Latvian Sentences: Dative Constructions


As mentioned earlier, the majority of statements in Latvian take the form: Subject + Verb + Object. In other words, we typically have a Noun + Verb + Noun order (i.e. Nominative case + Verb + Accusative Case). However, there are a number of instances where a dative case noun or pronoun is key. Here are some of the most useful instances:

Possession without a verb "to have"

Latvian (like Russian, and quite a number of other languages) does not have a verb "to have". Instead, one uses the verb būt 'to be' with the possessor in the dative case. Here are a couple of examples:
  1. Hermanim ir žirafe. 'Herman has a giraffe.'
  2. Tev būs gripa! 'You (singular) are going to have (the) flu!'
In each of these cases, the possessor is in the dative case (e.g. Hermanim or tev), the verb būt 'to be' is in the third person (e.g. ir or būs) and what is possessed is in the nominative case (e.g. žirafe or gripa ). In other words, the Latvian sentences are more literally translated 'To Herman (there) is (a ) giraffe', or 'To you (there) will be (the) flu!".

The tense is expressed by the appropriate form of the verb būt 'to be': ir = present tense, bija = past tense, būs = future tense. However, in the complex tenses, the past active participle is used as well. This participle is fully declinable. Note that it agrees in gender and number with the noun in the nominative case; in the following examples, the noun which is in the nominative case is shown in olive green, the helping verb ir and the past active participle are orange:

  1. Raimondam ir bijušas trīs sievas. 'Raymond has had three wives.'
  2. Annai ir jau bijis ģeogrāfijas eksāmens. 'Anna has already had (a/the) geography exam.'
As you can see, the past active participle does not agree with the possessor (e.g. Raimondam or Annai), since this word is in the dative case. Instead there is agreement with the nominative noun; for example: bijušas is a feminine plural form, because the word sievas 'wives' is a feminine plural form.

Greetings

Greetings in Latvian typically involve a dative construction. Look at the following example sentences; the dative case pronoun is shown in green and the verb (iet 'goes') is in orange :
  1. tev iet? 'How are you (sg.)?' (literally: How (to) you (does it) go?)
  2. Man iet labi, paldies. 'I'm fine, thank you.' (literally: (To) me goes well, thank you.)
This is the most common greeting. Note that it is not grammatical to say: *Kā tu esi? 'How are you (sg.)?'. On the other hand, it is possible to say: Es esmu labs, paldies, but that literally means 'I am (morally) good, thank you.' Thus, greetings actually ask 'How does it go with you?'

There is alternative greeting which uses the verb klāties. Look at the following example sentences; as above, the dative case pronoun is shown in green and the verb is in orange:

  1. tev klājas? 'How are you (sg.)?'
  2. Man labi klājas, paldies. 'I'm fine, thank you.'
There are two verbs klāties; one means 'to cover oneself', the other means 'to be proper, appropriate, or fitting'. Some Latvian grammars claim that this greeting (literally or historically) means 'How does it cover for you?'. I think this is quite unlikely. This greeting probably derives from the verb klāties which means 'to be proper, appropriate, or fitting'. Therefore, the greeting would literally mean 'How does (life) befit you?' or 'Are (things) appropriate for you?'.

Note that all of these have been informal greetings. To greet someone formally, one would use the second person plural pronoun, as shown in the following sentences:

  1. jums iet? 'How are you (plural or formal)?'
  2. jums klājas? 'How are you (plural or formal)?'

Sensation, Feeling, or Perception

To describe how someone is feeling, one typically uses a dative construction. Take a look at the following examples; any dative case word is shown in bright green, any nominative case word is olive green, and the verb is orange:
  1. Hermanim salst. 'Herman is cold.' or 'It feels cold to Herman.'
  2. Hermanis salst. 'Herman is turning into a block of ice.' (i.e. this literally means that 'Herman is freezing. You can't use this expression merely to mean that he's very cold. It means that he's becoming a solid ice sculpture!)'
The dative expression is the the normal construction used to describe how one is experiencing the sensation (as in: Man salst 'I'm cold' or 'It feels chilly to me'). It is a subjective experience. The nominative construction would only be used to express an objective description of the situation (as in: Es salstu 'I'm (literally) becoming an icicle' or 'My body is (actually) freezing solid').

Here are some more examples; please note: any dative case word is shown in bright green, any nominative case word is olive green, any adjectival complement is in dark red, any adverbial complement is in purple, and the verb is orange:

  1. Ritai ir karsti. 'Rita feels hot.' or 'It feels hot to Rita.'
  2. Rita ir karsta. 'Rita is hot (to the touch).'
Once again, the dative expression (Ritai ir karsti) describes how Rita feels (subjectively). On the other hand, the nominative expression (Rita ir karsta) is completely objective; this expression would only be used to across the idea that there is a great deal of heat emanating from her body. This type of objective expression is much more common with things, as in: Krāsns ir karsta '(The) oven is hot.' OK?

