Latvian Language: Lesson 8


Introduction Gunārs grib zināt kur ir Anna. Viņš redz Ritu un Lindu, un prasa viņām:
Gunār wants to know where Anna is. He sees Rita and Linda, and asks them:
Speaker Latvian English translation
Gunārs Vai jūs zinat kur ir Anna? Do you know where Anna is?
Rita (speaking for both Rita and Linda) Nē, mēs nezinam. Mēs nekur viņu neredzam. No, we don't know. We don't see her anywhere.
Gunārs Vai Roberts zin kur viņa ir? Does Robert know where she is?
Rita Es nezinu. Robert! Kur ir Anna? Vai tu redzi viņu? I don't know. Robert! Where is Anna? Do you see her?
Robert Nē, es viņu neredzu. No, I don't see her.
Rita & Linda Anna! Kur tu esi?!? Anna! Where are you?!?!
Anna Šeit. Kāpēc jūs mani gribat? Here. Why do you want me?
Rita Gunārs grib zināt kur tu esi. Gunār wants to know where you are.
Anna Gunār! Šeit es esmu. Ko tu gribi man prasīt? Gunār! Here I am. What do you want to ask me?
Gunārs Es gribu zināt: vai tu gribi iet uz pilsētu ar mani? I want to know: do you want to go to town with me?
Anna Jā, noteikti. Kur ir mana jaka? Ak, šeit. Labi. Iesim! Yes, certainly. Where is my jacket? Oh, here. Good. Let's go!

To hear this conversation: click here → Conversation 8


Latvian word English translation Latvian word English translation
Click on word to hear its pronunciation Click on word to hear its pronunciation
ar (prep. + acc. in sg.) 'with' nekur (adverb,
stressed on SECOND syllable)
gribēt (verb, infin.) 'to want, desire' noteikti (adverb) 'certainly, definitely'
iet (verb, infin.) 'to go, walk' pilsēta (noun, fem.
pronounced: pilsē*ta'city, town'
jaka (noun, fem.) 'jacket, cardigan' prasīt (verb, infin.) 'to ask, question'
kāpēc (adverb, interrog.) 'why' redzēt (verb, infin.) 'to see'
man, mani (, oblique) 'to me, me' uz (prep. + acc. for direction) 'to, towards, on, upon'
mans, mana (adjective, masc. & fem. forms) 'my' zināt (verb, infin.) 'to know'

Vocabulary notes

(a) iet: this is an irregular verb; a complete description of all its forms is given below, in the Grammar section. Although usually translated as "to go", it always implies movement on foot. Thus you cannot use the verb iet to say you are going to India, unless you plan to walk all the way there!

(b) man, mani: these are oblique first person singular pronoun forms. The term "oblique" means that they are not nominative; the nominative form of this pronoun is, of course, es "I". For a fuller discussion of these pronoun forms, please see the Grammar section below.

(c) nekur: please note that this word is stressed on the second syllable. This is normal for adverbs with the prefix ne-. For example, other adverbs which are stressed on the second syllable include nekad 'never', nekā 'no way', and nekādi 'in no way'

(d) pilsēta: Latvian doesn't really have a way to distinguish betwen a "city" and a "town"; the word pilsēta is used for both. Historically it is a compound of pils "castle" and sēta "yard". Presumably this is because it was the area around fortified castles which developed into towns, and eventually cities.

(e) zināt: this verb, translated as "to know", typically only applies to information, not to people. Thus, it may NOT be used to translate a sentence like "Do you know Linda?" For this a different verb should be used: pazīt "to know (someone), to recognize (someone/something)". As well, zināt would not normally be used to describe an ability or skill. In other words, if you want to translate a sentence like "Do you know how to cook?" it is more appropriate to use the verb prast "to know (how to do something)".

Pronunciation and spelling

Although this lesson doesn't actually introduce any new sounds, it does introduce the sequence dz. This sequence is very similar to the sequence of consonant sounds found in the English words ads or adze. However, the Latvian dz sounds are dental, rather than alveolar, as in English. (If you wish to review these terms, please see the section on Consonant pronunciations in Latvian Language Lesson 1.)

This lesson also introduces some vocabulary items which use the "open" e pronunciation. The word pilsēta "city, town" is pronounced with an open e. (If you wish to review the difference between an "open" and a "close" e, please see the section on Vowel pronunciations in Latvian Language Lesson 6.)

