Latvian Language: Lesson 12


Late one evening, Jānis (John) is walking along the street and runs into his friend and neighbour Māris (Mario):

Speaker Latvian English translation
Jānis Labvakar, Māri! Good evening, Māris.
Māris Labvakar! Good evening.
Jānis Skaists vakars, vai nē? Beautiful evening, isn't it?
Māris Jā, bet drusciņ vēss un vējains. Kā tev iet? Yes, but a little cool and windy. How are you?
Jānis Slikti. Naktī man sāpēja auss. Tagad auss vairs nesāp, bet man galva sāp. Bad. (Last) night my ear hurt. Now my ear doesn't hurt any more, but my head hurts.
Māris Žēl. Vai tev ir labs ārsts? Pity. Do you have a good doctor?
Jānis Man nav ārsta. Man nevajag — man ir dators! Visu informāciju varu dabūt no interneta. I don't have a doctor. I don't need (one) — I have a computer! All the information (I need) I can get from the internet.
Māris Man datora nav, diemžēl.
Ak vai, man ir kaut kas acī!
I don't have a computer, unfortunately.
Oh no, I have something in my eye!
Jānis helps Māris get the speck of dust out of his eye.
Jānis Labāk? Better?
Māris Jā, paldies! Yes, thanks.
Jānis Nu, labi. Eju. Uzredzēšanos! Well, good. I'm going. See you later.
Māris Uzredzēšanos! See you later.

To hear this conversation: click here → Conversation 12


Latvian word English translation Latvian word English translation
Click on word to hear its pronunciation Click on word to hear its pronunciation
acs (noun, fem., 'eye' labvakar (greeting; stress on 2nd syllable) 'good evening'
ak vai (exclamatory phrase) 'oh my, oh dear, oh no!' nakts (noun, fem., 'night'
ārsts (noun, masc.) 'doctor (male)' nav (verb, negative 3rd person of būt "to be") 'isn't/aren't'
auss (noun, fem. 'ear' nu (exclamation) 'well, so'
dabūt (verb, infin. 2) 'to get' sāpēt (verb, infin. 3(b)) 'to hurt, be in pain'
dators (noun, masc., pronounced with long o sound) 'computer' slikti (adverb) 'badly, poorly'
diemžēl (adverb, pronounced diemžē*l) 'unfortunately' uzredzēšanos (interjectional phrase; stress on 2nd syllable) 'see you later, so long, au revoir'
drusciņ (adverb) 'a little bit' vairs (adverb) 'no more, any more, no longer'
galva (noun, fem.) 'head' vajadzēt (verb, infin. 3(b)) 'to need, require'
informācija (noun, fem.) 'information' vakars (noun, masc.) 'evening'
internets (noun, masc.) 'internet' varēt (verb, infin. 3(b)) 'to be able; can'
kaut kas (pronoun, indef.) 'something' vējains (adjective) 'windy'
labāk (adverb, compar.) 'better' vēss (adjective, pronounced vē*ss) 'cool'
labs (adjective) 'good' žēl (adverb, pronounced žē*l) 'pitifully, sorrowfully'

Vocabulary notes

(a) diemžēl: this adverb is apparently a contraction of the phrase Dievam ir žēl, which literally means "God has pity". In essence, using this adverb is the equivalent of saying "It's a pity that…" or "It is unfortunate that…".

(b) kaut kas: although this pronoun is spelled as two separate words, it essentially acts as a single, indefinite pronoun. It is declined just like the pronoun kas "what, who". Thus, the genitive is kaut kā "in some way", the dative is kaut kam "to someone, for something", the accusative is kaut ko "something". There isn't really a locative form; instead one says kaut kur "somewhere", and, of course, there is no vocative.

(c) uzredzēšanos: is a combination of the preposition uz "on" and the reflexive partiple redzēšanos "seeing-each-other". Since it is a type of (farewell) greeting, it is always stressed on the second syllable. This way of saying "see you later" is actually a direct word-for-word translation (called a calque) of the German expression auf Wiedersehen, which literally means "on again-seeing". The French expression au revoir means exactly the same thing as well.

