Latvian Language: Lesson 9


Rita is looking for Ilze. She asks Linda:

Speaker Latvian English translation
Rita Linda! Kur ir Ilze? Linda! Where is Ilze?
Linda Es nezinu. I don't know.
Rita Vai tu redzēji viņu šodien? Did you see her today?
Linda Jā, no rīta. Yes, in the morning.
Rita Ko viņa darīja? What was she doing?
Linda Viņa rakstīja vēstuli. She was writing a letter.
Rita Kam? To whom?
Linda Mātei. To (her) mother.
Rita Ak tā. Un pēc tam? Oh, OK. And after that?
Linda Viņa dziedāja. She was singing.
Rita Viena pati? By herself?
Linda Nē, ar mani. No, with me.
Rita Ar tevi? Vai tu dziedi? With you? Do you sing?
Linda Jā. Ez diezgan labi dziedu. Yes. I sing pretty well.
Rita Tiešām? Really?
Linda Jā. Mēs dziedājām tautas dziesmas. Yes, we were singing folk songs.
Rita Ļoti jauki! Very nice!

To hear this conversation: click here → Conversation 9


Latvian word English translation Latvian word English translation
Click on word to hear its pronunciation Click on word to hear its pronunciation
dziedāt (verb, infin. 3(b)) 'to sing' pēc (prep. + gen.) 'after'
dziesma (noun, fem.) 'song' rīts (noun, masc.) 'morning'
jauki (adverb) 'nicely, pleasantly' šodien (adverb) 'today'
māte (noun, fem.) 'mother' tauta (noun, fem.) 'folk, people, nation'
no (prep. + gen.) 'from, out of, off' vēstule (noun, fem.) 'letter'
pats (pronoun, masc.) 'self, oneself' viens (adjective) 'one, single, lone'

Vocabulary notes

(a) šodien: this adverb is derived from šo (the accusative form of šis) "this" and the noun diena "day". It literally means "(on) this day".

(b) no rīta: although the preposition no is usually translated as "from" or "off of", the best translation for the phrase no rīta is "during (the) morning"; it is a combination of the preposition no with the noun rīts "morning", in the genitive case.

(c) viena pati: this phrase could be translated "by herself" or "all alone". It consists of the adjective viens "one" and the pronoun pats "self (masc.)". The feminine form of this pronoun is either pati or pate; either can be used. Thus, viena pati (or viena pate) is literally "one (female) self".

(d) dziesmas: this word is in the plural: "songs". You will be formally introduced to plural nouns in a later lesson.

(e) jauki: this adverb derives from the adjective jauks "nice, pleasant". In a sentence of this type, English would normally use an adjective: "(That's) nice". However, Latvian typically uses the adverbial form jauki. Think of it as if you were saying "(That's going) nicely."

Pronunciation and spelling

This lesson doesn't introduce any new sounds. However, there is plenty of new grammar to make up for it!


Past tense

This lesson introduces the past tense of verbs. Some grammars call this the "imperfect" tense, but for our purposes, you may consider them as meaning the same thing. In other words, these are the forms normally used to show that the action of the verb was in the past; for example: redzēju "(I) saw", or dziedājām "(we) were singing".

For most Latvian verbs, the past tense includes the thematic vowel; as you may remember, this vowel occurs just before the -t suffix of the infinitive form. For example, the verbs dziedāt "to sing", redzēt "to see", and darīt "to do" have the thematic vowels , , and . These vowels appear in the past tense verb forms; for ease of pronunciation, the thematic vowel is separated from the following person and number endings by the semivowel j, as you can see from the following table:

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

This means that the past tense of these verbs is very regular. For the overwhelming majority of verbs, you form a past tense as follows:

verb root + thematic vowel + j + person/number ending

Thus, if you want to form the 2nd. person plural past tense of mācīt "to teach", it looks like this:

māc + ī + j + ām

Pretty straightforward, right?

Noun Declension Class 5

Until now, all of the feminine nouns you have seen (e.g. grāmata "book", tēja "tea", pilsēta "town", Rita "Rita", etc.) end in -a, and they all belong to a single declension class (class 4). (If you want to get a better idea of what "declension class" means, please see the section on Declensions. This section also describes the nouns of classes 1 - 3 and class 6, in case you were wondering what happened to them.)

This lesson introduces some feminine nouns from a different declension class: nouns which end in -e (e.g. Ilze "Ilze", māte "mother", and vēstule "letter"). Nouns of this type are assigned to declension class 5. Here is a table which shows how these nouns are declined:

Class 5 nouns
nominative Ilz-e vēstul-e
genitive Ilz-es vēstul-es
dative Ilz-ei vēstul-ei
accusative Ilz-i vēstul-i
locative Ilz-ē vēstul-ē
vocative Ilz-e -

(Note: the word māte has an irregular vocative form; it is: māt!)

