Four Spanish Verbs Equal One in Finnish

The Spanish verbs tener, haber, ser, and estar all have one common equivalent in Finnish: olla. This adds some unique challenges to translation between Spanish and Finnish. Each verb has its own, very specific function, and an incorrect translation will inevitably lead to misunderstandings.


The verb tener refers to ownership, or to having something that can not be owned (such as siblings). In this situation, Finnish uses the verb olla, which can also refer to ownership, but it only refers strictly to ownership in economic terms. There is also another verb in Finnish, omistaa (to own).

English: I have a large nose.

Spanish: Tengo la nariz grande.

Finnish: Minulla on iso nenä.

A person cannot own her/his nose in economic terms, so the only option in Finnish is to use the verb olla.

English: I have (own) two summer cottages.

Spanish: Tengo dos casas de campo.

Finnish: Minulla on kaksi kesämökkiä.

In this case, the question is about ownership. A Finnish speaker would naturally use the verb olla and there is no confusion as to whether the question is about ownership or not. Using omistaa would actually give the appearance that the speaker wants to emphasize her/his possessions.


Haber is a verb that is used for constructing existential clauses. Finnish does not have a specific verb for existential sentences, and forms existential clauses without any particular marker, just using forms of the normal copula verb (olla).

English: There is too much trash in this city.

Spanish: Hay demasiada basura en esta ciudad.

Finnish: Tässä kaupungissa on liikaa roskia.

The Finnish sentence above is a typical example of an existential clause; the verb precedes the subject, and the verb is in the singular form, although the subject is in the plural and the subject is in the partitive.

Another interesting feature of Finnish is that these types of sentences require an adverbial of place, which is not compulsory in Spanish.

English: There are some questions.

Spanish: Hay algunas preguntas.

Finnish: Tässä asiassa on muutama kysymys. (Literally: In this matter there are some questions.)

In brief, it is the impersonal structure in Spanish that confuses Finnish speakers.

Ser and Estar

Ser and estar are clearly the trickiest of the four. Here are the most common difficulties when translating:

In simplified terms, ser refers to characteristics and estar to location, to being somewhere or in some situation, and to a state or a condition (of mind, for example). A Finnish speaker takes care of corresponding expressions simply by using the verb olla, meaning that she/he does not have to choose a different verb for different contexts. Typically, the most confusing case is the separation between a stable or a variable state or condition.

English: My brother isvery thin.

Spanish: Mi hermano es muy delgado.

Finnish: Veljeni on hyvin laiha.

Spanish uses ser, although being thin can be a variable condition. That is why a Finnish speaker sometimes finds the choice of verb illogical and incorrectly uses estar.

English: Your girlfriend looks very good tonight.

Spanish: Tu novia está muy guapa hoy.

FIN: Tyttöystäväsi on todella kaunis tänään.

Another confusing case with the Spanish verb estar is when it refers strictly to how the woman has gotten ready for the night.

English: Breakfast is on the ground floor of the hotel.

Spanish: El desayno es en la planta baja del hotel.

Finnish: Aamiainen on hotellin alakerrassa.

As estar is normally perceived as a verb for location, a Finnish speaker might be confused because she/he considers the breakfast room a physical place with a stable location. Spanish, however, uses ser when the sentence expresses a time or a place for a certain event.