Latvian Language: Lesson 11

This lesson is a review of the material covered in the first ten lessons. Let's start with a review of some vocabulary:

Vocabulary: Nouns

Nouns: English to Latvian

For each of the following English words, click on the button to choose the correct Latvian noun:

address: adresa adrese adresis
book: grāmata laikraksts pilsēta
brother: brālis bralis bradis
coffee: cafija kafija kofija
house: māja pilsēta vārdnīca
letter: launags laikraksts vēstule
pencil: laikraksts pulkstenis zīmulis
table: galds koks pods
tea: teja tēja tīja
telephone: telefona telefonis telefons
tree: koks piens pods
watch: laiks laikraksts pulkstenis

Nouns: Latvian to English:

For each of the following Latvian words, click on the button to choose the correct English translation:

dārzs: garden newspaper table
dvielis: cat garden towel
kaķis: cat garden table
mašīna: car mother song
māte: morning mother song
piens: juice milk pot
tauta: folk juice time

Grammar: Nouns

Gender

Latvian nouns have two genders: masculine and feminine. (Be grateful this isn't German which has three: masculine, feminine, and neuter!) Having two genders means that (typically) the endings for masculine nouns are different than the endings for feminine nouns. (Of course, this isn't the case in English; thus, the possessive suffix -'s is the same in the phrase "brother's car" and in "sister's car").

Gender doesn't necessarily have anything to do with sex. After all, most nouns refer to inanimate objects (like "table" galds) or even to abstract concepts (like "time" laiks). Fortunately most Latvian nouns signal their gender by the type of suffix used in the subject case. Thus, nouns ending in -s or -is are (almost always) masculine, while those ending in -a or -e are (almost always) feminine. Therefore, piens "milk" is a masculine noun, while sula "juice" is a feminine noun.

Case

Each Latvian noun has six cases: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, locative, and vocative. Each case has a different grammatical function; in other words, when a noun has a nominative ending, this indicates that it has a certain function in the sentence, but with a genitive ending, the noun has quite a different function. The following examples describe these functions:

case name of function description of function English example (using "Mary")
nominative subject doer or agent of the action Mary kissed Edward.
genitive possessor "owner" of possessed noun Mary's book is blue.
dative indirect object recipient/beneficiary of direct object Edward sent Mary a book.
accusative direct object acted upon by subject Edward kissed Mary.
locative location place (either literal or abstract) Edward believes in Mary.
vocative direct address person to whom speaker is talking Mary! What are you doing?

The example sentences were in English (which has only one case-marking suffix: -'s); so what are these suffixes in Latvian?

Well, that depends on which declension class the noun belongs to:

Declension classes

A declension class is a grouping of nouns which all take the same set of case endings. There aren't any significant declension classes in English, but Latvian has six major declension classes. So far you've been introduced to four of them: classes 1 and 2, both of which contain masculine nouns, and classes 4 and 5, which contain primarily feminine nouns. The following is a review of classes 1 and 2:

Masculine Declension Classes

Nouns of declension class 1 have suffixes which often contain the stem vowel -a, while class 2 nouns often contain the stem vowel -i. For example, the class 1 noun galds "table" has a dative form gald-a-m, while the class 2 noun zīmulis "pencil" has a dative form zīmul-i-m. The masculine case endings for each declension class are shown in the following chart:

case Class 1 endings Class 2 endings
nominative -s -is
genitive -a -(j)a*
dative -am -im
accusative -u -i
locative
vocative -∅** -i

* For Class 2 nouns the -j- of the genitive singular only appears if the noun root ends in p, m, v, or m. Otherwise the -j- "combines" with the final consonant of the noun root, resulting in a "palatalized" consonant, like ļ, ņ š, ž or č. Thus, the genitive singular form of zīmulis "pencil" is zīmuļa.

** The symbol -∅ is used to indicate that there is no ending; masculine nouns of class 1 typically have no suffix in the vocative; thus, the vocative form of Gunārs is Gunār!

Feminine Declension Classes

The nouns belonging to declension classes 4 and 5 are (almost always) feminine nouns. Class 4 endings often contain the stem vowel -a, while class 5 endings typically contain the stem vowel -i. This is illustrated in the following chart:

case Class 4 endings Class 5 endings
nominative -a -e
genitive -as -es
dative -ai -ei
accusative -u -i
locative
vocative -a -e

Vocabulary: Verbs

Now let's review some verbs:

Verbs: English to Latvian:

For each of the following English verbs, click on the button to choose the correct Latvian translation:

is: iet ir uz
to do: darīt dot dziedāt
to go: dziedāt gribēt iet
to know: prasīt zināt zvanīt
to like: patikt piederēt pietikt
to live: dziedāt dzīvot lasīt
to read: lasīt rakstīt redzēt

Verbs: Latvian to English:

For each of the following Latvian words, click on the button to choose the correct English translation:

būt: to be to eat to have
dot: to give to have to live
gribēt: to like to want to wash
mācīt: to make to teach to wash
redzēt: to like to see to wash
sūtīt: to have to send to wash

Grammar: Verbs

Verbs: person and number

The term number just means singular or plural. In other words, is the action of the verb performed by one, or more than one individual or entity?

