The partitive case (abbreviated PTV, PRTV, or more ambiguously PART) is a grammatical case which denotes "partialness", "without result", or "without specific identity". It is also used in contexts where a subgroup is selected from a larger group, or with numbers.

Finnic languages

In Finnic languages, such as Finnish and Estonian, this case is often used to express unknown identities and irresultative actions. For example, it is found in the following circumstances, with the characteristic ending of -a or -ta:

Where not mentioned, the accusative case would be ungrammatical. For example, the partitive must always be used after singular numerals.

As an example of the irresultative meaning of the partitive, ammuin karhun (accusative) means "I shot the bear (dead)", whereas ammuin karhua (partitive) means "I shot (at) the bear" without specifying if it was even hit. Notice that Finnish has no native future tense, so that the partitive provides an important reference to the present as opposed to the future. Thus luen kirjaa means "I am reading a/the book" whereas luen kirjan means "I will read a/the book". Thus "luen" can mean "I read", "I am reading" or "I will read" depending on the case form of the word that follows. The partitive form kirjaa indicates incompleted action and hence the meaning of the verb form is present tense. The accusative form kirjan indicates completed action when used with the past tense verb but indicates planned future action when used with a verb in the present tense. Hence luen kirjan means "I will read the book".

The case with an unspecified identity is onko teillä kirjoja, which uses the partitive, because it refers to unspecified books, as contrasted to nominative onko teillä (ne) kirjat?, which means "do you have (those) books?"

The partitive case comes from the older ablative case. This meaning is preserved e.g. in kotoa (from home), takaa (from behind), where it means "from".

A Western Finnish dialectal phenomenon seen in some dialects is the assimilation of the final -a into a preceding vowel, thus making the chroneme the partitive marker. For example, suuriisuuria "some big --".

In Estonian, the system is generally similar. In Estonian grammatical tradition, the term "accusative" is not used, since like in Finnish, the total object form coincides with the genitive in the singular, and the nominative in the plural.

In many Estonian words, the difference between the full and partial object cases is only in vowel or consonant quantity (long vs overlong), which is not marked in writing, except for stop consonants. Thus, the distinction between a total and partial object may be apparent in speech but not in writing. For example, the sentence Linn ehitab kooli would mean "The city will build a/the school" when pronounced with a long vowel "o" in kooli "school (genitive case)", and "The city is building a/the school" with an overlong "o" (partitive case).

For many verbs in Estonian, an additional adverb is almost always added when a completed action is meant - for example, ma söön leiba "I'm eating bread", vs ma söön leiva ära "I will eat the (whole) bread". Since Estonian, unlike Finnish, has words where the genitive and partitive singular are identical even in pronunciation, this can provide disambiguation in those cases - e.g ma söön kala "I'm eating fish", vs ma söön kala ära "I will eat (all of) the fish".


Of the Sámi languages, Inari and Skolt Sámi still have a partitive, although it is slowly disappearing and its function is being taken over by other cases.

Skolt Sámi

The partitive is used only in the singular and can always be replaced by the genitive. The partitive marker is -d.

  1. It appears after numbers larger than 6:
    kääuʹc čâustõkkâd: eight lassos
    This can be replaced with kääʹuc čâustõõǥǥ.
  2. It is also used with certain postpositions:
    kuäʹtted vuâstta: against a kota
    This can be replaced with kuäʹđ vuâstta.
  3. It can be used with the comparative to express that which is being compared:
    Kåʹlled pueʹrab : better than gold
    This would nowadays more than likely be replaced by pueʹrab ko kåʹll


The Russian language usually uses the genitive case to express partialness. However, some Russian mass nouns have developed a distinct partitive case, also referred to as the "second genitive case". The partitive arose from the merger of the declensions of *-ŏ and *-ŭ stem nouns in Old East Slavic, which left the former *-ŭ stem genitive suffix available for a specialized use.[1]

In modern Russian, use of the partitive case is often facultative. In many situations, the partitive and the genitive can be used almost synonymously: чашка чаю, cháshka cháyu (partitive) and чашка чая cháshka cháya (genitive) both mean "a cup of tea"; много дыму, mnógo dýmu (partitive) and много дыма mnógo dýma (genitive) both mean "lots of smoke". The partitive variant is preferred with verbs: выпить чаю, výpit' cháyu, "to have a drink of tea". The genitive variant is used more frequently when the mass noun is modified by an adjective: чашка горячего чая cháshka goryáchevo cháya, "a cup of hot tea".[2]


  1. ^ Ivanov, V. V. (1990). Istoricheskaya grammatika russkogo yazyka Историческая грамматика русского языка (in Russian) (3rd ed.). Moscow: Prosveshcheniye. p. 256. ISBN 5-09-000910-4.
  2. ^ Rozental, D. E. (2007). Govoritye i pishitye po-russki pravil'no Говорите и пишите по-русски правильно (in Russian). Moscow: Airis Press. p. 29. ISBN 978-5-8112-2447-0.

Further reading