonia
speaker 1,100,000

Ural languages

Finno-Ugric languages
Finno-Permian languages
Volga Finnish languages
Finno-Sami languages
Baltic Finnish languages
  • Estonian
Official status
Official language in EstoniaEstonia Estonia European Union
European UnionEuropean Union 
Language codes
ISO 639 -1


ISO 639 -2


ISO 639-3

est (macro language) , ekk (standard Estonian )

Estonian (own name: eesti keel ) is a flexing - agglutinating language and belongs to the Baltic Sea Finnish branch of the group of Finno-Ugric languages . Estonian is closely related to Finnish and Livic , which died out in 2013 . There is a distant relationship to Hungarian . Estonian is the only official language of the Republic of Estonia and is spoken by 950,000 people there. Due to the historical events of the 20th century, there are also Estonian communities abroad with around 150,000 speakers. The total number of speakers of Estonian as their mother tongue is around 1,100,000. The language code is etor est(according to ISO 639 ).


The Estonian alphabet uses the following letters:

a , b , c , d , e , f , g , h , i , j , k , l , m , n , o , p , q , r , s , š , z , ž , t , u , v , w , õ , ä , ö , ü , x , y

The letters c, f, š, z, ž, q, w, x and y only appear rarely, either in foreign words or in foreign names. (All common characters in bold) The vowels a, e, i, o, u, ü, ä, ö and õ can all appear in the first syllable of a word, but in the last only the vowels a, e, i, u, and in some foreign words o (metroo) , possible. Only foreign words begin with the consonants g, b or d .



Estonian has 9 monophthongs , which can occur in three quantity levels (short vs. long vs. extra long). The quantity is a distinctive , meaning differentiating feature. Furthermore, the rounded lips (rounded vs. unrounded) and tongue position (front vs. back) are distinctive features of Estonian vowels. It should be noted here that the typical German influence of quantity on quality does not apply. While in German a long E-sound [eː] in its short articulation would become a [ɛ], in Estonian the quality, i.e. the tension, is retained so that [e] has to be articulated.

Estonian monophthongs (in IPA phonetic transcription )
  front back
unrounded rounded unrounded rounded
excessively long long short excessively long long short excessively long long short excessively long long short
closed i y   u
medium e O O O ɤː ɤˑ ɤ O O O
open æː æˑ æ   ɑː ɑˑ ɑ  

The Schwa sound, here [ɤ], graphematically represented by the character <õ>, is the same sound as the Bulgarian < ъ >; In Russian there is just a similar sound with < ы > , which, however, in contrast to the sound [ɤ], is not a back vowel but a central vowel .

Depending on how you count, Estonian has between 19 and 36 diphthongs . The differences arise from the question of whether the sound connections are connected or fused individual sounds.

/ ae /; / ai /; / au /; / ea /; /egg/; / eu /; / iu /; / oe /; / oi /; / ou /; / ui /; / õe /; / õi /; / õu /; / äe /; / äi /; / äu /; / öi /; / üi / (= represented graphematically by <üü>)

These diphthongs are supplemented by the following diphthongs, which are to be regarded as looser sound connections:

/ ie /; / öe /; / ao /; / eo /; / io /; / õo /; / äo /; / oa /; / õa /; / öa /

However, it is difficult to filter standard-language diphthongs from those that only appear in dialectal variants of Estonian. A consistent consideration of the latter group would lead to the need to expand the second list of diphthongs.

  1. ↑ Strictly speaking, this is just one of several pronunciation variants; this character can also be pronounced in Bulgarian as [ə] or [ɐ].


Estonian has 17 consonant phonemes , which can appear in three quantities (short vs. long vs. extra long) equal to the vowels. Even with the consonants, the quantity is considered distinctive and is supplemented by the characteristics of the articulating organ and articulation point as well as the type of articulation .

Estonian consonants
  bilabial labio-
alveolar alveolar
palatal velar uvular
Plosives p   t     k  
Nasals m   n   ( ŋ )    
Vibrants     r          
Fricatives   f v s ʃ     H
Approximants           j    
Lateral     l        

However, the sounds ʒ and ʃ only occur in foreign words.

Anomalies also arise with regard to the plosives , which in Estonian are not aspirated, i.e. breathed on. These are still valid in Estonian as variants of the phonemes / p, t, k /. In addition, the grapheme <s> is generally articulated voiceless.


In Estonian, the word accent is always on the first syllable. An exception here is aitäh! (German: thank you! ). Another characteristic of loan and foreign words is that the accentuation of the source language was mostly retained. In Estonian words, there can also be a secondary accent on the third or another odd syllable, which is especially clear in the case of the numerous compound words.


Estonian has no grammatical genders . In the third person singular, the pronoun tema (short form: ta ) is used for people of both sexes . This means that no distinction is made between masculine and feminine. This also applies to job titles; so the Estonian word õpetaja can mean both 'teacher' and 'teacher'.


Regarding the grammatical category of the case , there are 14 cases in Estonian. The Estonian language is an accusative language, but the accusative can no longer be recognized as such. As in Finnish, the historical accusative coincided with the genitive in the course of language development . In fact, the Estonian cases, however many there are, play no role whatsoever in the designation of agents and patients ; the same is only achieved through the word order and the verb form.