The term person refers to the one who is performing the action of the verb; specifically: whether it is the speaker, the person addressed (the hearer), or some other, third person. The one performing the action is typically indicated by the subject pronoun (which also indicates number, and sometimes gender as well). Take a look at the following chart:

person relationship to speaker English subject pronoun(s) Latvian subject pronoun(s)
1st speaker I / we es / mēs
2nd hearer you (singular or plural) tu / jūs
3rd neither speaker nor hearer he /she / it / they viņš / viņa / viņi / viņas*

* These pronouns are literally "he" / "she" / "they (masc. or both genders)" / "they (fem.)".

However, in Latvian the subject pronouns are often optional, since the endings on the verb typically mark the person and number as well. The verb endings vary a little (depending on the conjugation class to which the verb belongs, and the tense of the verb). However, all verbs have some version of the following endings (and please remember that third person endings are always identical—there is no difference between singular and plural verb endings for the third person):

number person verb ending
singular 1st -u
2nd -i or ∅
plural 1st -vowel-m
2nd -vowel-t
3rd -∅ or -a

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

The "vowel" in this chart varies depending on the tense of the verb, and which conjugation class it belongs to. So let's now review conjugation classes:

Verbs: Conjugation Classes

The term conjugation class describes a group of verbs which all have the same set of person and number endings. Latvian has three major conjugation classes (each of which can have several "subclasses"). So far you have seen only classes 2 and 3. Here are the endings for classes 2 and 3 (in the present tense):

number person Class 2 Class 3(a) Class 3(b)
singular 1st -u -u -u
2nd -∅ -i -i
plural 1st -am -ām -am
2nd -at -āt -at
3rd -∅ -a -∅
sample verbs: mazgāt "to wash" darīt "to do" zināt "to know"

As this table shows, the endings for classes 2 and 3(a) are identical, except that class 2 verbs don't have an -i ending in the 2nd person singular. However, classes 2 and 3 have one major difference: class 2 verbs keep their "thematic vowel" in the present tense, while class 3 verbs do not.

A thematic vowel doesn't really have a "meaning"; it is the vowel which appears before the -t of the infinitive ending. In other words, it is the in mazgāt or zināt, or the in darīt. For example, the thematic vowel (and the "separating" -j-) shows up in the 1st person singular present tense of the class 2 verb mazgāju "I wash", but not in the class 3 verb zinu "I know".

Now let's look at how this works for verbs in different tenses.

Verbs: Tenses

To date you have learned two verb tenses: the present tense and the past tense. As just mentioned above, conjugation class 2 verbs have their thematic vowel show up in all their present tense forms, while class 3 verbs do not. However, both conjugation classes show the thematic vowel in all past tense forms. Thus, the 1st person singular past tense form of zināt is zināju "I knew", and the 1st person singular past tense form of mazgāt is mazgāju "I washed" (which is, in fact, identical to its present tense form mazgāju "I wash". However, this doesn't cause confusion, because speakers will often use time adverbs like "now" and "tomorrow" to clarify things.)

To make things even simpler, the endings on both class 2 and class 3 verbs are identical in the past tense:

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

(Note: the thematic vowel is always separated by a -j- from a following person and number ending; thus: zināju "I knew", zināji "you knew", zināja "he/she knew", etc.)

Verbs: Irregular verbs

Finally, you were introduced to three irregular verbs. The first of these was the verb būt, meaning "to be", which looks like this in the present tense:

būt 'to be' present tense
singular 1st p. esm-u (pronounced e*smu)
2nd p. es-i
plural 1st p. es-a-m (pronounced e*sam)
2nd p. es-at (pronounced e*sat)
3rd. p. ir

The second irregular verb is iet "to go, walk"; this verb has the following present tense forms:

iet 'to go' present tense
singular 1st p. ej-u
2nd p. ej
plural 1st p. ej-a-m
2nd p. ej-at
3rd. p. iet

Finally, you were introduced to the irregular verb dot "to give". This verb is irregular because the present stem and the past stem are quite different. This is the table which shows the verb 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

