Latvian Language: Lesson 10


Jāzeps (Joseph) goes looking for Andrejs (Andrew) and finds him washing the family cat!

Speaker Latvian English translation
Jāzeps Andrej! Ko tu dari? Andrew! What are you doing?
Andrejs Es mazgāju kaķi. I'm washing the cat.
Jāzeps Kā kaķim tas patīk? How does the cat like that?
Andrejs Nemaz! Man arī nepatīk. Cik pulkstenis? Not at all! I don't like it either. What time is it?
Jāzeps Viens. One (o'clock).
Andrejs Jau? Dod man dvieli, lūdzu. Already? Give me a towel, please.
Jāzeps Še. Here (it is).
Andrejs Paldies! Labi, tagad viņš ir sauss. Thanks. Good, now he's dry.
Jāzeps Cik smuks, tīrs kaķis! What a nice, clean cat!
Andrejs Vai nē?! Isn't he?!
Jāzeps Klau, Jāzep, es gribu tava brāļa adresi. Listen, Joseph, I want your brother's address.
Andrejs Tu gribi Jāņa adresi? You want John's address?
Jāzeps Jā. Kur viņš tagad dzīvo? Yes. Where is he living now?
Andrejs Rīgā. In Rīga.
Jāzeps Kur Rīgā? Where (exactly) in Riga?
Andrejs Dod man zīmuli, lūdzu. Give me a pencil, please.
Andrejs (Andrew) writes down the address.
Andrejs Še: viņa adrese. Here (is) his address.
Jāzeps Paldies! Thank you!

To hear this conversation: click here → Conversation 10


Latvian word English translation Latvian word English translation
Click on word to hear its pronunciation Click on word to hear its pronunciation
adrese (noun, fem.) 'address' nemaz (adv., neg., stressed on 2nd syllable) 'not at all'
brālis (noun, masc.) 'brother' pulkstenis (noun, masc.) 'clock, watch'
cik (adverb, interrog.) 'how (much)' Rīga (noun, fem.) '(city of) Rīga'
dot (verb, infin., irreg.) 'to give' sauss (adjective) 'dry'
dvielis (noun, masc.) 'towel' smuks (adjective) 'pretty, nice, handsome'
dzīvot (verb, infin. 2) 'to live' še (adverb) 'here'
Jānis (noun, masc.) 'John' tagad (adverb) 'now'
(adverb, interrog.) 'how' tavs (adjective, possess.) 'your ('
kaķis (noun, masc.) 'cat' tīrs (adjective) 'clean'
klau (verb, 'listen!' zīmulis (noun, masc.) 'pencil'
mazgāt (verb, infin. 2) 'to wash (something)'

Vocabulary notes

(a) cik pulkstenis: this phrase is often said with the last vowel slurred or omitted: cik pulkstens. Although the best English translation of this phrase is "What time is it?", the words literally mean "how much clock?". The adverb cik is typically used when inquiring about amounts; for example, Cik tas maksā? means "How much (does) that cost?"

(b) Jānis: this one of the most common Latvian male names. Like English John, Scottish Ian, and German Johann, which all were most probably borrowed originally from the Hebrew Yochanan.

(c) klau: probably a shortened form of klausi "Listen! (Obey!)", from the verb klausīt "to obey, listen to".

(d) še: a shortened form of šeit "here". However, še is typically only used when you want to someone to come to where you are; thus, you would use it to translate a sentence like "Come here!", but not in sentences like "I like it here" or "Robert doesn't live here". For those you would use the full form šeit.

(e) tavs: this is an adjective which is used only when addressing a friend, relative, or child (e.g Vai tā ir tava grāmata? "Is that your book?"). You would not use it to address a complete stranger, for example, in a sentence like: "Is that your car?". Instead, you would use the second person plural pronoun Jūs in the genitive: Vai tā ir Jūsu mašīna?

Pronunciation and spelling

One of the words introduced in this lesson is the word kaķis 'cat'. The letter found in the middle of this word is: ķ. This letter represents a rather unusual consonant sound. Imagine a sound which is located in the same part of the mouth as the first consonant in yes, but is actually produced more like the first consonant in ten. (For more details about this sound, see the appendix on Latvian Palatal Stops: ģ and ķ.)

To produce this ķ sound, try saying a t sound, but gradually moving the tongue further back in the mouth, until it is touching the roof of your mouth at about the middle of the hard palate. If, after repeated practise, you can't make something close to the sound represented by ķ, you can get a rough approximation by saying t quickly followed by y.