Pronunciation and spelling

New consonant pronunciation

This lesson introduces a new consonant sound, which is represented by the letter ž. It occurs in the vocabulary items žēl and diemžēl. Here is some information about the pronunciation of this sound:

Latvian letter English example words (closest equivalent is underlined) Latvian example word (word links to audio track)
ž pleasure, measure, leisure, menage žurka 'rat'

As you can see from the above examples, this sound is produced exactly the same way as the middle consonant in words like pleasure and measure.

Additional pronunciation notes

Although the adjective labs is spelled with the letter b, in the nominative singular masculine form this word is not pronounced as a [b], but rather as a [p]. This is due to the influence of the following -s suffix. This is a typical example of voicing assimilation. If you want to review voicing assimilation, please look in the section on Consonant Pronunciation Hints.

Although the word nav "is not/are not" is written with a letter v at the end, this final consonant is not pronounced like a [v], but rather like a [w] sound in a diphthong. Thus, nav sounds something like English mouse or out (but without a final "s" or "t"), of course.

The noun vakars "evening" is spelled with a single letter k, but it is pronounced as a long consonant sound. As you may remember from Lesson 5, this is a feature of certain Latvian consonant sounds. For example, the middle consonant in each of the following words is also pronounced long:

paka 'package', Rita 'Rita', lasa 'reads', jaka 'jacket', esi 'you are', kaķis 'cat'

To review the section on consonant length, please click here → Consonant Length.


Noun Declension Class 6

Up to now you have studied two kinds of masculine nouns (declension classes 1 and 2) and two kinds of feminine nouns (declension classes 4 and 5). These four classes encompass the overwhelming majority of Latvian nouns. Now this lesson introduces another declension class (class 6), which actually includes a fairly small number of nouns (perhaps a couple of dozen). However, some of these are among the most common nouns in Latvian. Specifically, this class includes a number of nouns which refer to parts of the body: acs "eye", auss "ear", sirds "heart", and asins "blood", as well as a number of other very common words: nakts "night", govs "cow", zivs "fish", krāsns "oven", etc.

Up until now, if a noun ended in an -s in the nominative singular, that meant that it was masculine. However, almost all of the nouns in class 6 are feminine (there is one exception, which you will learn in a later lesson). Note, also, that these are feminine -i- stem nouns, meaning that many of the endings contain the vowel -i-. Here is a table which shows how these nouns are declined:

Class 6 nouns
nominative ac-s aus-s nakt-s
genitive ac-s aus-s nakt-s
dative ac-ij aus-ij nakt-ij
accusative ac-i aus-i nakt-i
locative ac-ī aus-ī nakt-ī
vocative ac-s aus-s nakt-s

In general, this class follows the same overall pattern of endings as the other feminine nouns with one major exception: the genitive ending is identical to the nominative ending. Thus, if you wanted to say "song of the night" (i.e. "night's song"), it would be nakts dziesma, since nakts "night" has an -s ending in the genitive, as well as in the nominative.

More verbs which require the dative case

In Lesson 6 you were presented with some verbs which require the dative case (like patikt "to like" or piederēt "to belong to"). In this lesson you are introduced to a couple more. Let's look first at the verb sāpēt "to hurt":

Dative noun or pronoun Verb
(in 3rd person)
Nominative noun More literal translation Freer translation
Robertam sāp galva To Robert is hurting (the) head Robert's head hurts
Tev sāpēja acs To you was hurting (the) eye Your eye was hurting
Kaķim sāp auss To (the) cat is hurting (the) ear The cat's ear hurts

You can see from these examples that the verb sāpēt typically refers to pain in a particular part of the body. The painful body part is the subject of the verb and, therefore, is in the nominative case. The person (or, for that matter, the animal!) who is suffering the pain is in the dative case, and the verb is in the third person. If you want to say that you are (generally) in pain, then you merely omit to mention any body part. In other words, Man sāp means "I'm in pain".

The verb vajadzēt "to need" works a little differently. Here are a few examples:

Dative noun or pronoun Verb (in 3rd person) Accusative construction More literal translation Freer translation
Man vajag vārdnīcu For me is required (a) dictionary I need a dictionary
Ritai vajadzēja mūsu adresi For Rita was required our address Rita needed our address

This verb also is used in the third person, and, similarly, the individual who requires the item occurs in the dative case. However, the item required is in the accusative (i.e. direct object) case. This results in a sentence which has no subject case (i.e. nominative) form!

