Latvian Sentences: Questions

The simplest way to ask a question is to make a statement, but to use question intonation. For example, in English one can ask:

  1. The house burned down?
  2. Raymond is sick?
In exactly the same way, one can produce a regular declarative sentence in Latvian, but say it with a question intonation, as follows:
  1. Māja nodega?
  2. Raimonds ir slims?
(Note: this is very common. One can do exactly the same thing in French (e.g. Tu es malade?), or German (e.g. Du bist krank?), and many other languages)

Yes/No questions

In any language there are two types of questions: (a) yes/no questions, and (b) wh- questions. Let's deal first with yes/no questions. As the name implies, they are questions to which the answer can be a simple 'yes' or 'no'. All of the questions illustrated so far have been yes/no questions.

Latvian yes/no questions typically begin with the interrogative particle vai. Take a look at the following example sentences:

  1. Vai māja nodega? 'Did (the) house burn down?'
  2. Vai Raimonds ir slims? 'Is Raymond sick?'
  3. Vai tu atcerēsies nopirk pienu? 'Will you remember to buy (some) milk?'
As you can see, the formation of yes/no questions in Latvian is extremely straightforward. The interrogative particle vai is placed at the beginning of a statement, and this turns it into a question. Couldn't be easier.

Wh- questions

Now let's deal with wh‑ questions. In English, these are questions which begin with an interrogative word like: who? what? where? when? why? or how?. Since they (almost all) begin with the letters wh‑ linguists have named them wh- questions.

Interrogative words in Latvian often begin with a k‑, but I'm still going to call the questions they introduce wh‑ questions, just for the sake of convenience. There are a number of different categories of interrogative words. I will deal with each, but in no particular order.

Interrogative particles

Interrogative particles are indeclinable. They include: kur 'where?', kad 'when?', 'how?', kāpēc 'why?', cik 'how much?', and the particle cik followed by an adverb, as in: cik daudz 'how many/how much?', cik bieži 'how often?', cik ilgi 'how long?', etc.

Here are a few sentences that illustrate how these interrogative particles are used:

  1. Kur tu dzivo? 'Where (do) you live?'
  2. Cik tas maksā? 'How much (does) that cost?'
  3. Rita satika Robertu? 'How (did) Rita meet Robert?'
  4. Kad Šejkspirs nomira? 'When (did) Shakespeare die?'
  5. Kāpēc Mārtiņš ir dusmīgs? 'Why is Martin angry?'
  6. Cik bieži žirafas ēd? 'How often (do) giraffes eat?'
This is just as easy as creating yes/no questions! To create a wh‑ question, place an interrogative particle at the beginning of a statement, and voilà you have a wh‑ question!

Interrogative pronouns

The main interrogative pronoun in Latvian is kas. This can mean either 'who' or 'what'; there is no distinction between humans and objects. Thus, a sentence like: Kas pazuda? can mean either 'Who disappeared?' or 'What disappeared?'. The appropriate meaning would normally be clarified by the context. The pronoun kas is declined as follows:

nominative genitive dative accusative
kas kam ko

This pronoun does not distinguish between singular and plural, and there is no locative form.
(Note: instead of a locative form, one typically uses the indeclinable interrogative particle kur 'where').

The interrogative pronoun typically occurs at the beginning of the question sentence (what else did you expect?). Here are a few example Latvian sentences which contain interrogative pronouns (which are shown in olive green):

  1. Kas dziedās? 'Who is going to sing?'
  2. cepure ir tā brūnā? 'Whose hat is that brown (one)?'
  3. Kam pieder tā blūze? 'To whom (does) that blouse belong?'
  4. Ko Hermanis darīs? 'What is Herman going to do?'
This as with interrogative particles, place the interrogative pronoun at the beginning of a statement, and voilà you have a wh- question. This is almost too easy!

Interrogative adjectives

There are two main interrogative adjectives: kurš 'which' and kāds 'what (kind of)'. Here are some examples of these words used as adjectives (the adjectives are shown in dark red, and the nouns that they modify are in olive green):
  1. Kurš students zin atbildi? 'Which student knows (the) answer?'
  2. Kurā stāvā Raimonds dzīvo? 'On which storey (does) Raymond live?'
  3. Kādas cepures Anita nopirka? 'What (kinds of) hats (did) Anita buy?'
These adjectives are declined just like any other adjective; to see some declension charts, go to Adjective Agreement. Since the interrogative adjectives agree with the nouns they modify, they take the same gender, number, and case as this noun.

Just as with many other adjectives, if one omits the modified noun, the remaining adjective can function as a pronoun. Here are the same sentences with the interrogative adjective now operating as a pronoun (in olive green):

  1. Kurš zin atbildi? 'Who (i.e. which one) knows (the) answer?'
  2. Kurā Raimonds dzīvo? 'In which (one) (does) Raymond live?'
  3. Kādas Anita nopirka? 'What (kinds) (did) Anita buy?'

Miscellaneous interrogatives

I'm not quite sure how to classify the interrogative kuriene &mdash it might be a noun or it might be a pronoun. In any case, it has a very limited distribution. It only occurs following the prepositions no 'from' and uz 'to'. The phrase no kurienes (with kuriene in the genitive case) can be translated as 'whence' or 'from where'. The phrase uz kurieni (with kuriene ins the accusative case) can be translated as 'whither' or 'where to'. The choice of case is dependent on the prepositon: the preposition no requires the genitive case; the preposition uz requires the accusative case (if it refers to 'motion towards').

Here are some example sentences that illustrate these usages; the preposition is shown in pink, and the rest of the prepositional phrase is in brown::

  1. No kurienes nāk Roberts? 'Where (does) Robert come from?'
  2. No kurienes Anita dabuja mērkaķi? 'Where (did) Anita get (a) monkey from?'
  3. Uz kurieni brauc karaliene? 'Where (is) (the) queen travelling to?'
  4. Uz kurieni tu ej? 'Whither goest thou?' or 'Where are you (singular) going (to)?'

To continue on with sentence structures, go to → Latvian Sentences: Dative Constructions.

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Last revised September 19, 2008