So far we’ve covered three of the seven Latvian noun cases and what I think are the most difficult. From here on out, the remaining cases get much easier to work with. Today, let’s look at the accusative case. This one has its idiosyncrasies, but in general, it is very easy to work with.
During Dative Parts 1 and 2, I discussed their place as indirect objects, but didn’t go into direct objects. A direct object is the recipient of the action of the verb in a sentence. It is what is acted upon by the verb and corresponds to the accusative case.
Ko? vs Kas?
As with all of the Latvian cases except the Vocative, the accusative has a question word to answer. It answers the question: Ko? (Who? or What? in relation to the action.)
Now, you may be a little confused here because it seems like Ko? and Kas? mean the same thing. If you translate them directly without connotations, you are right. They both mean Who? and What?. However, kas is used in relation to the subject or actor, ko is used in relation to the direct object or the thing acted upon.
Let’s look at an example to see the difference between ko and kas. I’m just going to ask simply here so to show off the connotations in parentheses a bit more.
Es lasīju grāmatu. –> I read the book.
Kas? (lasīja?) — Who? (is doing the reading?) –> Es. — I (am the one reading the book.)
Ko? (lasīja?) — What? (is being read?) –> Grāmatu. — The book (is what is being read.)
As always, you would answer in the case required by the question. You would never respond “grāmata” when asked “ko?” but you could if asked “kas?”
I always find it interesting that if you didn’t catch what someone said, you can simply ask “Ko?” or “Ko, lūdzu?” so that they will repeat it. You can also ask “Kā?” or “Kā, lūdzu?” too! Which one you hear used more often may be due to regional influences.
Using the Accusative Case
There’s not much to this! The recipient of the action will be in the accusative. As word order is flexible, the accusative noun/pronoun can go pretty much anywhere in the sentence, as long as meaning is clear from context. It is not required to follow the verb, though it generally will just as it does in English, nor it does not need to precede the dative. You can have lots of direct objects for a verb or just one.
Other than flexibility on word order, the Latvian accusative functions basically like direct objects do in English.
A very basic example:
Viņš spēlē futbolu. — He plays soccer.
An example showing multiple accusative nouns:
Viņi paņēma miltus, pienu, olas un samaisīja kopā. — They took flour, milk, eggs and stirred (them) together.
When Accusative Gets Confusing…
I find the accusative endings to be the most confusing of all of the endings, myself. It can be difficult to determine which word is nominative or accusative, singular or plural. Context is king. However, there are cases where order is important (though this doesn’t mean someone will necessarily be nice and not confusing).
Always keep in mind that Latvians can and will play around with word order, the accusative noun/pronoun won’t necessarily follow the verb. When necessary to ensure the meaning is not lost, the accusative is more likely to follow the verb.
It is possible to hit sentences like this whose ambiguity can be figured out through context: Ielas apgaismo laternas.
Or, this one which is very ambiguous and relies on word order to make its meaning clear: Lapas pārklāj sniegpārslas.
Now, can you tell which noun is in which case? (Translation follows at the end of the section for web or end of the post for RSS subscribers.)
What I do in these situations is translate the rest of the sentence or the sentences before or after. With enough context and keeping in mind the word order, it’s usually then becomes clear what is and isn’t singular or plural and who is receiving what actions.
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Ielas apgaismo laternas. -> The streetlights illuminate the streets.
This can be reordered and still make sense since the streets cannot illuminate streetlights.
Lapas pārklāj sniegpārslas. -> The leaves cover the snowflakes.
Usually snow would cover leaves, but since it is possible for leaves to cover snow, word order is very important to divine the correct meaning.
In Dative Part 2, I talked about dative noun expressions like man ir or man sāp. There’s one more that’s sort of both dative and accusative: man vajag or I need. This is how you express needing something in Latvian. Yes, you can literally translate it as “For me is needed a [something]” but please, do yourself a favor and start by just thinking of it as “I need”.
It is a dative noun construction but unlike the other constructions, this one actually requires an accusative object! Whatever is needed will be placed in the accusative rather than the nominative.
Correct and incorrect ways of saying: I need a book.
Incorrect: Man vajag grāmata. <— Do not place the object of the construction in the nominative.
Correct: Man vajag grāmatu. <— Dative construction plus accusative object.
I’m not really sure why this one is an exception, but it’s an important one to remember. Like pietikt and sāpēt, vajadzēt does not seem to be used except for in the 3rd person for dative constructions.
Present / Past / Future: vajag / vajadzēja / vajadzēs
NB: Artis notes that the other way of saying “I need” does not fall into this exception. That one is: “man ir nepieciešams” (there are other forms of nepieciešams for gender and number, naturally), which means basically “I have a requirement for …” The object is in nominative, not accusative. So, if your professor requires you to get a textbook for the class, you would say, “man ir nepieciešama mācību grāmata” or “I need a textbook.”
Fun fact: If you break down nepieciešams, you get ciešana: suffering. Pieciešana is: doing without. So nepieciešams winds up at: can’t do without… or require!
As with genitive and dative, several prepositions take the accusative in the singular. Check out the Prepositions post for the full list.
One important preposition, uz, changes its meaning depending on whether its noun takes the genitive or accusative when singular. (Uz is a regular preposition and takes the dative in the plural regardless of the meaning. Context should make the meaning clear.)
When uz takes the genitive, it is describing place or position, as in on (something).
Kākis ir uz galda. — The cat is on the table. (Table is in genitive.)
When uz takes the accusative, it describes direction or goal, as in to (somewhere).
Es eju uz veikalu. — I am going to the shop. (Shop is in accusative.)
This is a form of to that is not covered by the dative. If you are going to someone, such as going to see the doctor, that is governed by the preposition pie not uz nor the dative.
How to Decline in the Accusative
Accusative can be tricky to determine until you get used to it. Remember that the nominative plural and accusative plural endings for the 4th, 5th and 6th declensions are identical. Also of note is that the accusative plural endings for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd are identical.
The endings are as follows:
vsk. 1. dekl. | 2. dekl. | 2. dekl. exc. | 3. dekl. Ko? -u | -i | -i | -u vsk. 4. dekl. | 5. dekl. | 6. dekl. Ko? -u | -i | -i dsk. 1. dekl. | 2. dekl. | 2. dekl. exc. | 3. dekl. Ko? -us | -us | -us | -us dsk. 4. dekl. | 5. dekl. | 6. dekl Ko? -as | -es | -is Red indicates potential palatalization changes.