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  • Writer's pictureIan Mac Eochagáin

Adverbially quotable: reporting verbs in Finnish and English

Updated: Mar 8, 2023

Finnish uses a different repertoire of reporting verbs to English. In English non-fiction texts, such as journalism, the verbs tend to focus on the act of speech itself; in Finnish the verbs characterize how the speech was delivered. I specifically mean here the verbs that come after a direct quotation and accompany the speaker’s name or title. Finnish writers use “kertoa” (tell) and “sanoa” (say) a lot, but they also use many verbs with meanings you don’t normally see in English-language texts. Here are some common Finnish examples. My translations of the reporting verbs, in bold, are intended to be as literal as possible so you can see how the Finnish differs from the English.


– Yrittäjähenkisenä ihmisenä lähdin haastamaan itseäni. En niinkään hae julkisuutta, Almgren perustelee lähtöään Diiliin.

“As a person with entrepreneurial spirit, I did it to challenge myself. I’m not really doing it for the publicity,” Almgren justifies his taking part in The Apprentice.

– Todennäköisesti koronasta johtuvia häiriöitä tulee olemaan marraskuun jälkeenkin, työmarkkina-asioiden päällikkö Harri Hellstén korostaa.

“There are likely to be Covid-induced disruptions after November, too,” Labour Market Affairs Manager Harri Hellstén stresses.

”Vanhojen silakoiden määrä näyttää olevan kasvussa. Vanhimmat tutkimamme silakat ovat yli 20-vuotiaita”, arvioi Turun yliopiston tutkijatohtori Katja Mäkinen.

“The numbers of old Baltic herring appear to be rising. The oldest Baltic herring we’ve studied are over 20 years old,” University of Turku post-doctoral researcher Katja Mäkinen evaluates.


These three are among the most common Finnish reporting verbs that are not “kertoa” (tell) or “sanoa” (say). There is an endless number of less common ones, however. Here are four more that are not the most common, but by no means unusual. Again, you don’t normally see the equivalents in English non-fiction texts.


– Sopimuksettomassa tilassa noudatetaan vanhan työehtosopimuksen määräyksiä, mutta myös järjestölliset toimet ovat mahdollisia, JUKOn yliopistosektorin neuvottelupäällikkö Katja Aho muistuttaa.

“Without a valid collective agreement, the provisions of the old collective agreement are observed, but industrial action is also possible,” Katja Aho, University Sector Negotiation Manager at JUKO, reminds.

– Se kuitenkin kuulostaa mielipuoliselta, että tulisi joku sanktio. Osaan puhua vain omasta puolestani ja näen, että metsästä ei ole otettu liikaa. Toki jos oikeasti ihan liikaa otetaan, ei sekään mielestäni hyvä asia ole, pohtii Koppo.

“But it does sound crazy if there were to be some sanction. I can only speak for myself and see that logging hasn’t been excessive. Of course, if too much logging really does happen, that’s not a good thing either in my opinion,” Koppo ponders.

– Somessa lääkäri ei saa riittävästi tietoa potilaan terveydentilasta, eikä näitä asioita pystytä kirjaamaan mihinkään, Virolainen selittää.

“On social media a doctor doesn’t get enough information about a patient’s health, and they can’t record them anywhere either,” Virolainen explains.

– Lääkärinä antaisin sellaisen neuvon, että omia terveystietoja ei kannata jakaa edes yksityisviestinä, Virolainen varoittaa.

“As a doctor, I’d advise against sharing your own health information, even in a private message,” Virolainen warns.


The first one, “muistuttaa”, is ubiquitous in Finnish texts which report speech. It feels like it comes up in every other translation I do with direct quotations. It can’t be translated to English directly as “reminds”, however, because in English the verb “remind” requires a direct object: “she reminds us”. That’s aside from the problem of the meaning of the verb: it’s just not as neutral as “says”.