The noun pilsēta is very straightforward since it is always pronounced with an open e. The verb redzēt is more problematic, since it is sometimes pronounced with close e's and sometimes with an open one. Here is a chart that shows you when each pronunciation occurs:

redzēt 'to see' present tense translation
singular 1st p. redz-u (pronounced re*dzu) "I see"
2nd p. redz-i "you (singular) see"
plural 1st p. redz-a-m (pronounced re*dzam) "we see"
2nd p. redz-at (pronounced re*dzat) "you (plural or formal) see"
3rd. p. redz (pronounced re*dz) "he/she/it sees/they see"

As you can see, only the infinitive redzēt and the 2nd person singular form redzi are pronounced with close e's. All the others are pronounced with open e's. (If you want a review of the situations where open e occurs, as opposed to close e, please see the appendix entitled Two Latvian e's.)


Verb conjugations

As you may have noticed, the verb redzēt "to see" has slightly different endings than the ones you have seen before. Compare the present tense endings used with redzēt and those used with darīt "to do":

infinitive dar-ī-t "to do" redz-ē-t 'to see'
singular 1st p. dar-u redz-u
2nd p. dar-i redz-i
plural 1st p. dar-ā-m redz-a-m
2nd p. dar-ā-t redz-a-t
3rd. p. dar-a redz

As you can see, there is no difference in the ending used for the first person singular: it is always -u). Nor is there a difference in the second person singular ending: it is always -i. The difference lies in the third person form—which may or may not have a suffix -a—and the first and second person plural forms—which may have either a long or a short -a as a part of the verb ending.

What is going on here? Is it that Latvians just can't make up their minds?!? No, indeed: what you are seeing is two different patterns of verb conjugation. OK, so what do I mean by the term "conjugation"? Take a look at the explanation in this section → Conjugation Classes.

OK. You're back. Now you know that there are many different ways to conjugate a verb in Latvian. Latvian grammarians have traditionally assigned all Latvian verbs to one of three different classes, but each class may also have sub-classes that differ from each other. Starting to sound complicated, isn't it? Don't worry, I'll get you through this. Here we go:

So far, all of the regular verbs that I have introduced belong to the third conjugation class. However, this class has subclasses that use a couple of different patterns for the suffixes. Here is what they look like:

conjugation class: 3 (a) 3 (b)
singular 1st p. -u -u
2nd p. -i -i
plural 1st p. -ā-m -a-m
2nd p. -ā-t -a-t
3rd. p. -a -∅

(Please note that the character ∅ (slashed zero) is used by linguists to stand for the absence of something; in other words, it means that there is no suffix whatsoever.)

The difference between the two patterns could be described by the presence or absence of an extra a. In other words, conjugation class 3(a) has an a in certain circumstances which conjugation class 3(b) doesn't. Keeping this in mind, compare the way that a class 3(a) verb like darīt works with the way that a class 3(b) verb like redzēt works:

conjugation class verb root extra a person ending
3 (a) dar- -a -a-m
dar- -a -a-m
dar- -a -∅
3 (b) redz- -a-m
redz- -a-t
redz- -∅

If you think of a long ā as made up of two short a's, then this works out very well: imagine, for example, that darām is derived from dar + a + am, or dara comes from dar + a +∅.

Assuming this makes sense to you, there is still one problem: when to add the extra a and when not to. One thing that helps is the infinitive form, which typically ends in a vowel plus -t. In verbs of the third conjugation, this last vowel can be ā, ē, or ī. This vowel is called a thematic vowel. It has no meaning as such, but it does act as a marker to indicate which subclass a verb belongs to. Third conjugation class verbs with a thematic vowel ī are classified as belonging to subclass 3(a), while those with an ē or ā are in subclass 3(b). Here are the third conjugation verbs you have learned so far:

Verbs belonging to 3(a): darīt "to do", lasīt "to read", mācīt "to teach", prasīt "to ask"
Verbs belonging to 3(b): redzēt "to see", zināt "to know"

So, if you see a verb ending in -īt, you know to add the extra a; if it ends in ē or ī, you leave the a off. OK? Right!


Creating negative sentences in Latvian is very easy. To make a basic negative sentence you add the prefix ne- to the verb. Here are some examples:
Latvian English translation
positive es zinu I know
negative es nezinu I don't know
positive mēs redzam we see
negative mēs neredzam we don't see

If you want to add qualifying words, they should also be negative. English grammarians stress that "two negatives make a positive". This is NOT the case in Latvian. You can pile as many negative words into one sentence as you desire. Take a look at the following example sentence:

Anna nekad nekur neiet. "Anna never goes anywhere"

In Latvian this literally says: "Anna never nowhere not-goes". The multiple negatives don't cancel each other out; they just reinforce one another. So, remember, in Latvian you can have fun piling one negative on top of another. Enjoy!

