Latvian Language: Lesson 7


Jāzeps and Linda are playing outside. Their mother, Anna, comes outside to look for them:

Speaker Latvian English translation
Anna Jāzep! Kur tu esi? Joseph! Where are you?
Jāzeps Dārzā. In the garden.
Anna Kur dārzā? Where in the garden?
Jāzeps Šeit. Lielā kļavā. Here. In the big maple (tree).
Anna Launags ir gatavs. Linda! Kur tu esi? Lunch is ready. Linda! Where are you?
Linda Šeit. Esmu kokā arī. Here. I'm in the tree too.
Anna Ko jūs abi darat kokā? What are you both doing in the tree?
Jāzeps Mēs rakstām lugu. We're writing a play.
Anna Jūs rakstāt lugu! Kokā?! Pietiek! Laiks ēst. You're writing a play! In a tree?! Enough! Time to eat.
Jāzeps Kur ir tētis un vecmāmiņa? Where are Daddy and Granma?
Anna Viņi ir jau iekšā. Jūs arī, lūdzu. Tūliņ! They're inside already. You too, please. Right away!

To hear this conversation: click here → Conversation 7


Latvian word English translation Latvian word English translation
Click on word to hear its pronunciation Click on word to hear its pronunciation
abi (adj., 'both' kur (adv.) 'where'
būt (verb, infin.) 'to be' laiks (noun, masc.) 'time'
dārzs (noun, masc.) 'garden' launags (noun, masc.) 'lunch, luncheon, snack'
esi (verb, '(you) are' luga (noun, fem.) 'play, stageplay'
esmu (verb,
pronounced: e*smu)
'(I) am' mēs (pronoun, 'we'
ēst (verb, infin.) 'to eat' pietiek (verb, 3.p.pres.) 'suffices, is enough'
gatavs (adj.) 'ready' šeit (adv.) 'here'
iekša (noun, fem.) '(the) inside, (the) indoors' tētis (noun, masc.) 'daddy, dad, papa'
jau (adv.) 'already' tūliņ (adv.) 'immediately, right away'
jūs ( pronoun) 'you (pl. or formal)' vecmāmiņa (noun, fem, dimin.) 'gramma, granny'
kļava (noun, fem.) 'maple tree'

Vocabulary notes

(a) būt: the verb meaning "to be" is an irregular verb. Please note that the while the 2nd person singular form esi "(you) are" has a close e, the 1st person singular form esmu "(I) am" is pronounced with an open e (i.e. pronounced e*smu). This verb is discussed in more detail in the grammar section below.

(b) iekša: this noun means "the inside" or "the indoors". When translating an English phrase like "is inside" or "go indoors", Latvian typically uses the locative case. Thus, ir iekšā (literally: "is in the inside") or iet iekšā (literally: "to go into the indoors").

(c) launags: although I have used this word as a translation of "lunch", it is more often used to mean an afternoon snack, like the British institution of afternoon tea. The midday meal in Latvia is commonly called pusdienas, which literally means "mid + days", but is usually translated as "dinner" or "lunch".

(d) tētis, vecmāmiņa: these words are casual, intimate terms, which I have translated as "daddy" and "gramma". The formal words meaning "father" and "grandmother" are tēvs (pronounced tē*s) and vecāmāte (which literally means "old + mother"). Please note that the word vecmāmiņa is a diminutive form; this is indicated by the suffix -iņ-a. For a more detailed description of this, please see the section on Diminutives.

Pronunciation and spelling

Although this lesson doesn't introduce any new sounds, there are still a couple of words that I want to discuss. As you may remember from Lesson 1, although the word galds ("table") is spelled ds at the end, the final two consonant sounds are actually pronounced [ts]. (In linguistic terms, this is known as "voicing assimilation")

Exactly the same type of thing happens with the words launags "lunch" and dārzs "garden". Although the words are spelled gs and zs (respectively) at the end, they are actually pronounced [ks] and [ss] (a long [s] sound). The g and z lose their voicing (because of the following [s]) and end up being pronounced as [k] and [s]. As we continue, there will be additional examples of this type of thing. If you would like a more detailed explanation of why this happens, please go to the section on Consonant Pronunciation Hints.