“Pohtia” is often translated as “ponder”, as I have done above, but it can also be translated as “think about” or “consider”. The Finnish is conveying the way the speaker is thinking out loud, but in English, again, “says” would have been enough.

“Explains” is much more acceptable in English than “reminds” and “ponders”, but “says” would still have sufficed. Similarly, “warns” or “cautions” are not entirely wrong in English, but they do carry a whiff of moralizing.


Finally, here are four wackier examples. Three are from long interview-based articles with prominent public figures, Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto and General Director of the public broadcaster, Yle, Merja Ylä-Anttila. Do journalists allow themselves the liberty of more colourful language in less ephemeral texts, or is it something about the status of the interviewees that makes them do it? Only Finish journalists can answer that.


– Vakiopenkkini. Tässä on tullut pohdittua paljon asioita. Kriisien keskellä epävarmuus ja monet kysymykset ovat pyörineet mielessä, Haavisto tokaisee.

“I always sit here. I’ve thought over a lot of things in this chair. In the midst of crises, I’ve had uncertainty and a lot of questions on my mind,” Haavisto says briefly.

– Viikonloppuisin kansanedustaja Juha Mäenpää (ps) lähettää minulle kuplavolkkareiden kuvia. Meillä on siis yhteinen kuplaharrastus, Haavisto nauraa.

“Juha Mäenpää MP sends me pictures of Volkswagen Beetles at the weekend. So we share a Beetle hobby,” Haavisto laughs.

”Nyt osaamme valmistautua seuraavaan kertaan”, Tiira naurahtaa.

“We’re better able to prepare for the next time now,” Tiira laughs.

”Jos muutostarpeita nähdään, niin niiden pitäisi käydä läpi tämä sama parlamentaarinen käsittely. Se on tärkeää, että kaikkien Yle-näkökulma tulee kuulluksi”, Ylä-Anttila paaluttaa.

“If needs for changes are found, then they ought to go through the same cross-party process. It’s important for everyone’s views on Yle to be heard,” Ylä-Anttila pole-drives.


Yes, pole-drives. “Paaluttaa” means “to drive poles into the ground”. The idea is that she’s really hammering home her point. I wouldn’t even say “emphasizes” or something similar here: I’d just rely on English workhorse “say” and let the interviewee’s words make the point.

Working up the list, both “nauraa” and “naurahtaa” mean “laugh”, but the latter is momentane: it has a sense of happening once and briefly. These two verbs are common enough in Finnish texts, albeit more in the culture pages of papers than the news sections. In English you could say “says with a laugh” or “says, laughing”, and I will translate these verbs that way if the text in general demands it. Otherwise, I’d rather be more neutral.

Finally, the first verb in the list above is a bit of head-scratcher. The dictionary says the verb “tokaista” means the same as “lausahtaa”, that is, to utter briefly. I’d argue, however, that two sentences is more than a brief utterance. Maybe Haavisto was speaking quickly, making his 36 syllables sound like a brief utterance. Maybe the word has meanings that aren’t recorded in the dictionary. Perhaps Haavisto usually speaks in much longer utterances, making this one seem short. In any event, I wouldn’t choose a reporting verb that described the brevity of the speech. I’d just use “says”, as I would in nine times out of ten when translating a Finnish reporting verb that isn’t “sanoa” (say) or “kertoa” (tell).

In conclusion, it’s not that English can’t use anything other than “says” as a reporting verb in a non-fiction text. Off the top of my head, here are some good English reporting verbs that won’t rub the reader up the wrong way. These are all good options when translating from Finnish to English, or for Finnish-speakers writing in English. Direct translations of the examples I’ve listed above, however, are best avoided.


Some alternative reporting verbs to “say” in English:

· tell (with an object, and often in the past tense: “told reporters”)

· comment

· note

· begin

· conclude

· ask

· reply


Don’t translate Finnish reporting verbs directly to English. Nine times out of ten, “say” or “tell” will be good enough. If you want a translator who translates meaning rather than individual words, you’re in the right place.

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