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  5. "Five wild owls are saying ho…

"Five wild owls are saying hoot."

Translation:Viisi villiä pöllöä sanoo huhuu.

June 27, 2020



Apparently the singular is correct, because it's partitive singular (pöllöä) after cardinal numbers


After a number, it is not considered plural, but as a whole so it is sanoo


Thanks. My fingers wanted to type pöllötä which felt awful...


Nope, because of the number the "pöllöä" is singular. :)

"Pöllöt sanovat..."

"Viisi pöllöä sanoo..."


Just to complicate things, you actually can say "Viisi pöllöä sanovat" but this is kind of old grammar that's going to be soon forgotten, I believe...

Moreover, in my gut feeling, you can use "sanovat" only in the case that these five owls, and only five owls, have been introduced earlier. I think it has to be all owls and you cannot introduce six owls and use "sanovat" because it wouldn't be synonymous to "The owls say." My old mother disagrees though. She says "Viisi pöllöä sanovat" is ok in any case but it just feels old.

  • 1972

There was some fuss over this topic in another thread some time ago. According to The Official Grammar viisi pöllöä sanoo is the correct way to express this.


That article's really interesting. Looking through it, it seems to be saying that "five owls say" should be viisi pöllöä sanoo, but "the five owls say" should be viisi pöllöä sanovat.

That after a number other than yksi, the plural verb is only appropriate when the subject is exhaustive; we're talking about all the owls referenced, and the reference was established before the plural verb is used.


But surely the singular would be "pöllö" The partitive case makes it "pöllöä" The plural males it "pöllöt" But why does the partitive make the verb sanoo instead of sanovat?


Pöllöä is partitive singular. The partitive plural would be pöllöjä. Singular nominative and singular partitive subjects both need a singular verb. We see this in sentences like 'Täällä on ruokaa', "Some food is over here".

But to make things more complicated, partitive plural subjects also need a singular verb. 'Meillä ei ole vesipulloja.' ‘Miehiä kävelee.’

I've never seen anyone offer an explanation for this, but I'd guess it's related to the origins of the -vat ending.

Originally, 3rd person verbs had no ending. Thus both pöllö istu and pöllöt istu, or something like that. But there was a participle ending, -va.

Participles are a type of adjective, and adjectives need to match the case and number of the noun they precede. Thus nominative singular 'istuva pöllö': "a sitting owl", nominative plural 'istuvat pöllöt', partitive singular 'istuvaa pöllöä', and partitive plural 'istuvia pöllöjä'.

The nominative plural participle ending eventually came to be used for plural 3rd person verbs, but only for nominative subjects.

All that said, I’ve seen some people say the verb agrees with the nominative singular number, rather than with the partitive noun that follows the number.


Interesting! I had a linguist friend once (I suppose he's still a friend, but I haven't heard from him in ages) who observed that a lot of 3rd person plural verb endings looked like fossilized participles. I don't recall his examples except latin: homine ambulante, "by the walking man" vs. homines ambulant, "the men are walking". That wasn't his precise example, I'm sure, and I may have something wrong, but it ran like that. I think actually another example was Sanskrit, but that doesn't make for much cross-linguistic diversity. Another was from a Native American language that he was familiar with. His wasn't a careful survey, just an interesting observation.


I never made that connection with other languages.

But now that you mention it, Ancient Greek: 3rd person pl. βαίνουσι 'they walk', and present active feminine pl. participle βαίνουσαι.

And in Middle English, the present participle of 'seeing' was seende, from Old English sēonde, and one of two forms used for all plural subjects was seen, from Old English subjunctive pl. sēon.

But those are also Indo-European languages.


It seems puhuu huhuu should be allowed just for the internal rhyme :-).

  • 1972

It sounds so poetic that I made a poem for you =D

Viisi villiä pöllö puhuu!
Yksi oikein innostuu:


Viisi is the subject, so the verb should be in the singular form


Why do owls (and other animals) speak differently in other countries? That makes no sense .. But my real worry is why Duo reject a correct translation, just because the animal sound is spelled wrong. (May 2021)


Well, at least in english animals make consice sounds , owls hoot and cows moo. No flexibility there. My guess is that long ago the precise (name of the) sound might determine who was going to be able to eat who, and as such developed a very big significance.


Why not sanovat?!


Because we have to use the partitive after a number. Welcome to Finland!


One of the hints even says sanovat, but it was not accepted.


My native Finnish speaking daughter says sanoo is puhekieli / colloquial and sanovat is grammatically correct but she's a teen! It makes sense to me.

  • 1972

It would be puhekieli if it was pöllöt sanoo :) otherwise it follows the rule of viisi sanoo, not viisi sanovat as posted by pieni_chilipalko and others.


For some reason I keep reading the English phrase in a southern accent.


A hoot and a half.


In English, excepting Beatrice Potter etc., Animals don't "say" anything. So owls just hoot, they don't 'say hoot' excepting in baby talk.

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