Latvian Language: Lesson 6


Anna and Pēteris are strolling around their neighbourhood. They stop in front of one particular property and have the following conversation:

Speaker Latvian English translation
Pēteris Man patīk tas koks. Tas koks ir tik liels un resns. I like that tree. That tree is so big and fat.
Anna Jā. Tas ir ļoti vecs ozols. Yes. That's a very old oak (tree).
Pēteris Kam tā māja pieder? Who owns that house?
Anna Tā ir Ritas māja. That's Rita's house.
Pēteris Skaista. Man arī patīk viņas mašīna. (It's) beautiful. I also like her car.
Anna Tā ir Roberta mašīna. That's Robert's car.
Pēteris Kas ir Roberts? Who's Robert?
Anna Viņš ir Ritas dēls. He's Rita's son.
Pēteris Vai viņai ir meita arī? Does she have a daughter too?
Anna Nē. Tikai dēls. No. Just a son.
Pēteris Vienalga. Man patīk viņas dēla mašīna. (It) doesn't matter. I like her son's car.

To hear this conversation: click here → Conversation 6


Latvian word English translation Latvian word English translation
Click on word to hear its pronunciation Click on word to hear its pronunciation
dēls (noun, masc.
pronounced: dē*ls)
'son' ozols (noun, masc.) 'oak, oak tree'
koks (noun, masc.) 'tree' resns (adj.
pronounced: re*sns)
māja (noun, fem.) 'house' skaists (adj.) 'beautiful, lovely'
man ( pronoun) 'to me' tik (adv.) 'so'
mašīna (noun, fem.) 'car, automobile' vai (interrogative) 'whether'
meita (noun, fem.) 'daughter' vecs (adj.
pronounced: ve*cs)
patikt (verb, infin.) 'like, be pleasing to' vienalga (adv.) 'whatever, all the same'
piederēt (verb, infin.) 'belong to'

Vocabulary notes

(a) dē*ls; re*sns, ve*cs: the asterisk following an e indicates that it is pronounced "open" rather than "close". The meaning of these terms is discussed in the Vowel pronunciations section below.

(b) man patīk; kam tā māja pieder; viņai ir meita: all of these are phrases which use the dative case; they are discussed in more detail in the grammar section below.

(c) mašīna: this word literally means "machine". It's an abbreviation of the word automašīna "automobile". While the word mašīna can also be used just to mean any type of machine, it is the most common way to say "car".

(d) vai: I have translated this word as "whether". However, it is most commonly used to start a yes/no question, in which case there is really no English translation (except maybe "?"). This is discussed in more detail in the grammar section below.

(e) vienalga: this word literally means "same + wage". It expresses the same idea as "six of one - half dozen of the other". It's the most common way of saying "It doesn't matter".

Pronunciation and spelling

Vowel pronunciations

You already know that the letter e can be pronounced either long (i.e. with a macron ē) or short (without a macron). However, each of these pronunciations has an additional variation that does NOT show up in the spelling. This is the so-called open pronunciation (platais "e"), which I have marked by the use of an asterisk following the e in the vocabulary list. The table below illustrates first the short open pronunciation, and then the long open pronunciation:

Latvian letter English example words (closest equivalent is underlined) Latvian example word (word links to audio track)
e (e*) at, cap, back desa 'sausage'
ē (ē*) add, dam, hang ēdam 'we eat'

Until this lesson you were only exposed to words in which the letter e was pronounced with a "close" or "closed" pronunciation (šaurais e); that is with the lips slightly parted and spread. However, Lesson 6 introduces three words with the "open" pronunciation (platais e). In this case, the lips are further apart, and, thus, mouth is somewhat more open. The open e pronunciation is very similar to the way that English speakers pronounce what is sometimes called the "short a" (as you can see from the example English words in the table above).

The problem with the "open e" is not its pronunciation; this is very easy for English speakers to say. The problem is knowing when to use it, since the spelling doesn't show it. The following is the list of vocabulary items containing the letter e which you have learned to date:
close "e": aritmētika 'arithmetic', bet 'but', es 'I', 'no', šefpavārs 'chef', tēja 'tea', telefons 'telephone', tev 'to you'
open "e": dēls 'son', resns 'fat', vecs 'old'

Latvian grammars will occasionally distinguish between a close and open e by writing the latter with a hook or cedilla under it (for example: vȩcs "old"). However, I have chosen not to do this (basically since I haven't been able to find the right computer code for a long open e with both a macron above and a cedilla below it!). Instead, I will continue to mark the open e pronunciation with an asterisk following it in the vocabulary list.

For more detailed information on the close and open e, please see my appendix on the Two Latvian e's.


Verbs which require the dative case

In this section, I will describe three verbal expressions which require the dative case.

(a) patikt: this verb is often translated as "like", but a much better translation would be "to be pleasing to". Take a look at the following example sentences:

Dative noun or pronoun Verb (in 3rd person) Nominative noun construction More literal translation Freer translation
Man patīk tas koks To me that tree is pleasing I like that tree
Tev patīk aritmētika To you arithmetic is pleasing You like arithmetic
Ritai patīk sula To Rita juice is pleasing Rita likes juice

What it comes down to is that Latvian doesn't really have a verb "to like". Instead you have to (i) use the verb patikt "to be pleasing" in the third person (i.e. patīk for the present tense), (ii) place the item you like in the nominative case, and (iii) put the person who likes it in the dative.

