Typologically, Estonian represents a transitional form from an agglutinating language to a fusional language. Over the course of Estonian history, German has exercised a strong influence on Estonian, both in vocabulary and syntax. The canonical word order is SVO (subject–verb–object).

In Estonian nouns and pronouns do not have grammatical gender, but nouns and adjectives decline in fourteen cases: nominative, genitive, partitive, illative, inessive, elative, allative, adessive, ablative, translative, terminative, essive, abessive, and comitative, with the case and number of the adjective(s) always agreeing with that of the noun (except in the terminative, essive, abessive and comitative, where there is agreement only for the number, the adjective being in the genitive form). Thus the illative for kollane maja (“a yellow house”) is kollasesse majja (“into a yellow house”), but the terminative is kollase majani (“as far as a yellow house”). With respect to the Proto-Finnic language, elision has occurred; thus, the actual case marker may be absent, but the stem is changed, cf. maja – majja and Pohjanmaa dialect of Finnish maja – majahan.

The direct object of the verb appears either in the accusative (for total objects) or in the partitive (for partial objects). The accusative coincides with the genitive in the singular and with nominative in the plural. Accusative vs. partitive case opposition of object used with transitive verbs creates a telicity contrast, just as in Finnish. This is a rough equivalent of the perfect vs. imperfect aspect opposition.

The verbal system lacks a distinctive future tense (the present tense serves here) and features special forms to express an action performed by an undetermined subject (the “impersonal”).


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