The Vocative Case (vokatīvs)

The vocative case is used for direct address. For example, when you call a person (to whom you are speaking) by name, in Latvian that name is in the vocative case. Here are a few examples of sentences which illustrate this; the noun in the vocative case is bolded:
  1. Jāni! Kur tu esi? "Jānis! Where are you?"
  2. Es tevi labi pazīstu, Aivar! "I know you well, Aivars!"
  3. Zane! Ko tu dari? "Zane! What are you doing?"
(Note that in Latvian the written form of a vocative is typically followed by an exclamation mark.)

However, the vocative noun doesn't always have to be a name. It could be a title or description, as in the following examples:

  1. Vai es varu Jums palīdzēt, kundze? "May I help you, madam?
  2. Es tevi redzu, tante! "I see you, aunt!"
  3. Puisi! Nāc šeit. "Boy! Come here."
Theoretically, it is also possible for a person to directly address something non-human, or even something not alive or abstract. In these rather unlikely cases, one would still use the vocative case:
  1. Ceļš! Cik tu esi garš! "Road! How long you are!"
  2. Lietus! Cik ilgi tu liesi? "Rain! How long will you fall?"
In many cases, the vocative form of a noun is identical with the nominative form of that noun. This is always true in the plural, as the following examples show:
  1. Labrīt, meitenes! "Good morning, girls!"
  2. Zēni! Ko jūs darat? "Boys! What are you doing?"
However, singular nouns may or may not be identical to their nominative singular forms. Let's take a look at this in more detail.

Second declension nouns

Second declension nouns are masculine nouns which typically end in -is in the nominative case. Some examples would be brālis "brother", puisis "boy", dēlis "board", etc. This declension class also includes quite a few men's names, for example: Jānis "John", Juris "George", Pēteris "Peter", Kārlis "Carl/Charles", Krišjānis "Christian", and so on.

The vocative form of these nouns never ends in an -s. Most commonly, it looks like the nominative form without the final -s; in other words, it is identical to the accusative form of the noun. Here are some examples:

nominative accusative vocative English translation
brālis brāli brāli! brother
puisis puisi puisi! boy
Jānis Jāni Jāni! John
Pēteris Pēteri Pēteri! Peter
Kārlis Kārli Kārli! Carl/Charles
Juris Juri Juri! George
Uldis Uldi Uldi! Uldis
Krišjānis Krišjāni Krišjāni! Christian

There is a handful of words in the second declension which do not form the vocative in this way. This exceptional group contains words which end in -ens or -ns, and a couple of others. Here they are:

akmens 'rock, stone', asmens 'blade', rudens 'autumn', ūdens 'water', zibens 'lightning', mēness 'moon', sāls 'salt', suns 'dog'.

The vocative of these nouns is usually identical with the nominative form. However, since none of these nouns refer to people, it is highly unlikely that you will ever be called upon to use the vocative form of these words!

First declension nouns

First declension nouns are masculine nouns which end in -s (or ) in the nominative case, and which are declined with an -a as the stem vowel (in the majority of cases). Some examples would be tēvs "father", zēns "boy", kungs "lord, mister", ceļš "road" etc. This declension class also includes quite a few men's names, for example: Andrejs "Andrew", Mārtiņš "Martin", Jāzeps "Joseph", Roberts "Robert", Ivars "Ivar", Gunārs, "Gunar", Viesturs, and so on.

Most grammars say that the vocative for this declension class is the same as the nominative case. However, there are certain words which fall into this class which never retain the final -s (or ) in the vocative. These are nouns which:

Here are some examples of words of this type; note that the vocative form does not have a final -s or :

nominative vocative English translation
skolotājs skolotāj! teacher
skatītājs skatītāj! spectator, on-looker
vadītājs vadītāj! director, manager
pārdevējs pārdevēj! seller, store clerk
ugunsdzēsējs ugunsdzēsēj! fireman, fire fighter
saimnieks saimniek! landlord, host
zvejnieks zvejniek! fisherman
draudziņš draudziņ! dear friend (dimin.)
tētiņš tētiņ! dear daddy (dimin.)
Robertiņš Robertiņ! dear/little Robert (dimin.)

