Estonian sentence structure
In this lesson we will have a look at the very basics of constructing a sentence in Estonian. You will learn about the articles, genders and word order.
The Estonian language lacks both the definite article 'the' and indefinite article 'a, an'. This means that a noun, such as tüdruk 'girl', can mean 'girl', 'a girl', or 'the girl' depending on the context.
Sometimes the number üks 'one' can be used as a sort of indefinite article meaning 'a, an' but this is very rare in the written language.
Unlike many other languages, Estonian doesn't have grammatical genders. This means that the words can end with all letters and they have no distinctive features that would let you know if it's about a man or a woman.
Also, Estonian lacks distinct words for 'he, she, it' and the pronoun tema is used for all three. Which one is actually meant can only be determined from the context.
1) The neutral word order is subject-verb-object (SVO) like in English.
- E.g Naine vaatab telekat 'The woman is watching the TV'
2) An adjective precedes the noun it modifies, also like in English.
- E.g Ilus tüdruk 'Beautiful girl', Naljakas mees 'Funny man'
3) However, an adverb of time usually precedes an adverb of place, in contrast to English.
- E.g Ma lähen homme poodi 'I will go the shop tomorrow' (literally: 'I will go tomorrow to the shop')
A reverse order may be used when the sentence begins with an adverb or object.
- E.g Täna on tüdruk koolis 'Today the girl is at school'
This can also happen in English but less often ('Rarely comes a second chance').
4) However, as one would expect from an agglutinative language, the word order is quite free and can be changed to stress some parts of the sentence or in poetic text. For example, consider the sentence Mees tappis karu '(a/the) man killed (a/the) bear' and uses the neutral SVO word order. The sentence can be rephrased using OVS word order as Karu tappis mees — a normal Estonian sentence that could be more precisely translated as 'It was (a/the) man who killed the bear' i. e. the sayer emphasizes that the killer was a man, probably assuming the listener knows that a bear was killed.
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