Adjectives: Vocabulary

This is a review of some adjectives:

Adjectives: English to Latvian:

For each of the following English adjectives, click on the button to choose the correct Latvian translation:

big: liels mans sauss
good: gatavs labs smuks
new: jauns smuks tavs
old: mans resns vecs

Adjectives: Latvian to English:

For each of the following Latvian words, click on the button to choose the correct English translation:

abi: big both ready
gara: ready tall your
skaists: beautiful dry fat
viens: dry my one

Adjective agreement

In Latvian, an adjective must agree with the noun that it modifies. In other words, the endings that mark gender and case on an adjective must have the same "meaning" (or function) as the endings which mark the gender and case of the noun that the adjective is modifying.

Thus, "good daughter" is lab-a meit-a (in the nominative, with a feminine noun), but "good table" is lab-u gald-u (in the accusative, with a masculine noun).

Latvian nouns have six different declension classes (of which you have only seen four, so far). However, adjectives have only two sets of endings: one for masculine and one for feminine. Regardless of which class of noun an adjective is modifying, an adjective uses the endings of declension 1 nouns if it modifies a masculine noun, but the endings of declension class 4 nouns if it modifies a feminine noun.

Thus, "good mother" is lab-ai māt-ei (in the dative, with a feminine class 5 noun), but "good brother" is lab-u brāl-i (in the accusative, with a masculine class 2 noun).

Vocabulary: Adverbs

Now let's review some adverbs:

Adverbs: English to Latvian:

For each of the following English words, click on the button to choose the correct Latvian translation:

also: abi arī atā
how much: cik čau
here: diezgan jauki šeit
now: noteikti tagad vienalga
where: kam kas kur
why: kāpēc še tūliņ

Adverbs: Latvian to English:

For each of the following Latvian words, click on the button to choose the correct English translation:

labi: good really same
ļoti: already so much very
nemaz: no where not at all nothing
šodien: really right away today
tāpat: certainly immediately similarly

Grammar: Adverbs

There is very little to say about the grammar of adverbs. They often modify an adjective; an example is the adverb ļoti "very" in the phrase ļoti resns "very fat". They can also amplify or modify the meaning of the sentence's verb; for example, as the adverb tiešām "really, truly" does in the sentence Roberts tiešām grib to grāmatu "Robert really wants that book."

Also note that interrogatives like cik "how much?" and kur "where?" are normally classed as adverbs.

Vocabulary:Prepositions

Now let's review some prepositions:

Prepositions: English to Latvian:

For each of the following English words, click on the button to choose the correct Latvian translation:

after: ak pēc tik
from: no še
on: atā es uz
with: ar esi vai

Grammar: Prepositions

Latvian prepositions are followed by the nouns (or pronouns) that they govern. Unlike English prepositions, they also dictate which case the governed noun will take. Some prepositions require the genitive case, like no "from, off" or pēc "after", as the following examples show:

no galda "off (of) the table", no Rīgas "from Riga"
pēc launaga "after lunch/snack", pēc dziesmas "after the song"

Other prepositions require the accusative case, like ar "with" or uz "on, to, at", as seen in the following examples:

ar Jāzepu "with Joseph", ar zīmuli "with a pencil"
uz Rīgu "to Riga", uz to adresi "to that address"

Note, however, that the preposition uz only takes the accusative case if it is describing motion towards that object or location. If there is no motion, just a description of the location, then the genitive is used, as seen in these examples:

uz galda "on (top of) the table, uz mašīnas "on the car"

Pronouns: Vocabulary

This is a review of some Latvian pronouns:

Pronouns: English to Latvian:

For each of the following English words, click on the button to choose the correct Latvian translation:

I: atā es ēst
she: viņa viņi viņš
we: mēs tur vai

Pronouns: Latvian to English:

For each of the following Latvian words, click on the button to choose the correct English translation:

kas: what where who
jūs: juice there you
pats: that one self me
tev: that one them to you

Grammar: Pronouns

The first and second person singular pronouns es "I" and tu "you (sg.)" differ in their basic root forms (i.e. man- and tev), but are fairly similar in terms of their endings. Take a look at the following chart:

case 1st p. sg. 2nd p. sg.
nominative es tu
genitive man-is tev-is
dative man tev
accusative man-i tev-i
locative man-ī tev-ī
vocative - tu!

