Going through all of my online resources on Latvian has been slow-going. Some of them have been discontinued, moved or difficult to classify. This one is too good to hold back, however. I found it at PageF30, who has some great resources on learning languages too.

There is a very important poem/saga called Lāčplēsis, which is regarded as Latvia's national epic. It was written in the late 1800s by Andrejs Pumpurs and based on local legends and fairy tales about the hero Lāčplēsis, or, the Bear-slayer. (Read more about it at Wikipedia.)

You can now listen to the whole saga online for free and follow along with the text. The reading is really quite good. Unfortunately, the link for the full text is bad at LibriVox because AILab changed everything over to Korpuss.lv. (Both Korpuss and AILab are great Latvian resources, by the way.)

Full Text at korpuss.lv: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI.

Listen online at LibriVox

Giving Orders

We hear orders every day:

  • "Pick that up!"
  • "Come here!"
  • "Buy now!"

Sometimes there's a "please" attached, but it's still an order.

Orders are in the imperative case. My mnemonic for this originally was: "it's imperative that you remember." It's something that must be done.

In English, we form an imperative by dropping the pronoun from the 2nd person form of the verb. (Not that English has many forms for verbs to begin with…) It changes from a statement ("You call this number now.") to an order ("Call this number now.").

In Latvian, it's pretty similar. No pronoun is used , unless it's really important for emphasis or direction. If you're addressing one person , use the 2nd person singular form, if addressing many people , use the 2nd person plural form. With the plural , you should change the - at ending to - iet , however. Don't be surprised if you hear a native speaker use -at instead, it happens. Of course, this also means that if you forget, you'll still be understood!

Of course, the formality rules also apply, so use the 2nd person plural imperative when necessary even when speaking to only one person. (More on formality later.)

Here are some examples:

  • Tu nāc (you come) -> Nāc! (come!)
  • Jūs nākat (you all come) -> Nākiet! (come!)

Reflexives, as always, have their own little rules. (By the way, reflexive verbs usually mean that the action is reflected back onto the subject.) So, for those, we change the -at to -iet for plurals and leave the singular forms alone, just like with the regular verbs, but we must add the reflexive -ies to the end too to signify the reflexive meaning.

Using skatīties (to look), we can look at the following:

  • Tu skaties (you look) -> Skaties! (Look!)
  • Jūs skatāties (you all look) -> Skatieties! (Look!)

Verb Stems


I've already told you that I think it's important to learn verbs with three forms: the infinitive, 1st person present singular, 1st person past singular. Here's why:

With these three forms, you can create the three stems necessary for building any verb form and type. Those are the infinitive stem, present stem and past stem. You also know the conjugation itself and can then conjugate it correctly.

Infinitive Stem

To form the infinitive stem, drop the -t/-ties ending from the infinitive form. Latvian infinitives always end in -t or -ties.

Drop the -t from domāt to form domā.

Drop the -ties from rotāties to form rotā.

You can now construct:

  1. the infinitive
  2. the simple future
  3. the subjunctive
  4. the past passive participle (-ts)
  5. the -dams participle

Present Stem

Form the present stem by dropping the -u ending from the 1st person present singular form.

Short: Nāku becomes nāk.

Long: Domāju becomes domāj.

Mixed: Sveicinu becomes sveicin.

You can now construct:

  1. the simple present
  2. the debitive
  3. the imperative
  4. the relative
  5. the present active participle (-ošs)
  6. the present passive participle (-ams)
  7. the -ot participle
  8. the -am participle

Past Stem

As with the present stem, we form the past stem by dropping the -u from the 1st person past singular from.

Short: Nācu becomes nāc.

Long: Domāju becomes domāj.

Mixed: Sveicināju becomes sveicināj.

You can now construct:

  1. the simple past (indicative)
  2. the past active participle (-is)

In Conclusion

You can see how knowing the three forms shows you that domāt is a long conjugation verb while sveicināt is a mixed conjugation verb.

Reference: Baltic Online: Lesson 8

[slider title="Vocabulary in this post:"]
rotāties : long : to play
nākt : short : to come
sveicināt : mixed : to greet

Learning Verbs

I just read an article the other day about someone who was working towards learning French and had some interesting points regarding verbs. During her studies, she learned the present form of a verb first, then the past and future, then later on, the subjunctive. At each point, she had to stop and relearn the verb rather than learning it in a single package.

Honestly, this is what really frustrates me with learning modern languages. All of the materials seem to want to teach this way. You're always going back to a verb and having to essentially relearn it with more data.

Now, my case may be a little different than most. I started out my language studies with Latin in college and used the Wheelock book, which I still think is one of the best language studies books ever. I was taught to learn my verbs as a packet, like so with "to love": amo, amare, amavi, amatum.