(Please note: some grammars place the item required in the genitive case. In other words "I need a dictionary" would be translated as "Man vajag vārdnīcas". However, this usage seems to be changing. While the genitive case was used in these constructions at one time, nowadays the accusative is much more common. Thus, you could certainly use the genitive case in these constructions, but you would probably sound rather old-fashioned or overly formal.)

Another notable feature of the verb vajadzēt is that the verb stem ends in a g in the present tense. In all other tenses the verb stem ends in dz. Please make a note of this.

Irregular verb būt

Although būt "to be" is an irregular verb, it is actually fairly regular in its structure, provided you remember that the present tense verb stem is es- (in most cases) and that the past tense verb stem is bij-. Take a look at the chart below, which illustrates this:

Irregular verb būt "to be"
number person present tense past tense
singular 1st esm-u bij-u
2nd es-i bij-i
plural 1st es-am bij-ām
2nd es-at bij-āt
3rd ir bij-a

(Note: the present tense root is normally pronounced with a open e, except for the second person singular which has a close e. Thus, you would say e*smu "I am", e*sam "we are", e*sat "you (pl.) are", but esi "you (sg.) are".)

In fact, the only truly exceptional form of būt (i.e. the one which does NOT use the verb stem es-) is the third person present tense form; ir "is, are".

Negative form nav "isn't/aren't"

This third person present tense form is also exceptional in the negative. The verb būt normally forms negatives just like any other verb, that is: with the prefix ne-, as seen in the following examples:

Irregular verb būt "to be" in the negative
number person present tense past tense
singular 1st ne-esm-u ne-bij-u
2nd ne-es-i ne-bij-i
plural 1st ne-es-am ne-bij-ām
2nd ne-es-at ne-bij-āt
3rd nav ne-bij-a

(Note: the forms which are spelled with the two letters e in a row are pronounced like a long vowel. Thus, neesmu "I'm not" is actually pronounced nē*smu. Similarly, neesi "you (sg.) are" is pronounced nēsi, neesam "we aren't" is pronounced nē*sam, and neesat "you (pl.) aren't" is pronounced nē*sat.)

It is evident that the third person present tense form of būt is extremely irregular in both its positive (ir) and its negative form (nav).

Negative genitive structures

Since Latvian has no verb which directly translates as "to have", the third person form of būt is used to express ownership, as in the following sentences:

Dative noun or pronoun Verb (in 3rd person) Nominative noun Translation
Man ir zīmulis I have a pencil
Kaķim ir piens The cat has milk
Ritai bija vārdnīca Rita had a dictionary

However, when these types of sentences occur in the negative, the object "owned" occurs in the genitive case:

Dative noun or pronoun Negative verb (in 3rd person) Genitive noun Translation
Man nav zīmuļa I don't have a pencil
Kaķim nav piena The cat doesn't have any milk
Ritai nebija vārdnīcas Rita didn't have a dictionary

You could think of it as if these kinds of negative sentences imply that there is a "lack of" something. In other words, mentally rephrase a sentence like "The cat doesn't have any milk" into "For the cat, there is a lack of milk". This might remind you that the item lacking must occur in the genitive case.


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

Please translate the following sentences into Latvian:

  1. Good evening, John!
  2. Linda's ear hurts.
  3. A cool night, isn't it?
  4. Did your (formal) head hurt?
  5. The doctor wants to see me.
  6. Joseph needs some coffee.
  7. My brother has something in (his) ear.
  8. Anna doesn't have any juice at all.
For each of the following phrases, put the bracketed noun and adjective in the correct form, and translate the phrase into English:
  1. no (mans) (acs)
  2. pēc (pulkstenis)
  3. ar (jauns) (dators)
  4. uz (liels) (dvielis)
Please translate the following sentences into English:
  1. Ārā ir vējains.
  2. Man nekas nesāp.
  3. Mēs nekad nedabūjām internetu.
  4. Acij nevajadzēja arstu.
  5. Meitai nav interneta, bet viņai ir liels dators. Jauki!
  6. Mātei nebija tējas. Žēl!
  7. Pēc pulksteņa ir jau rīts.
  8. Vakarā viņi vairs nevarēja redzēt. Tas ir slikti!
To check your answers, please click here → Answers to Exercises - Lesson 12.

Ready for Lesson 13? Please click here → Latvian Language Lesson 13

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Last revised September 3, 2010