Latvian Language: Lesson 5


Rita and Māra meet at the post office (pasta nodaļā):

Speaker Latvian English translation
Māra Labdien, Rita! Good day, Rita.
Rita Labdien! Kā tev klājas? Good day. How are you?
Māra Labi, paldies. Un tev? Good, thank you. And you?
Rita Arī labi. Ko tu dari šeit? (I'm) good too. What are you doing here?
Māra Es sūtu Robertam paku. Un tu? I'm sending Robert a package. And you?
Rita Tāpat. Sūtu Lindai paku. The same. I'm sending Linda a package.
Māra Kāpēc? Why?
Rita Viņa ir skolotāja. Es sūtu viņai vārdnīcu. Un Roberts? Kāpēc tu sūti viņam paku? She's a teacher. I'm sending her a dictionary. And Robert? Why are you sending him a package?
Māra Viņš ir šefpavārs. Sūtu viņam lielu jaunu podu. He's a chef. I'm sending him a big, new pot.
Rita Ak tā. Labi. Atā. Oh (I see). OK. Bye.
Māra Atā Bye.

To hear this conversation: click here → Conversation 5


Latvian word English translation Latvian word English translation
Click on word to hear its pronunciation Click on word to hear its pronunciation
ak (interjection) 'ah, oh' pods (noun, 'pot, saucepan'
arī (adverb) 'also, too' skolotāja (noun, 'teacher (female)'
atā (interjection; stressed on SECOND syllable) 'bye, so long' sūtīt (verb, infinitive) 'to send'
jauns (adj.) 'young, new' šefpavārs (noun, 'chef, cook'
kāpēc (interr. adv.) 'why' tāpat (adv.) 'in the same way'
klājas (verb, 3.p.pres.refl.) 'goes, suits, fits' tev ( 'to you'
labdien (greeting; stressed on SECOND syllable) 'hello, good day' vārdnīca (noun, 'dictionary'
liels ( 'big, large' viņa ( prounoun) 'she'
paka ( 'package, parcel' viņš ( prounoun) 'he'

Vocabulary notes

(a) ak tā: more literally this phrase says "Ah, that". Imagine that the person is saying "Oh, it's that way" or "Oh, it's like that".

(b) klājas: although I have translated the question Kā tev klājas? as "How are you?", it literally says "How (to) you (does it) suit?" or "How goes (it) (with) you?"; thus, I have translated the verb klājas as 'goes, suits, fits'. In Latvian, when greeting a person, you don't literally ask: "How are you?". Instead, the question Kā tev klājas? is asking "How are things going for you?" or "How does life suit you?"

(c) labdien: this is one of the most common ways to say "hello". However, it can only be used after noon and before 6:00 pm (approximately). Before noon one would say labrīt "good morning"; after 6:00 pm, one would say labvakar "good evening".

(d) šefpavārs: literally this word is "chef" + "cook". You can use the word pavārs by itself to mean "a cook", but if you want to say "chef", you have to use the compound word šefpavārs.

Pronunciation and spelling

This lesson doesn't introduce any new vowel sounds, so let's go straight to the new consonant sounds:

Consonant pronunciations

There are two different pronunciations of the letter v:

Latvian letter English example words (closest equivalent is underlined) Latvian example word (word links to audio track)
v [v] van, vest, view vest 'to bring'
v [w] cow, bough, grow tev 'to you'

In many cases, the Latvian letter v is pronounced just like an English [v]. However, sometimes it is pronounced like a [w]. The Latvian alphabet doesn't include the letter w, but whenever the letter v occurs at the end of a syllable, it is pronounced like a [w]. When v occurs at the beginning of a syllable, it is pronounced like a [v].

Now, let's look at the pronunciation of the letter n with a comma under it ( ņ ):

Latvian letter English example words (closest equivalent is underlined) Latvian example word (word links to audio track)
ņ canyon, bunion ņemt 'to take'

As discussed earlier (in Lesson 4), the comma underneath a letter is called a "softening sign" (mīkstinājuma zīme) and it indicates that the letter doesn't have its normal pronunciation (e.g. dental), but that it now has a palatal pronunciation.