Transitive verbs used in transitive form naturally cause the smallest problems, the order here is: Agens Verb Patiens. Transitive verbs used intransitively are understood in the basic form elliptical, i.e. referring to an oblique patient. In order to make the involved noun itself a patient, to put it in the absolute , so to speak , the verb stem is extended by "-u". This is clear from the following example: muutma (change): ta muudab (he / she / it changes (something)), ta muutub (he / she / it changes (changes)).

Originally intransitive verbs are understood as "absolutive", so the noun preceding the verb is the patient. These can, however, be "transitized", meaning that something is caused to perform a certain action and then used again elliptically. This “transitivization” happens through an extension of the verb stem by “-ta”, whereby the causative is formed in Estonian : langema ((in war) to fall): ta langeb (he / she / it falls (in war)), ta langetab (he / she / it falls or lowers (anything, but probably a tree or the head)).

Finally, Estonian also has the possibility of forming (self) reflexive constructions with the help of -ise : Ma küsin endalt. (I wonder.)

With this quasi-reflective construction, however, the suspicion that it is a matter of Germanism , because the previously described language concept for the designation of agents and patients obviously does without reflexive constructions and passive forms and in this sense can be described as “ ergative ” .

case typical ending (sg./pl.) Example (Sg./Pl.) translation
Nominative - / - d maja / majad; sõber / sõbrad (the House the houses; (the) friend (s)
Genitive Stem vowel / -de; -th maja / majade; sõbra / sõprade, rahva / rahvaste of the house (s); of friend (s); of the people (s)
Partitive -d; -t; Stem vowel / sid; -id; -oath; Plural stem vowel maja / majasid (also maju); sõpra / sõpru (also sõprasid) contextual
Illative -sse; (Plural) stem vowel; compensatory elongation for certain word types (Nom. maja - Ill. majja; Nom. jõgi - Ill. jõkke) majja (also majasse) / majadesse; sõbrasse (also sõpra) / sõpradesse into the house / into the houses; unusual (transferred to friends (e.g. believe))
Inessive -s majas / majades; sõbras / sõprades in the house (s); in the friend
Elative -st majast / majadest; sõbrast / sõpradest from the house / from the houses; unusual
Allative -le majale / majadele; sõbrale / sõpradele on the house / on the houses; unusual
Adessive -l majal / majadel; sõbral / sõpradel on the house / on the houses; on the friend (s)
ablative -lt majalt / majadelt; sõbralt / sõpradelt from the house (s); from the friend (s)
Translative -ks majaks / majadeks; sõbraks / sõpradeks to the house / to the houses; to become a friend
Terminative -ni majani / majadeni; sõbrani / sõpradeni to the house / to the houses; up to the friend (s)
Essive -n / A majana / majadena; sõbrana / sõpradena as a house / as houses; as a friend / as friends
Abessive -ta majata / majadeta; sõbrata / sõpradeta no house / no houses; no friend / no friends
Comitative -ga majaga / majadega; sõbraga / sõpradega with the house / with the houses; with the friend / with the friends

Notes: The first three cases (nominative , genitive , partitive) are grammatical , all others are semantic cases.

Location information

One usually reads that the inessive, in contrast to the adessive, is used when something is not on one side of something, but inside it. The inessive, however, is very similar to the use of the preposition “in” in German, and the previous in contrast to the preposition “an” is by no means true of that either. Example: "Ah, Günther is back in the country." - which does not mean that Günther was stuck in the ground. In particular, the snow falls in Estonian into and not on land. The rule here, as far as one can speak of it, is that things which only have an interior in a figurative sense are used with the adessive, e.g. B. be at work, and things that are thought to be n-dimensionally extended, have the inessive for their n -dimensional interior and the adessive for their ( n −1) -dimensional edge, where n is from {1,2 , 3}.

However, the Estonian follows this rule more extensively than the German, e.g. B. to pull the glove in the hand, the shirt in the back and the cap in the head.


Verbs in Estonian are subject to the grammatical categories mode , tense , gender verbi , person and number .


The following table shows the conjugation of Estonian verbs using the example of kirjutama (to write) in the present, indicative:

person Ending Example word translation
1. Sg. -n (ma) kirjutan I write
2nd Sg. -d (sa) kirjutad you write
3rd Sg. -b ta kirjutab he / she writes
1st pl. -me (me) kirjutame we write
2nd pl. -th (te) kirjutate you write
3rd pl. -vad nad kirjutavad they write


The suffix that marks the simple past is inserted between the stem of the ma infinitive and the personal ending. As a rule, the suffix is ​​“-si”, but there are the exceptions “-s” and “-is” *, which are used in the third person singular, as this person does not have the personal ending in the past tense. In the simple past tense, the personal ending of the 3rd person plural corresponds to that of the 2nd person singular, ie "-d".

person suffix verb translation
1. Sg. -si ma ootasin I waited
2nd Sg. -si sa ootasid you waited
3rd Sg. -s / -is ta ootas he / she waited
1st pl. -si me ootasime we waited
2nd pl. -si te ootasite you waited
3rd pl. -si nad ootasid they waited