Also note that, although the adjective tavs ( "your") is spelled with a letter v, this letter is pronounced as a [w]. In other words, tavs is pronounced in such a way as to rhyme with English "house". However, this is only true in the masculine nominative singular form; in all other cases of this word the letter v is pronounced [v] (e.g. tava, tavam, tavu, tavā, etc.).


Noun Declension Class 2

This lesson introduces yet another declension class for nouns: the second. The words in this class are masculine nouns which normally have the ending -is in the nominative singular; for example: brālis "brother", dvielis "towel", Jānis "John", kaķis "cat", pulkstenis "clock", zīmulis "pencil".

Here is a table which shows how these nouns are declined (note: I have omitted the genitive case, which will be discussed separately):

Class 2 nouns
nominative Jān-is brāl-is dviel-is
dative Jān-im brāl-im dviel-im
accusative Jān-i brāl-i dviel-i
locative Jān-ī brāl-ī dviel-ī
vocative Jān-i brāl-i -

As you can see, these endings all contain (either a short or long) vowel i; it is for this reason, that this class of nouns is sometimes called the masculine i-stems.

Now, what about the genitive case? The genitive case has the ending -a, or -ja. Take a look at the following examples of Class 2 nouns in the genitive case:

Noun root ends in: nominative genitive translation Noun root ends in consonant:
p klēp-is klēp-ja lap using the lower lip
b gulb-is gulb-ja swan
m rām-is rām-ja frame
v šķīv-is šķīv-ja plate
t vīriet-is vīrieš-a man NOT using the lower lip
d brīd-is brīž-a moment
c lāc-is lāč-a bear
dz slēdz-is slēdž-a switch
s mēnes-is mēneš-a month
z naz-is naž-a knife
n pulksten-is pulksteņ-a clock
l brāl-is brāļ-a brother
ķ kaķ-is kaķ-a cat
ģ kuģ-is kuģ-a ship

As you can see from this chart, when the noun root ends in a consonant sound which is produced using the lower lip (either in combination with the upper lip, as in p, b, m or in combination with the upper teeth, as in v), then the genitive ending is simply -ja.

However, when it does not involve the lips, but rather the tongue, the case is somewhat different. Then the ending is just -a, but in addition, the final consonant is usually altered. For example, an original n- is pronounced as ņ-, while an original l- is pronounced as ļ- in the genitive case.

In Latvian the letter j stands for a palatal semivowel (as in English yes or young). In other words, it is pronounced with the tongue in the middle of the hard palate. Sounds like n or l are produced at the teeth, but the sounds ņ and ļ are produced at the hard palate (just like the semivowel j).

Linguists have hypothesized that originally the genitive ending in this declension class was -ja for all nouns, but that, if a consonant sound was produced with the tongue (and not with the lips) the j influenced that sound to become more "palatal" in its pronunciation, and the j was gradually dropped. For example, a noun root ending in n- would have undergone the following alterations:

n + ja > ņja >ņa

There remains the case of what happens with words like kaķis "cat" or kuģis "ship". In these words, the final consonant of the root is is ķ or ģ; these consonants are palatal stops. Since they are already palatal, the original j just dropped off, as it did whenever it it came after a palatized sound. (For more details about this whole process, see the appendix on j Palatalization).

Second conjugation class of verbs

Up until now (almost) all of the regular verbs I have introduced have been members of the third conjugation class. (If you'd like a review of what conjugations are, please see the section on Conjugation Classes.)

This lesson introduces two verbs which belong to the second conjugation class: dzīvot "to live" and mazgāt "to wash". The major difference between verbs of the third conjugation class (like redzēt "to see" or dziedāt "to sing") and verbs of the second conjugation class is what happens with the thematic vowel. (Remember that the thematic vowel occurs just before the -t of the infinitive ending; in other words it is the -o in dzīvot or the in dziedāt.)

Second conjugation class verbs show the thematic vowel not only in the past tense (as described in Lesson 9) but also in the present tense. To see what I mean, take a look at the following table: it contrasts the third conjugation verb dziedāt and the second conjugation verb mazgāt (both are in the first person singular form):

conjugation class infinitive present tense translation past tense translation
3 dzied-ā-t dzied-u I am singing dzied-āj-u I was singing/I sang
2 mazg-ā-t mazg-āj-u I am washing mazg-āj-u I was washing/I washed

(Please note that, for ease of pronunciation, the semivowel -j- is automatically inserted after a thematic vowel if the following sound is another vowel.)

Notice that the present and past tense forms of a second conjugation verb are identical in the first person singular. This is not really a problem, because a hearer can figure out what tense is meant from the context. For example, if you ask someone Ko tu dari? "What are you doing?" and they answer Es mazgāju brāli, you know from the context of your question that the answer is "I'm washing (my) brother" (and NOT "I was washing (my) brother").