By comparison, the third person pronouns viņš "he" and viņa "she" are are almost identical to the endings found on first and fourth declension nouns. Although not quite as similar, the pronouns kas "who, what" and tas "that one" also generally follow this pattern. Take a look at this chart:

masculine feminine masculine feminine
case Latvian English translation Latvian English translation Latvian English translation Latvian English translation
nominative viņ-š he viņ-a she tas that one that one
genitive viņ-a his viņ-as hers that one's tās that one's
dative viņ-am to him viņ-ai to her tam to that one tai to that one
accusative viņ-u him viņ-u her to that one to that one
locative viņ-ā in him viņ-ā in her tanī in that one tajā in that one
vocative - - - - - - - -

As far as plural pronouns go, to date you have only been introduced to the nominative form: mēs "we", jūs "you (pl. & formal)", viņas "they (feminine)", and viņi "they (masc. & both genders)".

Miscellaneous: Vocabulary

The following is a review of greetings, conjunctions, and other miscellaneous words:

Miscellaneous: English to Latvian:

For each of the following English words, click on the button to choose the correct Latvian translation:

and: atā tik un
no: ne no
please: diezgan lūdzu pietiek
thank you: klājas paldies tāpat
yes: klau jau

Miscellaneous: Latvian to English:

For each of the following Latvian words, click on the button to choose the correct English translation:

čau: bye chair whether
labdien: good day good evening good morning
vai: but hello whether

Grammar: Sentence structures

Grammar: Questions

There are two basic types of questions: yes/no questions and wh- questions. Wh- questions in Latvian begin with an interrogative word like the adverb kur "where" or the pronoun kas "who, what". Here are some examples:

Kur ir viņas māja? "Where is her house?"
Kur tu dzīvoji "Where did you live?
Kas grib dziedāt? "Who wants to sing?"

Yes/no questions in Latvian always begin with the interrogative word vai. Here are some example sentences:

Vai Roberts grib ēst? "Does Robert want to eat?"
Vai tu dziedāji? "Did you sing?"

Grammar: Negative sentences

Negative sentences are usually created by putting the prefix ne- in front of a verb. In addition, you can add as many other negative words (like nekur "nowhere" or nemaz "not at all") as you wish. Unlike mathematics, in Latvian two negatives don't make a positive. Here are a few examples:

Rita nezvanīja Jāzepam. "Rita didn't call Joseph."
Es nekur neredzu Annu. "I don't see Anna anywhere." (Literally: I no-where not-see Anna.)

Grammar: Dative constructions

There are certain sentences which require that the main "actor" in the sentence occur in the dative case (rather than the nominative case). For example, Latvian has no verb meaning "to have". Instead, one must use the verb būt "to be" in a third person form, with the "owner" in the dative form and the "owned" object in the nominative. Here is an example:

Lindai ir skaista māja. "Linda has a beautiful house." (Literally: To-Linda is beautiful house.)

The verbs patikt "to like, be pleasing to" and piederēt "to own, belong to" have similar constructions:

Man patīk Ritas mašīna. "I like Rita's car." (Literally: To-me is-pleasing Rita's car.)
Jānim piederēja ļoti liela māja. "John owned a very large house." (Literally: To-John belonged very large house.)

Exercises

Finally, here are some exercises, to review what you've learned to date:

Please translate the following sentences into Latvian:

  1. Yes, that's coffee.
  2. Thank you, no. That's the cat's milk.
  3. Where is the tea?
  4. What does John know?
  5. Good morning! I want a newspaper, please.
  6. Who was reading that book?
  7. I like that house. Good!
  8. I'm writing a letter to my brother with a pencil.
  9. Anna sent a big package with her daughter.
  10. Do you have a new telephone?
  11. John! Why are you (plural) reading the dictionary?
  12. We saw Robert in the garden.
  13. She doesn't like me at all.
Please translate the following sentences into English:
  1. Ko viņš darīja?
  2. Vai tavs telefons zvanīja?
  3. Kam ir gara jaka?
  4. Cik pulkstenis? Viens.
  5. Viņi iet uz pilsētu.
  6. Klausos! Nā, es nedzīvoju Rīgā tagad.
  7. Devu dēlam sausu dvieli.
  8. Viņai pieder skaista bet veca mašīna.
For each of the following, put the bracketed words into the correct case:
  1. pēc (pulkstenis)
  2. uz (Rīga)
  3. ar (mans) (tētis)
  4. no (tavs) (māte)
To check your answers, please click here → Answers to Exercises - Lesson 11.


Ready to learn something new? Please click here → Latvian Language Lesson 12


Country of Latvia | Travel in Latvia | Latvian Language | History of Latvia | Latvian Cuisine | Latvian Folklore and Folk Costumes | Latvian Music, Songs, and Dances


This page created and maintained by
A. Steinbergs

Last revised July 26, 2010