(Hasselblatt, 1992, p.171)

* "Andma" (to give): 3rd Sg: ta andis ("he / she gave")

It is also possible to form the past tense with the suffix "-i". This form occurs mainly in verbs with a monosyllabic stem and a long vowel at the end, but not exclusively.

person suffix verb translation
1. Sg. -i ma sain I got
2nd Sg. -i sa said you got
3rd Sg. -i ta sai he / she got
1st pl. -i me saime we got
2nd pl. -i te string you got
3rd pl. -i nad said you got

(Hasselblatt, 1992, p.172)


In Estonian, the perfect tense is made up of 2 components: the inflected present form of the auxiliary verb “olema” and the “-nud” participle of the verb concerned.

person auxiliary verb verb translation
1. Sg. ma olen oodanud I have waited
2nd Sg. sa oled oodanud you waited
3rd Sg. ta on oodanud he / she has been waiting
1st pl. me oleme oodanud we have waited
2nd pl. te olete oodanud you have waited
3rd pl. nad on oodanud they waited

(Hasselblatt, 1992, p.147)

Past continuous:

The past perfect tense is formed in Estonian from the inflected form of the auxiliary verb “olema” in the past tense and the “-nud” participle of the verb concerned.

person auxiliary verb verb translation
1. Sg. ma olin lugenud I had read
2nd Sg. sa olid lugenud you had read
3rd Sg. ta oli lugenud he / she had read
1st pl. me olime lugenud we had read
2nd pl. te olite lugenud you had read
3rd pl. nad olid lugenud they had read

(Hasselblatt, 1992, p.161)

Future tense:

There is no suffix in Estonian that marks the future tense in verbs. In order to describe an action that will take place in the future, the inflected verb is used in the present tense together with a temporal adverb or a noun in the adessive.

1) Ta lahme-b esmaspäeval.

      3SG go-3SG Monday-ADE

      He goes on Monday (Hasselblatt, 1992, p.48)

"He will go on Monday."                                                   

The noun "Monday" is in the adessive, which in this example is used to determine the temporal and thus expresses the futuristic fact.

In a table, one could summarize the formation of the future tense as follows:

person verb Temporal adverb / noun in the adessive translation
1. Sg. ma tul homme I will come tomorrow
2nd Sg. sa tuled järgmisel nädalal you will come next week
3rd Sg. ta läheb pärast he / she will go afterwards
1st pl. me loeme ülehomme we will read the day after tomorrow
2nd pl. te loete teisipäeval you will read on Tuesday
3rd pl. nad lahmevad järgmisel kuul they will go next month

Alternatively, there is also the construction with “saama” (to get, to be) and the ma infinitive of the respective verb.

2) Elu saab seal raske olema.

life get: 3SG there difficult.NOM be: MINF (Erelt, 2009, p.12)

'Life will be difficult there.'

"Life there will be difficult."

3) See saa-b nii olema.

These will be -3SG. MINF (Hasselblatt, 1992, p.48)

"That will be the case."


There are four modes of the verb in Estonian:

1) Indicative (reality form / basic mode)

2) imperative (command form)

3) Conditional (conditional form)

4) Modus obliquus (dependency form)


Since the indicative represents the basic mode of the verbs, the inflected forms can be found in the respective tempo tables.


The command form occurs mainly in the present tense, but can also occur in the perfect tense (there, however, almost exclusively in the 3rd person). The suffix for the imperative is "-g - / - k-", which is inserted between the stem of the "-da" infinitive and a personal ending. The personal endings are "-em" for the 1st person plural, "-e" for the 2nd person plural and "-u" for the 3rd person. The 1st person singular is not in the imperative. The 2nd person singular is formed from the 1st person indicative present tense, in which the personal ending “-n” is omitted (e.g. kirjutama à kirjutan à kirjuta! ('To write' → 'I write' → 'write! ')). If the da-infinitive of the respective verb ends in “-da”, the suffix “-g-” is added, with the ending “-ta” the suffix “-k-”.

person suffix Personal extension verb translation
1. Sg. - - - -
2nd Sg. - - oota! wait!
3rd Sg. -g - / - k- -u kirjutagu! write her / he!
1st pl. -g - / - k- -em oodakem! let's wait!
2nd pl. -g - / - k- -e Näidake! shows, show!
3rd pl. -g - / - k- -u mõtelgu! do you think (yes)!

let them think!

(Hasselblatt, 1992, p.67)          

It should be noted that in some verbs in the “-da” infinitive the “-d” or “-t” belongs to the stem, for example “saata” (to send) or “püüda” (to try). In these and similar verbs, the “a” at the end is omitted and the suffix is ​​added (“saatke” (“send!”), “Püüdke” (“tried!”)).

In the perfect tense, the imperative for the 3rd person is formed by combining the command form of the auxiliary verb with the “nud” participle.

auxiliary verb Personal pronouns verb translation
Olgu ta lugenud May you have read!
Olgu ta kirjutanud Should he (nevertheless) have written!

