I promised that the nouns would get easier and the last post on Accusative wound up being one of the longest posts in the series, I know. But if you got Accusative and Dative down, you’re just a teensy bit away from having Instrumental down.
The more I go through Latvian, the more I think Instrumental is an important case to know. I’ll be writing a Part II for this case eventually with some of the more interesting ways it can show up in the language.
I would say Instrumental is a “technical” case. “Technically” it is a case in Latvian, it is taught in grammar books and schools, but realistically, it’s just a riff on accusative and dative plus a preposition. Don’t get me wrong, it is very important to know and understand, it’s just that this case’s endings are not very unique.
What it is NOT is equivalent to the Latin ablative case. This really threw me when I started learning. So don’t make that mistake. If it was equivalent, it’d be called ablative instead of instrumental. (And if you don’t know what ablative is or why you should care, then you’ll be fine.) Instrumental indicates with what or with whom an action is performed.
Okay, okay. The Latin Instrumental Ablative subset somewhat corresponds to the Latvian Instrumental. This is as close as it gets, one subset out of fifteen (or more) for the Latin Ablative. Trust me, Latvian is MUCH easier than Latin on this point.
Answering the Question
The instrumental case answers the question, “Ar ko?” which equates to “With whom?” and “With what?“. Note the ko, which directs you to the accusative and ar which is the preposition meaning with. (Despite the fact that this takes the dative in the plural, the question remains, “Ar ko?” regardless of whether you are asking about a singular or plural noun.)
NB: The instrumental is only for ar. It does not apply to bez. When using bez (without), the noun will take the genitive in the singular and the dative in the plural, as it falls under the standard prepositional rules. This is a case where the negation does not fall under the same rules.
Usage is very straightforward. If you are doing something with someone, that’s instrumental. If you are doing something with something, that’s instrumental too. Use it exactly as you would in English whenever you would say how something is done and use with to describe it.
Viņš spēlē futbolu ar savām masām. — He plays soccer with his sisters.
Es rakstu vēstules ar zīmuli. — I am writing letters with a pencil.
Kaķis ķer peles ar nagiem. — The cat catches mice with its claws.
For some reason, the fact that Latvian doesn’t seem to have separate words for nails, claws and talons depresses me.
Thanks to ar, this case plays by the rules of prepositions, which means instrumental nouns will take the accusative in the singular (remember the ko!) and take the dative in the plural like almost every other preposition in Latvian.
Which means… no new endings to memorize!
How to Decline the Instrumental
The endings are as follows:
vsk. 1. dekl. | 2. dekl. | 2. dekl. exc. | 3. dekl. Ar ko? -u | -i | -i | -u vsk. 4. dekl. | 5. dekl. | 6. dekl. Ar ko? -u | -i | -i dsk. 1. dekl. | 2. dekl. | 2. dekl. exc. | 3. dekl. Ar ko? -iem | -iem | -iem | -iem dsk. 4. dekl. | 5. dekl. | 6. dekl Ar ko? -ām | -ēm | -īm Red indicates potential palatalization changes.