Just to expand your repertoire, here are a few more examples of this type; as earlier, any dative case word is shown in bright green, any nominative case word is olive green, any adjectival complement is in dark red, any adverbial complement is in purple, and the verb is orange:

  1. Man iet slikti. 'I'm doing poorly.' or '(Things) are going badly (with) me.'
  2. Es eju slikti. 'I walk poorly.' or 'My (gait) is bad.'
  3. Robertam bija ļoti vēsi. 'Robert felt quite chilly.' or '(It) felt very cool (to) Robert.'
  4. Roberts bija ļoti vēss. 'Robert was quite cold (in temperament).' or 'Robert was very standoffish.'
  5. Anitai būs pārāk silti. 'Anita will feel too warm.' or '(It) will be too warm for Anita.'
  6. Anita būs pārāk silta. 'Anita will be too warm (to the touch).'
Each of the dative constructions (the odd-numbered sentences above ) expresses an internal, subjective feeling, while the nominative constructions (the even-numbered sentences above) describe a situation from an external or objective point of view.

Datives and Specific Verbs

Patikt 'to like'

The verb patikt 'to like' requires a dative construction. Take a look at the following examples which illustrate this; any dative case word is shown in bright green, any nominative case word is olive green, and the verb is orange:
  1. Hermanim patīk dziedāt. 'Herman likes to sing.'
  2. Annai noteikti patiks tava kūka . 'Anna will certainly like your cake.'
It is completely ungrammatical to say *Hermanis patīk dziedāt. The being who is doing the liking must be in the dative case. In effect, it is not possible to say 'I like someone' in Latvian. Instead you must say the equivalent of 'Someone is pleasing to me.'

The target noun (or pronoun) of the liking must be in the nominative case (as is the noun kūka 'cake' in sentence #2). Note that if the target of liking is a pronoun, it should come at the beginning of the sentence, as shown here:

  1. Tu Pēterim noteikti patiks. 'Peter will definitely like you.' (Literally: 'You to Peter definitely are pleasing')
  2. Viņš man ļoti patīk. 'I really like him.' (Literally: 'He to me very pleasing is')
Note the following additional example, which illustrates the use of the verb patikt in a complex tense: Complex tenses use the past active participle. This participle is completely declinable; however, patikuši does not agree with Anitai (because 'Anita' is in the dative case). Instead the participle patikuši is in the nominative masculine plural form, since it agrees with the nominative masculine plural nominative target: vīrieši 'men'.

Pietikt 'to have enough; to suffice'

The verb pietikt 'to have enough, to suffice' also requires a dative construction. However, unlike the previous situations, the "target" is not in the nominative case; rather it is in the genitive case. Take a look at the following examples; any dative case word is shown in bright green, any genitive case word is dark blue, and the verb is orange:
  1. Mums piena pietiek. 'We have enough milk.' (Literally: 'To us of milk is sufficient')
  2. Ritai nepietika kafijas. 'Rita didn't have enough coffee.'
  3. Jāzepam vienmēr pietiks naudas. 'Joseph will always have enough money.'
Unlike some of the other verbs in this section, pietikt can be used without a dative case word. Take a look at the following examples:
  1. Pietiek! '(That's) enough!'
  2. Pietiks ar divām olām. 'Two eggs will be enough.' (Literally: '(It) will be sufficient with two eggs')
In some dative constructions with pietikt, the dative refers to time, especially a length of time (e.g. divām stundām 'for two hours'). The following examples illustrate this usage; as above, any dative case word is shown in bright green, any genitive case word is dark blue, and the verb is orange:
  1. Rītdienai pietiks. '(That) will be enough (for) tomorrow.'
  2. Malkas nepietika pat diviem mēnešiem. '(There) wasn't even enough firewood (for) two months.'

Veikties 'to succeed in, to be proficient, be good at'

The verb veikties means 'to succeed in, to be proficient, to be good at'. The noun describing the being who shows proficiency must be in the dative case. Here are some example sentences; any dative case word is shown in bright green, any nominative case word is olive green, and the verb is orange:
  1. Maijai veicas ar puķēm. 'May is good with plants.'
  2. Robertam visur veicas. 'Robert succeeds at everything.' (Literally: 'To Robert everywhere is success')
  3. Hermanim vienmēr labi veicās ģeogrāfija. 'Herman was always good at geography.'

Likties 'to seem, appear'

The verb likties 'to seem, appear' only requires a dative element if one wants to explicitly include the being to whom something appears. Take a look at the following examples; as above, any dative case word is shown in bright green, any nominative case word is olive green, and the verb is orange:
  1. Raimonds man liekas lielisks gleznotājs. 'Raymond seems to me to be an excellent painter/artist.'
  2. Aleksandrai liekas, ka rītdien nelīs. 'Alexandra thinks that (it) won't rain tomorrow.' (Literally: 'To Alexandra (it) appears that tomorrow (it) will not rain')
Otherwise a dative construction is not required:
  1. Anna liekas godīga. 'Anna seems to be honest/reliable.'
  2. Tas liksies savādi. 'It will seem strange.' (Literally: 'That will appear strangely')
  3. Pēters likās noguris. 'Peter seemed tired.'


To continue on with Latvian sentences, go to → Subordinate clauses.


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This page created and maintained by
A. Steinbergs

Last revised September 18, 2008