(Hasselblatt, 1992, p.69)


The conditional form can occur in both the present and the perfect tense. The conditional is formed without an auxiliary verb. First the 1st person singular present indicative of the respective verb is formed and then the personal ending “-n” is replaced by the conditional suffix “-ks (-)”. The personal endings are then added to the suffix.

person suffix Personal extension verb translation
1. Sg. -ks (-) n ma loeksin I read
2nd Sg. -ks (-) d sa loeksid you read
3rd Sg. -ks - ta loeks he / she read
1st pl. -ks (-) me me loeksime we read
2nd pl. -ks (-) te te loeksite you read
3rd pl. -ks (-) d nad loeksid they read

(Hasselblatt, 1992, p.100)

An alternative translation in German would be the construction with "would": "I would read."

Estonian also has a short form of the conditional, in which the personal ending is omitted (as with the 3rd person singular, see table) and therefore requires the personal pronoun to differentiate.

In the perfect tense, this mode is made up of the conditional of “olema” (to be) and the “-nud” participle of the verb concerned.

person Personal pronouns auxiliary verb verb translation
1. Sg. mina oleksin söönud I would have eaten
2nd Sg. sina oleksid söönud you would have eaten
3rd Sg. tena oleks söönud he / she would have eaten
1st pl. meie oleksime söönud we would have eaten
2nd pl. teie oleksite söönud you would have eaten
3rd pl. nemad oleksid söönud they would have eaten

(Hasselblatt, 1992, p.101)

Modus obliquus:

The form of dependency is usually used when one is not clearly certain about an action or state. It is mainly used in written language and indirect speech. The modus obliquus occurs in the present and perfect tense. The otherwise more or less optional personal pronouns must be mentioned in the dependency form, as the personal endings are omitted in this mode.

person suffix verb translation
1. Sg. -vat ma magavat I sleep (supposedly)
2nd Sg. -vat sa magavat you sleep (supposedly)
3rd Sg. -vat ta magavat he / she sleeps (supposedly)
1st pl. -vat me magavat we sleep (supposedly)
2nd pl. -vat te magavat you sleep (supposedly)
3rd pl. -vat nad magavat they sleep (supposedly)

Translations into German are also possible, such as:

"I should sleep." Or "They say I sleep / that I sleep."

In the perfect tense, the modus obliquus is formed with the “-nud” participle of the respective verb and the present form of the modus obliquus of the auxiliary verb “olema” that precedes the main verb.

person Personal pronouns auxiliary verb verb translation
1. Sg. ma olevate lugenud I supposedly read
2nd Sg. sa olevate lugenud you supposedly read
3rd Sg. ta olevate lugenud he / she supposedly read
1st pl. me olevate lugenud we supposedly read
2nd pl. te olevate lugenud you supposedly read
3rd pl. nad olevate lugenud they supposedly read

(Hasselblatt, 1992, p.115)


In Estonian, subject and predicate usually match in person and number. In the case of subjects consisting of several members, one of which is a personal pronoun, the predicate is the same with regard to the person.

1) Epp ja mina läks-i-me koju.

   Epp and 1SG go-PAST-1PL to.Hause.ADV (Hasselblatt, 1992, p.103)

"Epp and I went home."                                                 

2) sina ja Tõnu leh-te era.

    2SG and Tõnu go away-2PL (Hasselblatt, 1992, p.103)

"You and Tõnu are going away."                                                                

With two acting persons who are not grouped together in a multiple subject, number congruence takes place. Either singular or plural can be used. Examples:

3a) mina läks-in ema-ga koju.

  1Sg go-PAST-1Sg mother-COM nach.Hause.ADV (Hasselblatt, 1992, p.103)

"I went home with mother."                                                               

3b) meie läks-i-me emaga koju.

      1PL go-PAST-1PL mother-COM nach.Hause.ADV (Hasselblatt, 1992, p.103)

"We went home with mother."                                                         

The sentence is translated in the same way as 3a). It is more like: "We, mother and I, went home."

4a) sina tul-id isa-ga koos.

    2SG come-PAST-2SG father-COM together. ADV (Hasselblatt, 1992, p.103)

"You came with father."                                                               

4b) te tul-i-te isa-ga koos.

    2PL come-PAST-2PL father-COM together. ADV (Hasselblatt, 1992, p.103)

"You came with father."                                                                 

As in 3b), the meaning of the sentence corresponds to the construction: "You, you and father came together."

In existential clauses in which the subject is in the partial plural, there is no number congruence between subject and predicate.

5) siin-gi lei-dus inimes-i

  here-find MP-PAST-REFL-3SG human-PL.PART. (Hasselblatt, 1992, p.43, 103)

"People were also found here"                                                              

6) Aias oli / kasvas lilli.

garden: IN be: PAST.3SG / grow: PAST.3SG flower.PL.PART (Erelt, 2009, p.7)

lit. 'There were / were growing some flowers in the garden.'                  

Aspect In Estonian there is no specific morphological identifier for this category. Instead, aspect is expressed through the choice of the object case or through the addition of particles to verbs.