Otherwise, nouns of this class would typically have vocative forms which are identical to their nominative forms. Here are some examples in which the vocative and nominative forms are the same:

nominative vocative English translation
tēvs! tēvs! father
kungs kungs! lord, mister
gans gans! shepherd

Nevertheless, there are other situations in which nouns of this class do not have identical forms in the nominative and vocative cases. In other words, sometimes a noun in the vocative case will drop the -s suffix. Take a look at the following examples:

nominative vocative English translation
tēvs! tēv! father
zēns zēn! boy

Notice that the noun tēvs "father" can occur either with or without the -s ending, depending on the individual speaker. In other words, it looks as though the -s ending is optional in the vocative.

In fact, it is most common for men's names to occur in the vocative without an -s ending, as seen in the following examples:

Some First Declension Male Names
nominative vocative
Aivars Aivar!
Mārtiņš Mārtiņ!
Andrejs Andrej!
Ojārs Ojār!
Gunārs Gunār!
Jāzeps Jāzep!
Roberts Robert!

It is not just names which can have this type of vocative form: other masculine nouns of this class may appear without a final -s ending, as seen in these examples:

nominative vocative English translation
absolvents absolvent! graduate
tehnologs tehnolog! technologist
redaktors redaktor! editor
advokāts advokāt! lawyer

Third Declension nouns

Third declension nouns are those which end in -us in the nominative case; there are really only a handful of these. They include: alus 'ale, beer', klepus 'cough', ledus 'ice', lietus 'rain', medus 'honey', tirgus 'market' and a couple of men's names: Mikus and Edžus.

Once again, the grammars say that the vocative case for these nouns is identical to the nominative case. However, it is possible to have vocative forms without the final -s. Take a look at the following examples:

nominative vocative English translation
medus medu! honey
Mikus Miku! Mikus
Edſus Edſu! Edſus

So what is the overall pattern? Take a look at the next section:

Masculine nouns

Comparing all three of the masculine declension classes, it appears that for certain masculine nouns the vocative case must not have a final -s (or ), but that for other nouns this ending is optional (i.e. it may appear, or it may be deleted). I have summarized this in the following table:

What happens to the ending? Declension
class
Which types of nouns? Examples
-s MUST be deleted 1st end in -tājs, -ājs, -ējs, -nieks,
or are diminutives
skolotājs → skolotāj!
draudziņš → draudziņ!
2nd end in -is puisis → puisi!
-s (or ) MAY be deleted 1st all other nouns in this class tēvs → tēvs!/tēv!
2nd nouns ending in -ens + mēness, sāls, suns akmens → akmens!/akmen!
3rd all Mikus → Mikus!/Miku!

Hope this helps!

However, we're not done. Now we have to deal with the feminine nouns. Here we go:

Fourth declension

Fourth declension nouns are feminine nouns which end in -a in the nominative case, for example: māsa "sister", meita "daughter", spalva "feather". This class also includes a large number of women's names, such as Anna, Liena, Indra, Rita, Nelda, Silvija, and Lonija.

Although the vocative form is usually identical to the nominative form in this declension class, it is quite possible for the vocative to occur without the final -a ending. Take a look at the following examples:

nominative vocative English translation
meita meit! daughter
māsa mās! sister
skolotāja skolotāj! (female) teacher
Anna Ann! Anna
Liena Lien! Liena

Apparently there are situations where the deletion of the -a ending is more likely, and others where it never happens. Take a look at the following examples:

What happens to the ending? Description of noun Examples
-a is usually deleted word is 3 syllables long Karmena → Karmen!
Silvija → Silvij!
Lonija → Lonij!
-a is NOT deleted cluster of 2 or more consonants before -a ending Nelda → Nelda!
Indra → Indra!

In other words, if a noun is 3 or more syllables long, it is much more common for the final -a to be dropped. On the other hand, if there is a sequence of 2 or more consonant sounds before the -a ending, and dropping the -a vowel would leave a cluster of consonants at the end of the word, it apparently never is deleted.

Clearly these are not absolute rules; this is evidenced by the fact that some people will drop the final -a ending even in two syllable words: Anna → Ann!, māsa → mās! "sister". On the other hand, many people will retain the final ending in these same words: māsa → māsa! "sister". Thus, we can only say that, even though these appear to be strong tendencies, the dropping of the final -a ending is optional.

Fifth declension

Fifth declension nouns are feminine nouns which end in -e in the nominative case, for example: māte "mother", meitene "girl", tante "aunt", kundze "lady, Mrs., madam". This class also includes a large number of women's names, such as Ilze, Līze, Zane, Liene, Mudīte, and Edīte.

