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Q&A

Why past tense in imaginative play in Finnish?

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When playing house with a child, they say things like "Nyt se meni nukkumaan." when they mean that I should have the toy I am playing with go to bed. Similar use of the simple past / imperfect tense is what the child uses all the time in such contexts.

("meni" is past tense and translates to "went" in English)

The child has been living abroad for about three years now and I no longer remember if this pattern of speech is typical of Finnish children playing.

What is going on here? Why they use of past tense to imply that something should be done, and especially in imaginative play; this does not happen otherwise?

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The younger the child, the less established the grammar. You can respond with "Nyt se menee nukkumaan" and put the toy into its sleeping house, thus just implementing the suggestion using your own "adult" grammar.

(I don't see the verb form used by the child as incorrect either. In their powerful imagination, the toy already went to sleep, or at least the process is already started, the moment they conceived it. But you are the adult, so you analyze and speak like an adult.)

The child will pick up more conventional grammar over time as needed, at their own pace. You are not correcting what they said, you are building on it and playing along.

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