6) näg-in sel-le era

   see-PAST-1SG this-GEN / ACC away (Hasselblatt, 1992, p.23)

i saw this way                                                                           

“I saw through that / it became clear to me” - perfection takes place, or resultatization


The negative in Estonian is similar to that in Finnish. However, both languages ​​have developed differently from common roots. While the negative in Finnish is formed using a negative verb, this is also present in Estonian, but cannot be conjugated, so that the relevant literature often speaks of a negative particle, which can be regarded as an equivalent to the German “not”. With their help, the negation takes place as shown in the verb mängima (German: "play"):

Present tense: ei + present tense stem

  • mina ei mängi
  • sina ei mängi
  • tema ei mängi
  • meie ei mängi
  • teie ei mängi
  • nemad ei mängi

Simple past: ei + nud- participle

  • mina ei mänginud
  • sina ei mänginud
  • theme ei mänginud
  • meie ei mänginud
  • teie egg mänginud
  • nemad ei mänginud

Perfect: ei + present stem of olla + nud- participle

  • mina ei ole mänginud
  • sina ei ole mänginud
  • theme egg ole mänginud
  • meie egg ole mänginud
  • teie egg ole mänginud
  • nemad ei ole mänginud

Past perfect: the auxiliary verb is also in the “-nud” participle.

person Personal pronouns Negation particle auxiliary verb verb translation
1. Sg. ma egg olnud Näinud I hadn't seen
2nd Sg. sa egg olnud vaadanud you hadn't looked
3rd Sg. ta egg olnud teinud he / she hadn't done
1st pl. me egg olnud nutnud we didn't cry
2nd pl. te egg olnud lugenud you had not read
3rd pl. nad egg olnud oodanud they hadn't waited

When the imperative is negated (the command becomes a prohibition), a special negative verb is used. The endings in this negative verb are the same as in the present imperative, again there is no form of the first person singular. Like the negation particle “ei”, the negative verb precedes the respective main verb (imperative form + personal ending). However, there can be other constituents between the two verbs.

person suffix Personnel ending Negation verb verb translation
1. Sg. - - - - -
2nd Sg. - - era loe! do not read!
3rd Sg. -G- -u annoyance lugegu! don't read them!
1st pl. -G- -em annoying lugegum! let's not read!
2nd pl. -G- -e annoyance lie! read, do not read!
3rd pl. -G- -u annoyance lugegu! do not like to read!

(Hasselblatt, 1992, p.69)

The structure ei ole is also used in the present tense to negate statements or their parts:

  • Must ei ole valge. (German: "Black is not white.", literally: "Black is not white.")
  • Allan egg ole kodus. (German: "Allan is not at home.", literally: "Allan is not at home.")

In Estonian, egg ole is also often used in its short form pole :

  • Allan pole mode.

A second equivalent to the German “nicht” is the Estonian word middle . While on the one hand, as in the first of the following example sentences, it can take on the character of a conjunction in order to express a comparison, a common form of use is also in imperative clauses without predicate:

  • Allan on tööl, middle kodus (German: "Allan is at work, not at home.")
  • Middle nii kõvasti! (German: "Not so hard!")

Word order

Basic word order on sentence and phrase level

There are two different basic word positions in Estonian main clauses, both of which occur equally frequently. A distinction is made between the normal and the inverse sentence.

The basic word order in the normal sentence is SVX (subject - verb - non-subject).

           (1) Jaan söö-p suppi.

                Jaan eats 3SG soup.PART

               'Jaan eats soup.' (Erelt, 2009, p. 6)

In the inverse sentence, however, the basic word order is XVS (non-subject-verb - subject). Such a sentence is usually introduced with an adverb or, in exceptional cases, with an object. Existential sentences are introduced by an adverbial of time or place. These adverbials serve a descriptive or presentational purpose.

           (2) Aia-s ol-id kasva-s-id lilled.

               Garden-IN BE-PAST-3PL grow-PAST-3PL flower.PL.NOM

               'Flowers grew in the garden.' (Erelt, 2009, p. 7)

           (3) Klaasi-s ol-i / lok-s-us vesi.

                 Glass-IN his-PAST.3SG / flowing-PAST-3SG water

                'Some water flowed into the glass.' (Erelt, 2009, p. 7)

Most modifiers, such as adjectives, are usually placed in front of nouns that describe them. Modifiers following the noun mostly take on the grammatical function of an adverbial.

           (4) huvitav raamat

                interesting book

               'an / the interesting book' (Norris, 2018, p. 23)

           (5) sõit linna

                Drive to the city: ADV

                'the trip to the city' (Erelt, 2009, p. 18)                                                         

Genitives also precede the noun in Estonian. Adjectives also appear in the sentence after genitives.

           (6) Peet-ri vana maja

                 Peeter-GEN old house

                 'Peeters old house' (Norris, 2018, p. 4)

Estonian has no definite or indefinite articles. Hence, definiteness is expressed by the demonstrative pronoun see and indefiniteness by the pronoun üks .

           (7) See elu on vaid vaev ja viletsus.

                be life.3SG only difficulty and suffering

                'Life is only made up of difficulties and suffering.' (Erelt, 2009, p. 18)

           (8) Siia pidi üks maja tulema.

                here.ILL must come.PAST.3SG a house: mINF

                'It is said that a house will be built here.' (Erelt, 2009, p. 18)

Both prepositions and postpositions are possible and used in Estonian. Some P positions can even be used as both a preposition and a post position.