Although Latvian grammars often describe the vocative form of these nouns as identical to the nominative, it is quite common for the final -e ending to be deleted. Take a look at the following examples:

nominative vocative English translation
māte māt! mother
meitene meiten! girl
Ilze Ilz! Ilze
Mudīte Mudīt! Mudīte
Edīte Edīt! Edīte

According to a thesis by Inga Kēlvere-Wälchli, the same word can occur both with and without a final -e ending, but is more likely to drop the ending if the word has been made part of a longer compound. Take a look at the following examples of vocative forms:

Word alone English translation Word in compound English translation
Tante! Aunt! Melānijastant! Aunt Melānija!
Kundze! Lady! (or: Ma'am!) Jaunkundz! Young lady!

This clearly relates to the tendency (described above) to drop a final vowel ending in the vocative, if the word is three (or more) syllables long.

Kēlvere-Wälchli also says that a final vowel suffix is more likely to be dropped if the preceding syllable contains a long vowel (e.g. ī) or a diphthong (e.g. ei, ie, or ij ). This may explain why a name like Zane is never pronounced *Zan! in the vocative case. (Note: linguists use an asterisk * before a work to mark a form that doesn't occur.)

On the other hand words which have a long vowel in the second-to-last syllable (like Līze or Mudīte) will often show up in the vocative without the final vowel ending: Līz! Mudīt!. Nevertheless, this is still just a strong tendency, not a "rule", since it is quite possible to pronounce the same word either with or without a final -e in the vocative. Take a look at the following examples:

nominative vocative English translation
meitene meitene! or meiten! girl
Ilze Ilze! or Ilz! Ilze
Liene Liene! or Lien! Liene

In other words, the deletion of the final -e in the vocative case is not rule-governed; it is still just an option.

Sixth declension

Sixth declension nouns are feminine nouns which end in -s in the nominative case, and which are declined with an -i as the stem vowel (in the majority of cases); for example: zoss "goose", nakts "night", sirds "heart", pils "castle", acs "eye", auss "ear", zivs "fish", kūts "barn" and (the exceptionally masculine and plural noun) ļaudis "people". As far as I have been able to determine, this is the complete list of sixth declension nouns; as you can see, it contains no names.

Since the word ļaudis (meaning "people") only occurs in the plural, its vocative form is identical to its nominative form (as for all plurals). Apparently vocatives are also identical to nominatives in the singular, although clearly there isn't muchevidence to go by. In other words, you rarely hear people going around saying Zoss! "Goose!" or Zivs! "Fish!".

Feminine nouns

In order to clarify the overall picture, I've drawn up a table that describes what happens to a final ending in feminine nouns. Here it is:

What happens to the ending? Declension
class
Examples
Final vowel MAY be deleted 4th skolotāja → skolotāja! or skolotāj!
5th Mudīte → Mudīte! or Mudīt!
-s is NEVER deleted 6th zivs → zivs!

Loss of Final Vowel in Masculine Second Declension Nouns

You would think that would take care of everything, wouldn't you? Nevertheless, there are some optional pronounciations in masculine nouns that we need to account for; namely: second declension nouns (i.e. masculine nouns which end in -is) will sometimes lose not only the final -s ending (as described above), but also the stem vowel -i. Here are a few examples:

nominative vocative English translation
brālis brāl! brother
puisis puis! boy
kaķītis kaķīt! dear/little cat (dimin.)
treneris trener! trainer
dakteris dakter! medico

We can look at these as cases where the final -s ending has been dropped first, and only then the stem vowel -i (i.e. dakteris → dakteri → dakter). As a result, we can say that the circumstances in which the final short vowel -i may be deleted in these masculine nouns are basically the same as those in which the final short vowels -a or -e are optionally deleted in the feminine noun declensions. In other words:

When may stem vowel be deleted? Masculine noun examples Feminine noun examples
nominative vocative nominative vocative
word is 3 syllables long dakteris dakter! skolotāja skolotāj!
second to last vowel is long or diphthong puisis puis! Līze Līz!

True Exceptions

As if all this weren't enough, we still have one word which acts exceptionally: biedrs "comrade, member". Although biedrs is a masculine noun of the first declension class, its vocative form is the same as most masculine nouns of the second declension class. In other words, its vocative form is: biedri!.

That should take care of just about every vocative form you will encounter.

Online sources:


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This page created and maintained by
A. Steinbergs

Last revised February 22, 2010