Oddities in Finnish – Joo ei: Finland’s yeah no

Oddities in Finnish - Joo ei

Positive and negative answers are some of the very first words you learn when studying a new language. As you probably know, in Finnish, the positive answers are joo and kyllä and the negative answer is ei. However, sometimes the positive and negative answers are used together. What’s the meaning of joo ei for example?

Joo ei usage – put into practice

Joo ei is quite a common phrase in colloquial Finnish. The meaning of this phrase is negative, even though there’s a positive word included.

Example 1

Miia: Sulla ei varmaan oo luentoa tänään. – You probably don’t have a lecture today.
Kaapo: Joo ei, se peruttiin. – Yeah I don’t, it was cancelled.

Example 2

Heidi: Mitä pelataan? Ei tennistä. – What shall we play? Not tennis.
Veera: Joo ei. Koripalloa? – Yeah no. Basketball?

In the first example, Kaapo confirms that Miia is right. Kaapo doesn’t have a lecture that day. The second example is quite similar to the first one. Veera agrees with Heidi: neither of them wants to play tennis, but they want to play something.

Ei kyllä – the hard pass

Ei kyllä or ei kyl is also a frequent expression in spoken Finnish. The meaning of this is negative even though the negative word is now before the positive word.

Example 1

Leevi: Mennäänkö uimaan? – Shall we go swimming?
Linnea: No ei kyllä mennä. Vesi on tosi kylmää. – Definitely not. The water is so cold.

Example 2

Mauno: Täytyykö meiän herätä aikasin? – Should we wake up early?
Ismo: Ei kai. En kyl tiiä varmasti. – I guess not. I don’t really know for sure.

In the dialogue above, kyllä is used to stress the statement. In the first example, Linnea is emphasizing that she doesn’t want to swim. Therefore, the answer ei kyllä could be translated as definitely not. In the second example, the meaning of ei kyllä could be translated as not really. Ismo doesn’t know if they should wake up early. Note that ei is always conjugated when there’s a person in the sentence: minä en kyllä tiedä.
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My conclusion about these contextually driven expressions

Both joo ei and ei kyllä are negative phrases. A mixture of these, joo ei kyllä, is also negative, even though there are two positive words and only one negative. Are there any positive combinations of ei and joo? Most likely not. However, the question eikö joo is not negative. It is persuasive, meaning ”Right?” for example.

Tehdään lihapullia, eikö joo? – Let’s cook meatballs, yeah?

Mielenkiintoista, eikö joo?


Are you familiar with the word sika? You’ll find it takes on a whole other meaning to what you might expect. 

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Writer of the blog post:

Riikka Valkjärvi
Finnish language specialist