If both the "liker" and the object of the liking are pronouns, then the one in the nominative case must come first in the sentence, as in the following example:

Viņš man patīk

Literally this says "He to me is pleasing". but this is the only way you can say "I like him."

This kind of situation isn't actually unusual. For example, French uses the verb plaire in a very similar way. For example: ça me plaît literally means "that to me is pleasing", but it is the most common way to say "I like that" in French.
(Note that in French the verb aimer has connotations of romantic love, and, thus, would not normally be used to describe a liking for some object)

(b) piederēt "to belong to": This verb uses the same kind of dative construction. Take a look at the following examples:

Dative noun or pronoun Verb (in 3rd person) Nominative noun construction More literal translation Freer translation
Man pieder māja To me belongs (a) house I own a house
Tev pieder mašīna To you belongs (a) car You own a car
Robertam pieder tas laikraksts To Robert belongs that newspaper Robert owns that newspaper

Once again, the verb piederēt requires that the owner be placed in the dative case, and the item owned be in the nominative case, while the verb is always in the third person (pieder for the present tense).

(c) ir "have, has": finally let's look at how to say "have" or "has". Latvian doesn't have any verb equivalent to the English verb "to have"; instead you must use the verb "to be" (ir in the present tense) with a dative construction, as in the following examples:

Dative noun or pronoun Verb (in 3rd person) Nominative noun construction More literal translation Freer translation
Man ir kafija To me (there) is coffee I have some coffee
Tev ir paka To you (there) is a package You have a package
Jāzepam ir dēls To Joseph (there) is a son Joseph has a son

Just remember if you want to say "I have" or "you have" in Latvian, you must (i) use a third person form of the verb "to be" (ir in the present tense), (ii) put the person who "has" in the dative case, and (iii) put the item which the person has into the nominative case. Got it?

Nouns and pronouns: genitive case

This lesson introduces you to the genitive case. This is called the "possessive" case in English. This case is used for the individual who owns or has possession of something. For example:

Possessor (genitive case): Item possessed Translation
Roberta laikraksts Robert's newspaper
Annas piens Anna's milk

As the conversation shows, masculine and feminine genders have different genitive suffixes:

Genitive suffixes: masculine: -a feminine: -as

These endings are also used for the third person personal pronouns. Thus, the genitive forms of "he" and "she" are viņa "his" and viņas "her", respectively. (The first and second person pronouns have somewhat different forms, which you will see in a later lesson.)

Please note that Latvian also uses the genitive for a number of constructions which, in English, contain a prepositional phrase headed by of. Thus, instead of saying "the Queen of England", the Latvian quivalent would be Anglijas karaliene (literally: "England's queen"). The case is similar for expressions like "end of the road"; the Latvian version would be ceļa gals (literally: "the road's end").

Yes-no question formation

Finally, this lesson also shows you how to make a yes/no question. A yes/no question is one to which the answer is either "yes" or "no" (unlike a wh- question which includes a question word, like why, when, where, etc.).

Yes/no questions in English can be complicated. Take a look at the following English example statements and their related questions:

Type of sentence Helping verb Example
Statement Robert is reading the newspaper.
Question Is Robert reading the newspaper?
Statement You have a house.
Question Do you have a house?
Statement Rita likes arithmetic.
Question Does Rita like arithmetic?

As you can see from these examples, making a yes/no question in English can be complicated. If the sentence has a helping verb (like "is"), you have to move it out of the middle of the sentence and put it at the beginning of the question sentence. If the sentence doesn't have a helping verb, you have to add one (like "do") and put it at the beginning of the question sentence, but you have to make sure it is in the right form (i.e. "do" or "does"), and then you have to fix the main verb and make sure it is in the right form (e.g. "like", not "likes").

All this is actually pretty complicated. By comparison, making yes/no questions in Latvian is extremely easy. Take a look at the same sentences in Latvian:

Type of sentence Interrogative word Example
Statement Roberts lasa laikrakstu.
Question Vai Roberts lasa laikrakstu?
Statement Tev ir māja.
Question Vai tev ir māja?
Statement Ritai patīk aritmētika.
Question Vai Ritai patīk aritmētika?

As you can see, there is only thing you need to do: add the interrogative word vai at the beginning. Now you have a yes/no question! (Of course, you should add a question mark at the end as well!)


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

Please translate the following sentences into Latvian:

  1. I like that dictionary.
  2. Do you have a big pot?
  3. Does she own a good telephone?
Please translate the following sentences into English:
  1. Es sūtu Ritai Roberta mašīnu.
  2. Ko viņa dara?
  3. Vai tu lasi viņas grāmatu?
To check your answers, please click here → Answers to Exercises - Lesson 6.

Ready for Lesson 7? Please click here → Latvian Language Lesson 7

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Last revised January 10, 2010