Answering Questions

Latvian is fun when it comes to questions.

There are lots of different question words and it seems like almost all of them start with a K. (They don’t all though. There’s vai and cik, for example.)

If you think that’s weird, look at English – lots of ours start with Wh. Same concept and execution as our “Who? What? When? Where? Why?”

Some of them, notably the ones that correspond to the different forms, expect an answer in a certain form.  For example, kas and ko both translate to what/who in English, but with an important difference: kas expects a nominative answer and ko expects an accusative answer.

Nominative generally means the subject of a sentence. Accusative means the direct object of the sentence. A direct object is something that is acted upon by the verb.  More on this later.

The most common question words are:

Kas? — What? Who? — Asks about the subject

Kā? — Whose? Of whose?

Kam? — To whom / what / which? For whom / what / which?

Ko? — What? Who? — Asks about the direct object

Ar ko? — With what? With whom?

Kur? — Where?

Kāpēc? — Why?

Kad? — When?

So, for example, I could ask: “Kur ir pele?” [Where is the mouse?] Because kur is asked for the locative form, I would answer in the locative: “Kaķī.” [In the cat.]

Endings give so much information – just one word, kaķī, gives me three in English when translating. Don’t be afraid to speak simply, you’re more likely to be correct.

But if you answered: “Kaķis.” it would make no sense at all!  You would be answering along the lines of “the cat” and forgetting all about the important part of the question: WHERE is the mouse?  The Latvian you’re speaking to would be waiting patiently for you to get around to finishing your sentence, perhaps with a tale of a daring and adventurous mouse escaping the cat.

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