If you compare the nouns of class 4 and class 5, their endings are quite similar. Take a look at the following examples:

Class 4 Class 5
nominative Rit-a Ilz-e
genitive Rit-as Ilz-es
dative Rit-ai Ilz-ei
accusative Rit-u Ilz-i
locative Rit-ā Ilz-ē
vocative Rit-a Ilz-e

As you can see, in all of the cases (except for the accusative) the endings are identical, except for the stem vowel, which is -a for class 4 nouns, and -e for class 5 nouns. (It is for this reason that some grammarians call class 4 nouns feminine -a stems and class 5 nouns feminine -e stems, respectively.) In other words, all these feminine nouns generally follow the same pattern, if you discount the stem vowel. Leaving aside the accusative case, which is a little different, the pattern for feminine nouns is basically as follows:

feminine singular endings
nominative - stem vowel
genitive - stem vowel + s
dative - stem vowel + i
locative - long stem vowel
vocative - stem vowel

Keep this in mind, and forming feminine nouns will be a breeze. Just remember that class 4 nouns (those ending in -a) have -u in the accusative, and class 5 nouns (those ending in -e) have -i in the accusative. In all other cases, they follow the pattern shown in the table above.

Prepositions no and pēc

In Lesson 8, you were introduced to the prepositions ar and uz, which take the accusative case. In other words, when these prepositions head a prepositional phrase, the noun or pronoun that they govern must be in the accusative. Remember these examples?

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

However, prepositions don't always take the accusative case; in this lesson you are introduced to two prepositions which take the genitive case: no "from, out of, off" and pēc "after". Take a look at the following examples:

pēc launaga "after lunch/a snack", no pilsētas "from town"

These are only two of more than a dozen prepositions which require the genitive case. I will gradually introduce more and more of the most common prepositions in later lessons. However, to date you have only four prepositions to worry about:

Case Preposition examples
genitive no "from, out of, off", pēc "after"
accusative ar "with", uz "to, towards"

Unfortunately, there is no easy way to remember which prepositions require which cases. This is something you will just have to memorize. Sorry!

Second person singular pronoun forms

As you may remember, the second person singular pronoun tu "you" is used to speak to someone in a familiar manner; for example, you would use it to address a child, a close friend, or a family member. On the other hand, Jūs is used as a formal address, and jūs is used to address more than one person.

Up to now you have only seen the nominative form of the singular pronoun (tu). The conversation for this lesson introduces the accusative form, but, 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 tu you
genitive tevis yours
dative tev to you
accusative tevi you
locative tevī in you
vocative tu! you!

Note that, except for the nominative and vocative, the basic root of this pronouns appears to be tev-. Similarly, the basic root of the first person singular pronoun shows up as man- in most cases. Compare the two pronouns:

case First person singular Second person singular
nominative es tu
genitive man-is tev-is
dative man tev
accusative man i tev-i
locative man-ī tev-ī
vocative - tu!

As you can see, this means that the basic pattern for both pronouns is identical in the oblique cases:

case 1st & 2nd person sing. pronouns
genitive pronoun root + is
dative pronoun root +
accusative pronoun root + i
locative pronoun root + ī

(Note: remember that the symbol ∅ stands for "zero", in other words, for no ending whatsoever.)

This chart should make it easier to remember the overall pattern for these two singular pronouns.

Pronouns kas and tas

Finally we have the pronouns kas "what, who" and tas "that (one)". These pronouns are very similar in the way that they are declined. Take a look at the following table:

Interrogative pronoun
Demonstrative pronoun
"that (one)"
nominative kas tas
dative kam tam
accusative ko to
locative (use adverb: kur) tajā/tanī
vocative - -

Although the interrogative pronoun starts with a k-, and the demonstrative pronoun starts with a t-, the forms for both of these pronouns are basically identical (except for the locative case). The interrogative pronoun kas doesn't have a locative form at all; instead, one typically uses the interrogative adverb kur "where" to express this meaning.

The demonstrative pronoun tas actually has several locative forms; the two most common are tajā and tanī. In addition, this pronoun also has separate masculine and feminine forms. In other words, if the noun to which this pronoun is referring is feminine, you need to use separate feminine forms, as follows:

Demonstrative pronoun
Masculine Feminine
nominative tas
genitive tās
dative tam tai
accusative to to
locative tajā/tanī tajā/tanī
vocative - -

In other words, if you want to say "I like that (one)", you would use either tas (masc.) or (fem.), depending on whether you were speaking about (for example) different tables (galds) or different kinds of juice (sula):


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

For each of the following, put the noun into the correct case:

  1. ar (Ilze)
  2. no (māte)
  3. pēc (piens)
  4. pēc (tēja)
  5. uz (kafija)
  6. no (laikraksts)
  7. ar (rakstnieks)
Please translate the following sentences into Latvian:
  1. We saw Ilze today.
  2. Were you (singular) singing during the morning?
  3. Did Rita teach arithmetic?
  4. To whom did you (formal) write the letter?
  5. I wanted to read the newspaper.
  6. Is Robert going with you (singular)?
Please translate the following sentences into English:
  1. Viņa to lasīja grāmatā.
  2. Es zvanīju mātei.
  3. Vai tā ir tautas dziesma?
  4. Ko viņi dara ar telefonu?
  5. Vai jūs prasījāt Ilzei?
  6. Kur tu eji?
To check your answers, please click here → Answers to Exercises - Lesson 9.

Ready for Lesson 10? Please click here → Latvian Language Lesson 10

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Last revised February 27, 2010