Structure

Characteristically for the Uralic languages, and in contrast to Indo-European ones, Estonian has a large number of cases. Nouns, adjectives, numerals and pronouns change through as many as fourteen cases. Eleven of the cases have their own specific endings with particular meanings, such as the comitative sidruni/ga ("with a lemon") and the abessive sidruni/ta ("without a lemon"). The remaining three cases - the nominative, accusative and partitive - are lacking in a specific meaning and they serve different functions between words in a sentence.

Since the Estonian language lacks a separate accusative case, the object is in one of these three cases. The case of the object shows whether the activity is completed (Mari tegi tordi "Mari made a cake"), or incomplete (Mari tegi torti "Mari was making a cake") and whether the activity embraces a partial object (Jüri sõi torti ja küpsiseid "Jüri was eating cake and biscuits") or a complete one (Jüri sõi tordi ja küpsised ära "Jüri ate up the cake and biscuits"). Speakers of Russian and German who are used to an accusative and fewer other cases, might call the Estonian case system complicated, but one could respond to them that on the other hand Estonian does not need grammatical gender or articles.

The Estonian verb has four tenses: the present, past, perfect and pluperfect, and these forms correspond to those in German (aitan, aitasin, olen aidanud, olin aidanud - ich helfe, half, habe geholfen, hatte geholfen). Unlike German, however, there are no separate forms for the future, and therefore Estonian has been jestingly called a pessimistic language. Actually the simple present is used where needed for the future as well, as in Russian.

In order to decline and conjugate Estonian words correctly, you need to know a couple of basic forms, on the pattern of which one can form the rest. About a third of Estonian conjugable and declinable words make changes to sounds in the stem: they are modified (genitive tõve, partitive tõbe "disease"), disappear, (genitive madu, partitive mao "snake"), or are pronounced with a different stress (genitive kapi, partitive kappi "cupboard").

It may be difficult to form the variations on the basis of the complex stem modifications, but to arrange them in a sentence is relatively easy. Although there is one particular word order that is best for a sentence, words can be displaced quite freely. A sentence remains comprehensible thanks to the cases and conjunctions which show the mutual relations between words. Because it lacks cases, the English language must maintain a strict word order. Actually the word order in Estonian is also fairly restricted. The most usual word order is SVO (Subject-Verb-Object), as in English, German and Russian. There are all kinds of variations on this, which allow different aspects of the same information to be emphasised.

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