First person singular pronoun forms

Up to now you have only seen the nominative form of the first person singular pronoun. The conversation for this lesson introduces the dative and accusative forms as well. However, since I don't want to keep you in suspense, I'm going to give you all the cases at once. Here is the chart:

case Latvian English translation
nominative es I
genitive manis mine
dative man to me
accusative mani me
locative manī in me
vocative - -

Obviously there is no vocative form for "I", because you don't address yourself using a first person pronoun. (In other words, if you want to talk to yourself you use your own name, or the second person pronoun, typically with some epithet, like "You dummy!").

Please note that if you want to say something like "my jacket" or "my newspaper", you use the adjective mans. As with any other adjective, it agrees in gender and case with the noun it is modifying. Examples: mana jaka "my jacket", mans laikraksts "my newspaper".

Third person singular pronouns

The conversation in this lesson also introduces an additional third person singular pronoun. Once again, I'm not going to keep you in suspense. Here are all the third person singular pronouns, in all of their cases:

masculine feminine
case Latvian English translation Latvian English translation
nominative viņ-š he viņ-a she
genitive viņ-a his viņ-as hers
dative viņ-am to him viņ-ai to her
accusative viņ-u him viņ-u her
locative viņ-ā in him viņ-ā in her
vocative - - - -

These forms are really no surprise: basically they use the same endings that are also used for masculine and feminine adjectives (for a review of this, please see → Latvian Adjective Agreement).

Prepositions ar and uz

When a preposition is followed by a personal pronoun in English, the pronoun doesn't stay in the nominative (i.e. subject) case. Instead, it shows up in an oblique case, specifially the accusative (i.e. direct object) case. Here are some English examples that illustrate this:

for me (not "for I"), with him (not "for he"), on her (not "on she"), to them (not "to they")

Similarly, Latvian pronouns which are governed by a preposition do not occur in the nominative case. Rather, they too occur in an oblique case. Take a look at the following examples:

ar mani "with me" (not ar es), ar viņu "with him/her" (not ar viņš or ar viņa)

As these examples show, the pronoun occurs in the accusative (direct object) case. However, this also applies to nouns governed by these prepositions. Take a look at these examples:

ar galdu "with a table", uz pilsētu "to town"

So remember: in Latvian, when a preposition governs a noun, that noun will also have to be in an oblique case (just like a pronoun is). So far I have only shown you examples of two prepositions—ar and uz—both of which require their complements to be in the accusative case. Other prepositions may have other requirements.

In fact, the preposition uz only requires the accusative case when it implies movement towards something. Whenever the preposition uz implies a stationary location (i.e. "to be on top of"), it requires a different case. I'll deal with this in another lesson, but if you want to look ahead, please see the section on the The Preposition uz.

(Please note, however, that the accusative case is used only if the noun or pronoun is singular. When a plural noun or pronoun is governed by a preposition, it will always occur in the dative case. This will be discussed in more detail in a later lesson.)

Irregular verb iet

Finally, let's look at the irregular verb 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

All of these forms are pronounced with a close "e", and, as noted in the vocabulary notes, this verb implies motion only on foot. Since these forms are quite irregular, you should do your best to memorize them, as this is probably the second most commonly used verb 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. Why do you want my jacket?
  2. They want to go to the play.
  3. Gunārs! Do you know what Rita is doing?
  4. We don't want to write a book.
  5. Please don't send me a package.
Please translate the following sentences into English:
  1. Viņa ir pilsētā.
  2. Noteikti prasi viņam vai Lindai patīk dārzs.
  3. Viņi neredz mani.
For each word which is in brackets, please replace it with the same word, but in its correct form:
  1. Vai (tas) ir (viņa) jaka? Is that her jacket?
  2. Vai tu tici (es)? Do you believe in me?
  3. Roberts (gribēt) iet uz (launags). Robert wants to go to lunch.
  4. Kur jūs (iet)? Where are you going?
  5. Vai tu (iet) ar (es)? Are you going with me?
To check your answers, please click here → Answers to Exercises - Lesson 8.

Ready for Lesson 9? Please click here → Latvian Language Lesson 9

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Last revised July 7, 2010