Nouns in Dative, Part I

This entry is part of a series, Nouns»

That last post on Genitive was a doozy, wasn’t it?  Dative is a bit complicated too, so this time I’m going to break it up into parts so it’s easier to digest (and to write!).  We’ll look at the easy stuff this week and the more complex stuff next week.

The Indirect Object and You

This is the simplest part of the dative, I think.  Indirect objects answer the questions, “to whom?” and “for whom?” which are represented by Kam? in Latvian.

The prepositions to and for are handled by the use of the dative case.  This means that any time you need to indicate to or for, you get to shorten things to just the noun since there’s no need to add words to express it in Latvian.

Sometimes in English, we don’t need to use to or for when we have an indirect object.  Wikipedia notes that these are called non-prepositional objects.  Latvian pretty much only seems to use non-prepositional objects for its indirect objects.

Es pirkšu krējumu kaķim ::   I shall buy cream for the cat.

Kam es pirkšu? — Kaķim.    ::   For whom shall I buy [it]? — The cat.

Note that the answer, kāķim, agrees with the question word, kam.  I added the [it] because in English, it needs a bit more than just relying solely on context alone.

In English, we generally place the indirect object near the direct object, right?  Not necessarily so in Latvian.  Because the language is so flexible on word order, Latvians will often bump a word to the beginning or end depending on how they want to place emphasis.  Sometimes this can result in the indirect object starting the sentence.  Always make sure you look at the endings!

You can often begin translating a noun in dative as to- or for- the noun.  If it doesn’t sound quite right, try dropping the preposition.  Either way, it will make sense in context.

The biggest thing to be careful of with the dative is that you don’t mistakenly read or translate an infinitive verb as a noun just because those start with “to” in English.

Interestingly, for example is translated directly and, in keeping with the lack of a preposition for for, piemērs (example) takes the dative to create piemēram or for example.

How to Decline

I find these to be very easy to tell apart from everything else.  Almost all of the declensions end in -m in either singular or plural. Only the 4th, 5th and 6th singular dative do not end in an -m.  The 4th and 5th end in a -ai and -ei, respectively, which is almost as good.  But I admit that the 6th always trips me up with its ending of -ij!

The endings are as follows:

vsk.   1. dekl. | 2. dekl. | 2. dekl. exc. | 3. dekl.
Kam?      -am   |    -im   |    -im        |   -um 

vsk.   4. dekl. | 5. dekl. | 6. dekl.
Kam?      -ai   |    -ei   |    -ij

dsk.   1. dekl. | 2. dekl. | 2. dekl. exc. | 3. dekl.
Kam?     -iem   |    -iem  |     -iem      |   -iem 

dsk.   4. dekl. | 5. dekl. | 6. dekl
Kam?      -ām   |    -ēm   |    -ūm

Red indicates potential palatalization changes in the preceding consonant.

Prepositions

There are only a couple of prepositions that take the dative in singular as well: līdz (until, up to) and pa (on, during).  Pa is difficult, its nouns can take multiple cases, it’s involved in loads of idiomatic expressions, edge cases… and that’s way out of the scope of this post. More on pa later.

One odd preposition is priekš (before, prior to, for).  It’s very rarely used because pirms is replacing it in general usage.  The odd thing about it is that it can also mean for if its noun, when singular, is in genitive.

My husband noted that priekš is commonly found in bad Latvian as an attempt to create indirect objects. :-)  So it’s essential that you do not misuse it this way!  Always remember that indirect objects are usually created using the dative, not a preposition.

There’s an idiom that uses priekš: priekš kaķiem, or for the cats. It indicates that an endeavor is useless or wasted, only good enough “for the cats”.

A popular English idiom that’s similar is “herding cats”.

As I’ve said in the Prepositions post and the Genitive post, damn near all common Latvian prepositions take the dative in the plural.

There are exceptions, most notably ar, but for now, you can fairly safely figure that almost all of the prepositions you will use as a beginner will take the dative when plural.


To be continued…

Next time, we’ll look at the Latvian construction for to have.  That is one of the most essential parts of Latvian to learn as a beginner.  It’s also kinda twisty, at least to me. It took me a while to grok this one fully and some of it still throws me.

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