English speakers typically say a palatal n in a word like canyon or bunion; rather than saying a clear [n], followed by a clear [i] or y, they run them together and get a palatal n (phonetically: [ɲ]). This same sound is found in several European languages, for example:

French agneau 'lamb', Spanish año 'year', Italian bagno 'bath'

Palatal assimilation

You may have noticed that the masculine personal pronoun viņš "he" ends in an š rather than an s. Since words of masculine gender normally end in -s in the nominative case, this is somewhat unexpected.

It's all the fault of the sound represented by the letter ņ. This sound is pronounced with the tongue touching the middle of the hard palate. By comparison, the normal masculine -s ending is dental &mdash that is, it is said with the tip of the tongue just behind the upper teeth. What happens is this: the front of the tongue touches the middle of the hard palate for the ņ, but it doesn't make it all the way forward to the upper teeth for the following s sound; instead it only gets as far as the front of the hard palate, and so you get an š. In other words: ņ + sņ + š.

Because the resulting š is more similar to an ņ than an s would be, this process is called assimilation. However, all you have to remember is that the š ending (which occurs after ņ) is really just another variety of the regular masculine -s ending.

Consonant length

The word paka 'package' is pronounced as if the [k] sound is held for an extra long time. This doesn't show up in the spelling; however, it is a regular feature of Latvian that some consonant sounds are pronounced long in certain situations. Specifically, a consonant is long if it occurs between two short vowels, and the first of these is a stressed vowel. Take a look at the following example words:

paka 'package', Rita 'Rita', lasa 'reads'

In each case, the underlined consonant sound is held for an extended period of time. This doesn't apply to every single consonant sound in Latvian; it applies only to voiceless obstruents, specifically: p, t, k, ķ, f, s and š.


In this lesson we see two more words which stress the second syllable; they are atā "bye" and labdien "good day". This is actually to be expected, as greetings (including good-byes) are almost always stressed on the second syllable, rather than the first.


Nouns and pronouns: dative case

So far you have learned two Latvian cases: nominative and accusative. As you may remember from Lesson 3, the nominative case is used to mark the subject of a sentence, while the accusative case is used to indicate the direct object of a verb.

This lesson introduces the dative case. This case is most often used to mark the indirect object of the verb. What do we mean by this? Take a look at the following examples:

Subject Verb Indirect object Direct object
English Rita is sending Linda a package
Latvian Rita sūta Lindai paku
English Mara is sending Robert a pot
Latvian Māra sūta Robertam podu
nominative dative accusative

The words in the yellow-highlighted column represent those who are the recipients (or beneficiaries) of the item which is the direct object. In other words, it is Linda who gets the package, or Robert who is the recipient of the pot. In English, this is shown by the order of the words (indirect object followed by direct object), or sometimes by the use of the preposition to, as in I sent the package to Linda.

In Latvian, the word representing the recipient is placed in the dative case. Masculine and feminine nouns have different dative suffixes:

Dative suffixes: masculine: -am feminine: -ai

Not only do these endings apply to nouns, they are also used with personal pronouns. Thus, the pronouns meaning "he" and "she" have the following forms:

masculine feminine
nominative viņ-š viņ-a
dative viņ-am viņ-ai
accusative viņ-u viņ-u

Because the recipient role is marked by an ending on the word, it isn't necessary to put the indirect object before the direct object. Thus, as sentence meaning "Rita is sending Linda a package" could be translated either as "Rita sūta paku Lindai" or "Rita sūta Lindai paku", and both would be correct.

Adjective agreement

This lesson introduces two more adjectives: jauns "new, young" and liels "big, large". As discussed in Lesson 4, an adjective must agree with the noun that it modifies, both in gender and case. The adjective endings resemble the endings of the masculine and feminine nouns that we have introduced so far. Thus, the endings for adjectives look like this:

masculine feminine
nominative -s -a
dative -am -ai
accusative -u -u

Thus, the accusative form of "good milk" would be labu pienu while the dative form of "big pot" would be lielam podam. As you can see, the endings match up nicely.


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

Please translate the following sentences into Latvian:

  1. She is sending Rita a newspaper too.
  2. Rita is sending him a big package.
  3. Robert is writing a new book.
  4. Here's a good dictionary.
Please translate the following sentences into English:
  1. Ko tu dari?
  2. Es sūtu tev ļoti labu kafiju.
  3. Kāpēc tu lasi laikrakstu?
  4. Paldies. Čau!
To check your answers, please click here → Answers to Exercises - Lesson 5.

Ready for Lesson 6? Please click here → Latvian Language Lesson 6

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Last revised May 3, 2010