The Finnish It

“Where’s Minna?”

“It’s at work, I think it gets off around 4.”

That’s an exact translation of a conversation I could have with my mother about my sister, an example of the Finnish it.

Finnish 3rd person singular is a peculiar thing for most languages. Firstly, we don’t distinguish between male and feminine forms. In Finnish there are no masculine or feminine words. There are no articles in front of words; no a, the, la or les. A third person singular is always hän, for both sexes.

But then it’s also perfectly okay to refer to someone as it.

In fact, using hän in some colloquial conversations would seem too formal. Had I used hän in the example above, my mother would have probably given me a quizzical look and thought I was making fun of her for some reason.

If you want to be addressed respectfully, you’ll need to earn it. My sister obviously has a long way to go.