Vocative case

This lesson introduces the vocative case of nouns. This is the form used when directly speaking to a person. In English this is exactly the same as the regular subject form of the noun (i.e. you say: "John!", "Mary!", etc.). The same is usually true for feminine nouns in Latvian: there is usually no difference between the vocative form and the nominative form. Thus, when speaking to Linda, Rita, or Anna, you merely address them as Linda!, Rita!, or Anna!
(Note, that when written alone, the vocative form of a word must have an exclamation mark following it.)

However, masculine nouns which refer to people typically have a separate vocative form. For example, when addressing a male person by name, this name would be in the vocative case, and you would normally drop the final -s. Thus, when speaking to Roberts, Jāzeps, or Gunārs, you say Robert! Jāzep! Gunār! The same is often true if you are addressing someone by their occupation. The terms for many occupations end in -tājs, for example lasītājs "reader", skolotājs"(male) teacher". Thus, you would call a teacher Skolotāj! (This assumes that you would be so impolite; normally, of course, you would address a teacher as "Mr. Green", "Miss Brown", or whatever their name is.)

Note that I have provided no vocative forms for nouns which represent an inanimate object. For example, there is no vocative form for galds "table", piens "milk", etc. Latvian grammars typically assume that the vocative form of an inanimate object is the same as the nominative form; since you are unlikely to be speaking to an inanimate object, I have decided to omit this option.

Finally, please note that there is a lot of variability when using the vocative case. For a more detailed description of how this case works, please see my appendix entitled The Vocative Case.

Locative case

This lesson also introduces the locative case. This case is used to indicate a location, for example: dārzā "in the garden", kokā "in a tree", laikrakstā "in the newspaper". This case can also be used in a less literal, more abstract sense; for example, one can also use it to express something like "I believe in arithmetic": es ticu aritmētikā.

As you saw in the discussion of the accusative case, sometimes masculine and feminine nouns can have the same ending; this can also occur in the locative case. Thus, all of these example nouns have the same locative ending: .

Instrumental case

Latvian grammars often include an additional case which they call the instrumental case. This is really unnecessary. The so-called instrumental case is the form that the noun (or pronoun) takes when it follows (i.e. is governed by) the preposition ar "with". Since the preposition ar governs the accusative case (in the singular), this means that a singular noun or pronoun which follows ar is always in the accusative case. Similarly, a plural noun or pronoun which follows ar always takes the dative case.

As a result, you don't actually need to set up a separate instrumental case, since any noun or pronoun which follows the preposition ar is always either accusative (when singular) or dative (when plural). Accusative and dative are cases which are needed regardless; thus, instrumental is a completely unnecessary fabrication.

If it's unnecessary, why do so many Latvian grammars include it? I suspect it's just a matter of tradition. Originally, anything that made Latvian look more like a prestigious, classical language (like Latin) was considered a good thing. Nowadays, we tend to go for simplicity and efficiency, so, for the sake of simplicity, let's do without this unnecessary case.

Overview of cases

This completes the introduction of Latvian cases. There are no more cases! To give you an overview of the cases which you have learned, and their endings, take a look at the following chart:

Masculine nouns Feminine nouns
Suffix Example word Example word Suffix Example word Example word
nominative -s Robert-s gald-s -a Rit-a mašīn-a
genitive -a Robert-a gald-a -as Rita-s mašīn-as
dative -am Robert-am gald-am -ai Rit-ai mašīn-ai
accusative -u Robert-u gald-u -u Rit-u mašīn-u
locative Robert-ā gald-ā Rit-ā mašīn-ā
vocative - Robert! -a Rit-a!

Plural personal pronouns

This lesson also introduces a few more personal pronouns. Until now you had only seen singular personal pronouns (i.e. those translating as "I", "you (sg.)", "he", or "she"). In this lesson you see, for the first time, some plural pronouns (i.e. "we", "you (pl.)", "they"). To put this in perspective, take a look at the following chart:

First person Second person Third person
masculine feminine
singular es 'I' tu 'you (sg.)' viņš 'he' viņa 'she'
plural mēs 'we' jūs 'you (pl.)' viņi 'they (masc.)' viņas 'they (fem.)'