           (9) a. vastu lauda

                     against table

                 b. lauda vastu

                    Table against

                   'against the table' (Erelt, 2009, p. 20)

In non-negated declarative clauses, the verb is always placed second. This suggests that the main Estonian clauses follow the verb second placement . However, the verb can be placed at the end of the sentence in negations that do not begin with the subject (10), in questions (11) and in some subordinate clauses (12).

           (10) Tana ajalehed ei ilmunud.

                  show up today newspaper.PL NEG: NEGV.PPTC

                 'No newspapers were published today. "(Erelt, 2009, p. 17)

           (11) Kuidas te hommikul nii ruttu siia jõud-si-te?

                  like 2SG tomorrow: AD here so quickly.ILL come: PAST-2PL

                 'How did you get here so quickly in the morning?' (Erelt, 2009, p. 15)

           (12) Ma tunne-n seda mees-t, kellega Jaan rää-k-is.

                1SG know-1SG this: PART man-PART REL: COM Jaan speak-PAST-3SG

                 'I know the man Jaan talked to.' (Erelt, 2009, p. 15)

Placing the verb at the beginning of a sentence expresses a certain meaning, such as a question (13), an imperative sentence (14) or an event that happened in the past (15).

           (13) On ema kodu-s?

                 his.3SG mother zu.Hause-IN

                 'Is mother home?' (Erelt, 2009, p. 15)

           (14) Käi sa vahepeal kodu-s era!

                 go.IMP.2SG 2SG meanwhile to.House-IN away

                 'Meanwhile go home!' (Erelt, 2009, p. 15)

           (15) Istu-n mina eile oma kabineti-s ja kirjuta-n aruanne-t.

                  sit-1SG 1SG yesterday own study-IN and write-1SG report-PART

                 'Yesterday I sat in my own study and wrote the report.' (Erelt, 2009, p. 16)


In Estonian, a negation is usually expressed using the negation particle ei (cf. (10)), which is placed in front of the verb.

In imperative or jussive sentences, however, a negation is expressed using the negation verb ara (16).

           (16) era homme tu-le!

                  IMPNEG come tomorrow-IMP-2SG

                'Don't come tomorrow!' (Erelt, 2009, p. 17)

If only one constituent is negated, i.e. only a certain part of a sentence, this is expressed by emphasis and sometimes also by the negation particle in the middle , which is placed directly in front of the constituent to be negated (17). This is also used when a negation occurs in an infinitive clause (18).

           (17) Mind ei häiri (middle) miski.

                   1SG: PART NEG disturb. NEGV (NEG) something

                   'Nothing can bother me.' (Erelt, 2009, p. 17)

           (18) Palu-n teid middle karjuda!

                   ask-1SG 2SG: shout PART NEG: dINF

                  'I ask you not to scream.' (Erelt, 2009, p. 17)

Formation of questions

When forming questions, a distinction must be made between questions of decision and questions of content . A decision question is characterized by the fact that it can be answered with yes or no. Such a question is formed in Estonian by placing a so-called question particle kas in front .

           (19) Kas sa tule-d tana koju?

                   QP 2SG come to 2SG today. Home.ILL

                   'Are you coming home today?' (Erelt, 2009, p. 16)

The question particle ega is used for negated questions (20) . If the verb comes first (21) or there is a rising intonation (22), no question particle is used. The particle või is also used in spoken language (23).

           (20) Ega sa (ei) tule täna koju?

                   NEGQ 2SG (NEG) come.NEGV to.Hause.ILL

                   'Aren't you coming home today?' (Erelt, 2009, p. 16)

           (21) On sul tana aega?

                   3SG 2SG: AD today time.PART                                                    

                  'Do you have time today?' (Erelt, 2009, p. 16)

           (22) Sa armasta-d mind?

                   2SG love-2SG 1SG: PART

                   'Do you love me?' (Erelt, 2009, p. 16)

           (23) Ta lä-ks era või?

                   3SG go away-PAST-3SG or

                   'She / he went away, right?' (Erelt, 2009, p. 16)

Content questions are characterized by the fact that they cannot be answered with yes or no, but rather that their answer requires a whole statement. Content questions are formed in Estonian with prefixed question pronouns and proadverbs.

           (24) Kes sa ole-d?

                   who be 2SG-2SG

                  'Who are you?' (Erelt, 2009, p. 16)

           (25) Kuhu te lä-te?

                  where to go 2PL-2PL

                  'Where are you going?' (Erelt, 2009, p. 16)                 

Word order in the subordinate clause

In Estonian, the verb usually appears in the final position in subordinate clauses. However, there are also examples in which the verb is placed in the second position of the sentence.  

           (26)… kui lapse-d lõpuks supi ara söö-vad

                  ... when child-PL finally eat soup.GEN away-3PL

                  '... when the children will finally eat the soup. "(Ehala, 2006, p. 64)

           (27) ... et lapse-d söö-vad täna suppi.

