Despite their small size, prepositions are really important to understand. For one thing, without prepositions, you lose a lot of meaning and for another, more important thing, some of them do double duty as verbal prefixes.
Of course, it would be really simple and easy if the prefixes changed the meanings consistently in line with their definitions, but that’s another post.
For now, let’s just look at prepositions.
Don’t remember what they are? I remember being taught prepositions in school with the “bunny and the log” trick, as so: The bunny hops around the log. Around is a preposition. Anything that describes how the bunny hops in relation to the log is a preposition. Not perfect, but it helps.
The preposition plus the noun it references is called a prepositional phrase. In this case, “around the log” is a prepositional phrase.
Latvian is a case-based language and prepositions are no exception. While prepositions don’t decline like nouns (thank god), they do require the noun they relate with to be in a certain case. There are only three possible cases for a singular noun in a prepositional phrase: genitive, accusative and dative. Ar takes the instrumental case, but it’s declined like the accusative, so I tend to lump them together.
Almost all prepositions govern the dative when plural. Governing a case means that their related noun must be in that case.
Like English, Latvian generally structures its prepositional phrases with the preposition coming immediately before the noun it relates to. (According to Wikipedia, this is indicative of a “head-first” language, where the preposition is the “head” of the prepositional phrase. I am not an English grammar expert, so read more about it at Wikipedia.)
However, because of the case system in Latvian, structure is not required. Again, in poetry and song, all bets are off. I hate translating poetry for that simple reason. Maybe later when I get better at the language I’ll have better luck but for now, I stick to prose for my sanity.
Luckily, there’s only a small set of prepositions that are absolutely critical to remember and they map pretty well to English. But, because prepositions can be finicky little devils, they can have several different meanings depending on context and usage. The more you come across them, the easier it is to figure out what their alternate meanings are.
I’m only going to list the basic definition below – alternates can be found in any good Latvian dictionary or understood via context. There are more prepositions but these are the most common.
* Special case. The preposition goes after the noun.