Man, don’t you just hate it when coughs linger on? I sure do, but at least I’m not feeling like I should fall over dead every day.
As it happens, the dative construction can be really important when it comes to saying how you feel bad in Latvian! For example, when I have a headache from coughing too much, I’d need to say, “Man sāp galva.” This is part of the dative verb construction. Let’s look at the most important dative verb construction out there: to have.
By the way, this can also be termed a possessive object.
Dative Verbs and To Have
There is no specific verb that is a direct equivalent to the English verb to have in Latvian. Instead, the dative plus the verb to be is used instead. Whichever tense you choose (past, present, future), you will always use the 3rd person form. Since Latvian verbs are always the same in the 3rd person, you never need to worry about matching number to the noun.
The object of the phrase will generally be in the nominative case. In short, whatever you have will be in the nominative. Who has it will be in dative.
Here’s the tricky part: as we learned in Part 1, dative implies to or for the noun/pronoun. Essentially, to say I have…, you must say in Latvian, To me is… or For me is…
I know I haven’t gone over pronouns yet – that will be after the Nouns series is finished – but here are the dative forms of the pronouns for your reference.
Dative Forms of Pronouns
I’ll put the literal translation first, then the actual translation you should be thinking of when you see it. You would rarely use the literal – this is only to show how the construction breaks down.
Kaķim ir pele. — To the cat is a mouse. [lit.] –> The cat has a mouse.
I guess you could reverse the translated word order and come up with: The mouse is for the cat. This does seem to meet the meanings of the cases better, so if it works for you, great! I don’t think it really fulfills the meaning of have all that well, so I don’t use it myself.
You can put adjectives in, as usual, they must agree with the noun they modify, but they don’t affect the construction at all.
Man ir trīs kaķi. — To me are three cats. [lit.] –> I have three cats.
Now, what about if you had or will have something? Just like in English, only the verb changes. In this case, as you can see, there’s only būt to change. (Negation is covered at the end of this post.)
Mums būs suns. — To us will be a dog. [lit.] –> We will have a dog.
Interestingly, Latvians don’t seem to play around much with the word order for this construction. You can, of course, if you want to add emphasis to a certain part or are writing poetry. Because of the endings, it cannot be misinterpreted, though it may sound odd.
This is just the most common and, I think, most important construction to learn of all of the dative verb constructions. There are several more! Let’s take a look :)
There are a bunch of common English verbs that are expressed through dative verb expressions in Latvian and you really can’t get by without knowing them. You really should know at least two just to go to meals with Latvian friends! And if you get hurt, you might need another one. So these are really, really important to wrap your head around.
The literal translation is clunky and you should try to get away from translating literally as fast as you can. When you see “man ir” think, “I have” not “to me is” and when you see “man patīk” think, “I like” instead of “to me like“. As you can see, the literal gets terribly in the way. Besides, literally translating word-for-word isn’t a good idea anyway in any language. Some things just don’t translate that way!
Personally, I hate translating man garšo because for some reason, I never want to just rely on the connotation of food in like in English to carry the day.
Here are seven common dative verbs you should know, excerpted from Teach Yourself Latvian. There are more, but you will pick those up as you go. I’ve added man in brackets to show how the construction would flow, obviously you would use whatever pronoun or noun you needed.
|Infinitive||3rd person present
|derēt||[man] der||fits [me] (as in clothing) / fulfills my needs (“that works!”)|
|garšot||[man] garšo||[I] like (as in taste)|
|patikt||[man] patīk||[I] like (generally except for taste)|
|piederēt||[man] pieder||[I] own / [I] possess / (it) belongs [to me]|
|piestāvēt||[man] piestāv||suits [me] (as in I prefer)|
|pietikt*||[man] pietiek||[for me] (it) is enough|
|sāpēt*||[man] sāp||[My (something)] hurts / [I] hurt|
* What is interesting here is that these two verbs don’t have anything listed in my spelling dictionary for any other forms. These two are generally only used in the dative verb construction and are conjugated only for the 3rd person past, present and future. Now, my husband tells me there are ways to do it, but boy, do you have to work for it. (Discussions of anthropomorphizing heads feeling pain came up as examples.) It’s certainly nothing that a beginner needs to worry about.
Another side note.. If you are at Lido, and you want to stop the person from giving you a HUGE helping of potatoes, you need to say “Pietiek!” when they’ve put enough on your plate. (Remember to say “Paldies!” when they comply, of course.)
Also, Lido is a great way to experience Latvian food even if you can’t try everything. You should definitely go there, but beware – your eyes will be bigger than your plate!
Negation in Latvian is pretty simple. Most verbs just get a ne- prefixed, but būt, the irregular little guy that it is, changes in the present entirely from ir to nav. (Past and future forms of būt function as do regular verbs with ne- prefixed.)
So, if you don’t like chicken, it’s man negaršo vista, if your head doesn’t hurt, it’s man nesāp galva, so on and so forth. There is more to negation, especially when we get into nav and genitive but that’s a topic for a separate post.