Similarly, the speaker can insert "time" words which make the situation clear. For example, if someone says Vakar es mazgāju kaķi, it is clearly a past action, since the time word vakar "yesterday" begins the sentence, and thus the translation must be: "Yesterday I was washing the cat".

Although the thematic vowel occurs in all present tense forms of a second conjugation verb, this does not mean that all of the present and past tense forms are identical. Take a look at the following table, which shows present and past tense forms of the second conjugation verb mazgāt "to wash":

number person present tense past tense
singular 1st mazg-āj-u mazg-āj-u
2nd mazg-ā mazg-āj-i
plural 1st mazg-āj-am mazg-āj-ām
2nd mazg-āj-at mazg-āj-āt
3rd mazg-ā mazg-āj-a

This means that the person & number endings for second conjugation verbs look like this:

number person present tense past tense
singular 1st -u -u
2nd -∅ -i
plural 1st -am -ām
2nd -at -āt
3rd -∅ -a

(Note: remember that the symbol ∅ stands for "zero", in other words, for no ending whatsoever.)

Irregular verb dot "to give"

This lesson also introduces the irregular verb dot "to give". This verb is irregular because the present stem and the past stem are quite different; they are: dod- (present) and dev- (past). However, the endings are actually quite predictable, and, in fact, are identical to the endings just described in the table above (for the second conjugation verbs). Take a look at the following table which shows the verb dot "to give" in both present and past tense forms:

Irregular verb dot "to give"
number person present tense past tense
singular 1st dod-u dev-u
2nd dod dev-i
plural 1st dod-am dev-ām
2nd dod-at dev-āt
3rd dod dev-a

Just remember that the verb dot uses the stem dod- for the present tense, but the stem dev- in the past tense.

Adjective agreement

In Lesson 5, I first introduced the idea of adjective agreement. This, of course, means that when an adjective modifies a noun, it takes on a form that matches the noun in gender, number, and case. Thus, one would say labs piens "good milk" (both adjective and noun are in the masculine nominative singular case), but labai meitai "to a good daughter" (both words are in the feminine dative singular case).

However, this does not mean that the endings have to look identical. Take a look at the following examples:

Declension classes: 1 2 4 5
English translations: good son good brother good daughter good mother
nominative lab-s dēl-s lab-s brāl-is lab-a meit-a lab-a māt-e
genitive lab-a dēl-a lab-a brāļ-a lab-as meit-as lab-as māt-es
dative lab-am dēl-am lab-am brāl-im lab-ai meit-ai lab-ai māt-ei
accusative lab-u dēl-u lab-u brāl-i lab-u meit-u lab-u māt-i
locative lab-ā dēl-ā lab-ā brāl-ī lab-ā meit-ā lab-ā māt-ē

As you can see from this table, the adjective endings are not always the same as the noun endings. To take just one example, look at: -ai vs. -ei in the phrase lab-ai māt-ei "to (a) good mother"

However, the adjective and noun endings do match, in the sense that an -ai ending identifies the adjective as being in the feminine dative singular case. This matches with the feminine dative singular ending -ei for a fifth declension noun like māte "mother". So, even though the endings aren't always identical, they still identify the same grammatical meaning or function.

Adjective endings are the same as the endings of first and fourth declension nouns; specifically: adjectives modifying masculine nouns use first declension endings, while adjectives modifying feminine nouns use fourth declension endings. This actually simplifies things considerably, because you already know the first and fourth declension endings. Just make sure to match the gender, case and number of the adjective to the gender, case and number of the noun it modifies.


Finally, here are a few exercises, to help you practise what you've learned so far:

Please translate the following sentences into Latvian:

  1. Where do you (formal) live?
  2. The (female) teacher is reading a big book.
  3. They don't know that.
  4. I want some coffee.
  5. We are washing the table.
  6. Do you (singular) see my daughter?
  7. The mother is writing a letter to (her) son.
  8. John wants a dry towel.
For each of the preceding sentences, put the verb into the past tense.

For each of the following nouns, translate it into Latvian and put it in the genitive singular case:

  1. juice
  2. clock
  3. cat
  4. garden
  5. pencil
Please translate the following sentences into English:
  1. Es lasīju laikrakstu.
  2. Tava māja ir ļoti tīra.
  3. Tētim patīk tavs pulkstenis.
  4. Skolotāja ēd launagu.
  5. Smukam kaķim devu pienu.
  6. Tēja ir podā.
  7. Vai mēs ejam uz Rīgu tagad?
To check your answers, please click here → Answers to Exercises - Lesson 10.

Ready for Lesson 11? Please click here → Latvian Language Lesson 11

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Last revised March 26, 2010