Now you have a complete list of all the personal pronouns of Latvian. However, please note that this chart only shows the nominative forms of these pronouns. I haven't yet introduced you to all of the other cases of these pronouns (with the exception of the dative singular forms: man "to me", tev "to you", viņam "to him", viņai "to her"). I will provide additional forms in subsequent lessons.

Also note that the pronoun jūs has two different meanings: it can indicate either (i) a second person plural meaning, or (ii) a formal second person singular. A second personal plural just means that there is more than one of "you". But, what do I mean by a "formal second person singular"?

You may remember that I cautioned you (in Lesson 4) that the pronoun tu is an "intimate" pronoun, only to be used with family, friends, and children. If you are meeting someone for the first time, you would never address them as tu, only as jūs. This is particularly important if you are addressing someone who is older, or someone who is your social superior (i.e. your boss, your teacher, the president). ( This is exactly equivalent to the way that French uses the pronoun vous.)

Please note that these two meanings are distinguished when written. Thus, when you are writing to someone, you would use a small letter j if you mean "you plural" (i.e. jūs), but a capital letter J (i.e. Jūs) when addressing one person formally. Of course, there is no difference in the pronunciation.

Finally, please note that there are two different pronouns for "they", depending on whether you are talking about a group of men (viņi), or a group of women (viņas). However, if it is a mixed group, then you must use the masculine plural form viņi (as you saw in the conversation for this lesson, where the two people, Daddy and Granny, are described as viņi "they").

Plural verb forms

This lesson also introduces some plural verb forms. Take a look at the following chart:

singular plural
suffix example word & translation suffix example word & translation
1st.p. -u las-u 'I'm reading' -am las-am 'we're reading'
2nd.p. -i las-i 'you (sg.) are reading' -at las-at 'you (pl.) are reading'
3rd.p. -a las-a 'he/she is reading' -a las-a 'they're reading'

Note that the third person forms are identical. This is true for every single verb in Latvian: there is no difference between the third person singular form of the verb (e.g. lasa "(he) reads") and the third person plural form of that verb (e.g. lasa "(they) read"). This will make things much simpler for you, right?

Of course, if you must make the distinction, then the subject pronoun will clarify if it is a single person (e.g. viņa lasa "she reads") or more than one person (e.g. viņas lasa "they (fem.) read"). And, of course, that pronoun will typically also distinguish between male and female.

Irregular verb būt "to be"

This lesson also introduces some additional forms of the verb būt, meaning "to be". As in most languages, this is an irregular verb, so the different forms of the verb don't always resemble each other. Take a look at the following chart:

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

As noted just above, the third person singular and plural forms of the verb are identical, namely, they are both ir. Also, as already mentioned in the vocabulary list, the first and second person forms can have either a close or open e. If the e is followed by an i in the next syllable (esi), then it is pronounced close. Otherwise, it is pronounced open (e*smu, e*sam, e*sat).

Although these forms are quite irregular, you should do your best to memorize them, as this is probably the most commonly used verb there is in Latvian.


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

Please translate the following sentences into Latvian:

  1. We are teaching arithmetic.
  2. What are you (plural) reading in the book?
  3. Rita! Where are Linda and Anna? They are inside.
  4. Is Jāzeps in the oak (tree)?
For each word which is in brackets, please replace it with the same word, but in its correct form:
  1. Vai (viņš) (būt) māja? Does he have a house?
  2. (Roberts)! (Launags) laiks ir šeit. Robert! Lunch time is here. (i.e. "The time of lunch is here")
  3. Vai (tas) ir (viņš) kafija? Is that his coffee?
To check your answers, please click here → Answers to Exercises - Lesson 7.

Ready for Lesson 8? Please click here → Latvian Language Lesson 8

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Last revised January 23, 2010