Latvian Sentences: Subordinate Clauses

What is a Subordinate Clause?

Rather than starting off with definitions, I'm going to start with some examples. Take a look at the following English examples:
  1. I like Arnold. Arnold is smart.
  2. I like Arnold because Arnold is smart.
Each example contains two clauses. However, example (1) consists of two independent clauses (also called 'main clauses'; in Latvian: virsteikumi), and example (2) consists of an independent clause and a subordinate clause (also called a 'dependent clause'; in Latvian: palīgteikums).

A (now-extinct) Wikipedia page ( defines a clause as follows: "A clause is a group of words consisting of a subject and a predicate, although, in non-finite clauses, the subject is often not explicitly given. A clause is either a whole sentence or, in effect a sentence-within-a-sentence." Pretty good definition, I thought.

Based on that, we can go one step further, and say that: a subordinate clause is linked to and dependent on a main clause. Thus, Arnold is smart is a main clause, but because Arnold is smart is a subordinate clause; it is linked to the main clause by the subordinating conjunction because and does not form a complete sentence unless it is linked to a main clause like I like Arnold. Clear?

Latvian works exactly the same way. The following Latvian examples are translations of the English sentences shown above; in addition I've put the main clauses in dark red and the subordinate clause in dark blue; also the subordinating conjunction (in Latvian: pakārtojuma saiklis) is underlined:

  1. Man patīk Arnolds. Arnolds ir gudrs.
  2. Man patīk Arnolds, tapēc ka Arnolds ir gudrs.
In example (2) the the subordinate clause tapēc ka Arnolds ir gudrs 'because Arnold is smart' is linked to the main clause Man patīk Arnolds 'I like Arnold' by the subordinating conjunction tapēc ka 'because'. Couldn't be clearer, right?

Just one minor note about punctuation: in Latvian subordinate clauses are always separated from other clauses by a comma. The comma is absolutely obligatory!

Types of Subordinate Clauses

Subordinate clauses can be classified according to the function they have with respect to the main clause. A subordinate clause typically functions as an adverb, an adjective, or as a noun within the main clause.

Adverb Clauses

Just as an adverb modifies a verb, so an adverb clause modifies (the predicate of) a main clause. Adverb clauses are often further classified as: (i) time clauses, (ii) "if" clauses, or (iii) cause and effect clauses; in the following examples the main clauses is dark red, the subordinate adverb clauses are dark blue, and the subordinating conjunctions are underlined:
  1. Kad Rita atnāks, mēs sāksim ēst. 'When Rita arrives, we'll start to eat.'
  2. Ja Hermanis neēstu konfektes, viņam nebūtu jāiet pie zobarsta. 'If Herman didn't eat candy, he wouldn't have to go to the dentist.'
  3. Anita saslima, jo viņa nekad neēda spinātus. 'Anita got sick because she never ate (any) spinach.'
In example (i) the time clause Kad Rita atnāks 'When Rita arrives' clarifies the time of the main clause mēs sāksim ēst 'we'll start to eat'. (Note: to be more specific, the subordinate clause modifies the main clause predicate, which is: sāksim ēst 'start to eat'.)

In example (ii) the 'if' clause Ja Hermanis neēstu konfektes 'If Herman didn't eat candy' explains the conditions under which the main clause action would or wouldn't occur (i.e. viņam nebūtu jāiet pie zobarsta 'he wouldn't have to go to the dentist').

In example (iii) the causation clause jo viņa nekad neēda spinātus 'because she never ate (any) spinach' explains the resulting effect: Anita saslima 'Anita got sick'.

Adjective Clauses

Adjective clauses are often called 'relative clauses'. They modify nouns, just as adjectives do. A relative (i.e. adjective) clause is always introduced by a relative pronoun. The most commonly-used relative pronoun is kas, which can mean either 'who' or 'what'. This is exactly the same as the interrogative pronoun kas. The interrogative adjectives kurš 'which' and kāds 'what (kind of)' can also be used as relative pronouns. To see how they are declined go to → Interrogative pronouns.

Now take a look at the following examples which contain relative (i.e. adjective) clauses; the main clauses are dark red, the subordinate relative clauses are dark blue, and the relative pronouns are underlined:

  1. Anna sastādija rozes, kas auga dārzā. ' Anna planted (the) roses which grew (in the) garden.'
  2. Šī roze, krāsa mani vienmēr iepriecina, auga manas mātes dārzā 'This rose, whose colour always gives me joy, grew (in) my mother's garden.'
  3. Bērni, kam Rita iedeva konfektes, bija ļoti priecīgi ' (The) children to whom Rita gave (some) candy were very happy.'
  4. Spināti ir augi, ko Ilga nekad neēdīs. ' Spinach is (a) plant/vegetable which Ilga will never eat.'
  5. Pēters iedeva brošu meitenei, kurā viņš bija iemīlejies. ' Peter gave (a) brooch (to the) girl (with) whom he had fallen in love.'
The interesting thing about relative clauses is that the noun which they modify can have one function (in the main clause), while the relative pronoun which describes this noun can have quite a different function within the subordinate (i.e. relative) clause. Take a look at the following chart which illustrates this; it uses the five example sentences shown above:

Example no. Modified noun Case of modified noun Function of modified noun in main clause Relative pronoun Case of relative pronoun Function of pronon in relative clause
Main Clause Subordinate (i.e. Relative) Clause
(1) rozes accusative direct object of verb sastādija 'planted' kas nominative subject of relative clause
(2) roze nominative subject of main clause genitive possessive of krāsa 'colour'
(3) Bērni nominative subject of main clause kam dative indirect object (i.e. recipient) of verb iedeva 'gave'
(4) augi nominative subjective completion (linked by copula ir 'is') ko accusative direct object of verb neēdīs 'won't eat'
(5) meitenei dative indirect object (i.e. recipient) of verb iedeva 'gave' kurā locative location (i.e. 'in whom')

Noun Clauses

Just as nouns can act as subjects and objects, so can noun clauses. Most commonly a noun clause will act as the (i) subject of the main clause, (ii) direct object of the main clause, (iii) indirect direct object of the main clause, or as the (iv) object of a preposition within the main clause. The following examples illustrate these four relationships; as earlier, the main clauses are dark red, the subordinate noun clauses are dark blue, and the subordinating conjunctions are underlined:
  1. Kas ēdīs konfektes, zaudēs savus zobus. 'Who(ever) eats candy will lose their teeth.'
  2. Marta pateica Arturam, ka vakariņas ir gatavas. 'Martha told Arthur that supper is ready.'
  3. Dod konfektes, kam tu gribi! 'Give candy (to) who(ever) you want!'
  4. Oskars nezin, ar ko Anna dejoja. 'Oscar doesn't know with whom Anna danced.'
In each of the above examples the subordinate clause (in dark blue) functions in the main clause just like a noun. Thus, in example (i) the noun clause Kas ēdīs konfektes ('Who(ever) eats candy') acts as the subject of the main clause; in exactly the same type of construction you could say Pēters zaudēs savus zobus ('Peter will lose his teeth') where the single noun Pēters acts like the subject of the main clause.

Similarly in (ii) the noun clause ka vakariņas ir gatavas ('that supper is ready') acts as the direct object of the main clause. In sentence (iii) the noun clause kam tu gribi ('to whomever you want') acts as the indirect object of the main clause. Finally, in example (iv) the noun clause ko Anna dejoja ('who Anna danced') acts as the object of the preposition ar 'with' (i.e. 'with whom Anna danced.')

To continue on with Latvian sentences go to → Compound and complex sentences.

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This page created and maintained by
A. Steinbergs

Last revised September 20, 2008