                 ... that child PL eat 3PL today soup.PART

                '... that the children will eat soup today.' (Ehala, 2006, p. 64)

Word order variability

According to Viitso (1998), the different word orders in Estonian are based on the terms topik (what is already known, the topic) and focus (what is new, the rhema), which are known from the information structure. The topicalized element is placed at the beginning of the sentence, i.e. the element which expresses the subject of the sentence. The focused element can either be in the final position of the sentence, or it gets the main emphasis of the sentence.

This process of word rearrangement through focusing and topicalization can be clearly observed in the examples (28 ac). The normal word order SVX is present in (28a). In (28b) the word order is changed by topicalizing tulust and thus moving it to the beginning of the sentence. In (28c), in turn, kulud is topicalized and is therefore now in the sentence-initial position, while the focus tulust is placed at the end of the sentence. Nevertheless, all sentence elements retain their grammatical function as in the basic word order.

           (28) a. Ma lahuta-n tulu-st kulu-d.

                       I delete-1SG income-ELA edition-PL

                      'I delete expenses from income.' (Viitso, 1998, p. 143)

                   b. Tulu-st ma lahuta-n kulu-d

                        Income-ELA I delete-1SG Edition-PL

                       'I delete expenses from income.' (Viitso, 1998, p. 144)

                   c. Kulu-d ma lahuta-n tulu-st.

                       expense-PL i delete-1SG income-ELA                      

                       'I delete expenses from income.' (Viitso, 1998, p. 144)


Much more than other Finno-Ugric languages, Estonian has borrowed words from High German and Low German through the influence of the Teutonic Order in the Baltic States , for example riik - state (cf. Finnish valtakunta ), müts - hat (cf. Finnish lakki ; but myssy <swed. mössa ~ dt. hat ), käärid - scissors (cf. Finnish sakset ), vürts - spice (cf. Finnish mauste ). Other borrowings from German are reisibüroo and reklaamibüroo . The number of loan words from German is estimated at 2000. In addition to direct borrowings, there are a number of German loan translations, especially for particle verbs . There are also around 350 words borrowed from Russian, such as pirukad (cf. Russian пирожки ).

Similar to some Romance languages ( Spanish , Portuguese ), a "st" at the beginning of the word is atypical for Estonian; when borrowed, the words concerned are (or have been) adapted to Estonian phonotactics (e.g. tool ( ndd. Stohl), tikk ( eng. stick), tudeng (student), torm (ndd. Storm)). However, this phenomenon decreases with the addition of a newer foreign language vocabulary: (e.g. staadion , staap , etc.).

In foreign and loan words, the sounds "b", "d" and "g" of the source language at the beginning of the word became "p", "t" and "k": pruukima (ndd. Bruken), püksid (ndd. Büx ), piljard (billiards), kips (plaster).

Besides these changes at the beginning of the word, the “f” was previously converted into an “hv” (spoken: chw), e.g. B. "krahv" (Graf) and "kohv" ( ndd. Koffe ). The HV combination is currently often pronounced [f].


Despite the small area of ​​Estonia of 45,227 km² (about the area of ​​Lower Saxony), the Estonian language has eight dialects (estn. Murded ), which unite a total of around 117 dialects (estn. Murrak , commonly used in Estonian as a name for a subgroup of a dialect). The Estonian peasants were isolated in their parishes by serfdom and the fron system . It was impossible for them to move freely in the country. The language consequently developed regionally in isolation and with the most varied of tendencies. The greatest competition, however, always existed between the North Estonian dialect group, which prevailed in the development of today's standard language, and the group of South Estonian dialects . While the former was important as a political center through Tallinn , the latter also gained importance in written language through Tartu as the country's first university city. The strong development of these dialect groups can be explained by the former division of present-day Estonia into northern and southern Estonia , with the latter territorially belonging to the former Livonia .

The eight main dialects are divided into two dialect groups (North and South Estonian) , whereby the dialect of the northeast coast and the dialect of the islands in the west of the country cannot be assigned to these groups:

North Estonian

  • Western dialect (Estonian läänemurre )
  • Central dialect (Estonian keskmurre )
  • Eastern dialect (Estonian idamurre )

South Estonian (south of Tartu and Põltsamaa )

Coastal Estonian (east of Tallinn along the coast to the border town of Narva )

  • Northeast Coast dialect (Estonian rannikumurre )

Island Estonian

  • Island dialect (Estonian saarte murre )

Language Policy in the 20th and 21st Centuries

The language policy of Estonia in the 20th and 21st centuries was shaped by the history in which the country was occupied by Danes, Swedes, Germans and Russians. Above all, Estonia's period from 1721 to 1918 as part of the Baltic Sea Province of the Russian Empire left its mark. During this time, there was a pronounced Russification , which was supposed to suppress national consciousness and striving for cultural autonomy.

When the country gained independence in 1918, there was a significant change in language policy. After the War of Independence, which lasted until 1920, was ended by the Peace of Tartu , initially every resident obtained citizenship of the Republic of Estonia. During this time, newly passed laws allowed ethnic minorities to preserve and live out their culture.

Another change in the situation went hand in hand with the Second World War . After this ended and Estonia was incorporated into the Soviet Union, the language policy was to be determined again by the Soviet occupation. This was followed by the introduction of an almost independent Russian school system, which was independent of Estonian, and a renewed policy of Russification. The latter involved the deportation of tens of thousands of Estonians and the settlement of ethnic Russians. The proportion of Estonians in the total population fell from 88% before the start of the war to 61.5% in 1989, while the proportion of citizens with East Slavic mother tongues rose from 8.2% to 35.2% in the same period.

After regaining independence, new legislation followed in 1991, which was revised several times - also against the background of joining the European Union and in response to the Russification of the past decades. Citizenship could no longer be obtained automatically. Rather, members of the Russian-speaking minority in particular had the option of either returning to Russia, applying for Estonian citizenship or staying in the country as a stateless person with a currently issued unlimited residence permit. The acquisition of citizenship requires language skills at level B1 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages and the successful passing of a test on the constitution of the country. Above all, the requirement of language proficiency is described as discriminatory by members of the minority who are trying to use Russian as the second official language, and by Amnesty International .

With the program “Integration in Estonian Society 2000–2007” (Estonian: Riiklik program. Integratsioon Eesti ühiskonnas 2000–2007. ), Goals such as “linguistic-communicative”, “legal-political” and “socio-economic integration” were aimed for and pursued . The language barrier to integration should be removed. In the meantime, Estonian must be taught at all schools in the country, so that level B2 is reached by the end of the intermediate level. There is also the possibility for adults to take free language courses and have their language skills certified free of charge.

Ethnic minorities continue to enjoy extensive rights and Russian-speaking schools where Estonian is taught as the first foreign language are subsidized by the state.

The government's efforts to naturalize as many of the 130,000 stateless persons as possible in 2007 and to spread knowledge of the Estonian language are only slowly producing results. However, it should be noted that in 1989 around 67% of the population spoke Estonian, but in 2008 it was 82%.


  • Mati Erelt (ed.): Estonian language . Estonian Academy Publishers, Tallinn 2003; 2nd edition 2007.
  • Christopher Moseley : Colloquial Estonian . Routledge, 2008, ISBN 0-415-45054-3 .
  • Berthold Forssman: Estonian-German Dictionary. Eesti-saksa sõnaraamat . Hempen Verlag, Bremen 2005.
  • Cornelius Hasselblatt: Grammatical Dictionary of Estonian . 3rd, through Edition Otto Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2008 (1. 1992), ISBN 978-3-447-05856-8 .
  • Arvo Laanest: Introduction to the Baltic Finnish languages. German by Hans-Hermann Bartens. Buske-Verlag, Hamburg 1975, ISBN 3-87118-487-X .
  • Declining Estonian dictionary. Eesti keele pöördsõnaraamat (Sõnalõpuline leksikon). Reverse dictionary of the Estonian Language (= Bayreuth Contributions to Linguistics, 2). Edited by Robert Hinderling in collaboration with Ludwig Hitzenberger. With a bibliography of declining dictionaries by Anthony Rowley. Faculty of Language and Literature at the University, Bayreuth 1979, ISBN 3-922042-01-5 .
  • Urmas Sutrop: The Estonian Language. German by Carsten Wilms. Eesti Instituut , Tallinn 2005, ISBN 9985-9341-9-9 .

Web links

Commons : Estonian language  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. SAMPA for Estonian (English)
  2. SAMPA for Estonian (English)
  3. Mati Hint: Häälikutest sõnadeni. AS Pakett Trükikoda, Tallinn 1998, p. 69.
  4. a b c d Ehala, M. (May 2009). Linguistic strategies and markedness in Estonian morphology. STUF, Akademie Verlag , pp. 29-48.
  5. a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Cornelius Hasselblatt: Grammatical Dictionary of Estonian . In: Annemarie v.Gabain and Wolfgang Veenker (eds.): Societas Uralo-Altaica . tape 35 . Otto Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 1992, ISBN 3-447-03313-4 .
  6. a b c d e f g Erelt, M. (September 2009). Typological overview of Estonian syntax. STUF, Akademie Verlag , pp. 6-28.
  7. a b c d Martin Ehala: The Word Order of Estonian: Implications to Universal Language . In: Journal of Universal Language . March 2006, p. 49-89 .
  8. a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Mati Erelt: Typological Overview of Estonian Syntax . In: STUF . Akademie Verlag, 2009, p. 6-28 .
  9. a b c Tiit-Rein Viitso: Estonian . In: Abondolo . 1998, p. 115-148 .
  10. a b Mark Norris: Nominal structure in a language without articles: The case of Estonian . In: Journal of General Linguistics . 2018, p. 1-39 .
  12. a b European Commission: Euromosaic: Production and Reproduction of the Minority Language Communities in the European Union. Estonia. Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague 2004
  13. ^ Ralph Tuchtenhagen: History of the Baltic countries. CH Beck, Munich 2005.
  14. ^ Amnesty International: Annual Report 2007. Estonia. ( Memento of the original from September 3, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. Online November 15, 2009  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  15. Website of the Estonian Ministry of Education: Transition to Estonian-medium education. Legislation. Online: November 21, 2009
  16. Siegfried Thiel Berg: Exemplary Estonia. In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. 2007, No. 56, p. 1.
  17. Triin Vihalemm: Keeleoskus yes hoiakud. In: Integratsiooni moonitorin 2008. Online on: November 16, 2009