What this actually does is teach the 1st person singular present, present infinitive, 1st person singular past and perfect passive participle forms all in one. I may not have known what or how to use the perfect passive participle at first, but by the time I got there, I had the form memorized for dozens of verbs. I could move forward immediately, without having to go back and re- memorize verbs because the relationship between the forms is not necessarily discernable. Those four forms allowed me to build verbs however I needed to. It was so easy.

But if you learn each tense separately, you're going to have to go back and relearn them at some point because modern books aren't usually going to go back and teach you the new form for all those verbs they've been showing you so far. Here's the thing. Without that past singular form, it is impossible to know how to conjugate most verbs, you can only guess.

In Latvian, there are three verb stems you have to know in order to build verbs in any tense: the infinitive stem, the present stem and the past stem. If you know all of these, you can do anything you need to do with verbs. They are built on the infinitive, 1st person present singular and 1st person simple past forms. Knowing the present and past forms also ensures you know which conjugation the verb falls in as well and you can conjugate it to your heart's content. (And should.)

So here's my way of doing things, brought over from Latin to Latvian. Learn verbs with the infinitive and 1st person present/past forms.

No, dictionaries won't list all the stems - they will only list the infinitive - so you need to use a spelling dictionary to get it going. But if you have those forms memorized, you will build atop your knowledge, not rip it down and start over every time a new tense is introduced.

New Page: Resources

I'm adding a new set of pages to the site this week: Resources.

I'm slowly going through finding all of my learning resources and putting them there for future reference, so they will be updated frequently. (There's only one there right now as I am still writing the other two! They'll be up soon.)

An Apology...

I know it's been a while since I've updated. My senior project for my degree was taking almost all of my time -- not even my normal food blog was getting much love.

That'll change, however. I've got a list of topics a mile long to write about.

I'm also thinking about taking this little blog one step further and turning it into a beginning guide to Latvian. That would mean little lessons, vocabulary building, and translation exercises, in addition to grammatical instruction.

I'm no linguist. Hell, I'm not even fluent1. But I am working towards it and I hope some folks would like to try along with me.

They say the best way to learn is to teach someone else. They also say that those who cannot do, teach.

So let's give it a shot, shall we?

1. However, my husband is a native and loves languages. He helps make sure that I don't screw up too badly. Mistakes, however, can and will happen. I can only promise to try to keep it to a minimum and correct any found.

Exception Nouns

There are seven general exceptions in the 2nd declension. Instead of ending in -is, seven nouns end in -s ****.

Essentially, the nominative singular is all that is different. According to my grammar book, the genitive singular is also -s instead of -a with a consonant palatization change, but every time I go by the book when I translate into Latvian, my husband corrects me.

So, apparently, it depends on who you talk to and what they think sounds good. I don't think it's wrong either way and you'll be understood regardless of which you choose.

The seven nouns are:

  • akmens : stone
  • asmens : blade
  • ūdens : water
  • rudens : fall, autumn
  • zibens : lightning
  • mēness : moon
  • suns : dog

Then there's sals (salt). It's technically still a 6th declension noun but it's moving into the 2nd declension where it'll be an exception…. and no one really knows which one it's actually in.


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.

Preposition Governed Case (Sing./Pl.) Basic Definition
aiz genitive/dative behind, due to
ap accusative/dative about, around
apakš genitive/dative below, under
ar accusative (instrumental) with
bez genitive/dative without
caur accusative/dative through
dēļ genitive/genitive* because of
gar accusative/dative along
kopš genitive/dative since
labad genitive/genitive* for the sake of
līdz dative/dative until, up to
no genitive/dative from, out of
pa dative, accusative/dative along, through
par dative, accusative/dative for, as
pār accusative/dative across, over
pēc genitive/dative, genitive* after, according to
pie genitive next to, at (the place of)
pirms genitive/dative since, ago
pret accusative/dative against, towards
priekš genitive/dative before, for
starp accusative/dative between, among
uz genitive on
uz accusative to, until
virs genitive/dative above
zem genitive/dative below
  • Special case. The preposition goes after the noun.

On Plurals

English can be really confusing when it comes to singular and plural nouns. We have words from so many different languages that still follow their native language's grammatical rules that we can't easily say "This is a singular noun and this is how you make it plural."

I mean, look at octopus (octopi, from Latin, or octopuses, modern bastardization) or child (children, what the fuck?), goose (geese) and moose (meese? damn, moose). English makes no real sense that way and every day that I study Latvian, I wonder how the hell I can manage to speak English at all.

Latvian is much simpler. Oh, to every rule there is an exception, but overall, it's pretty simple. Other than those evil 6th declension buggers (which are few and getting fewer every year), you can identify whether a noun is grammatically masculine or feminine and what declension it may be in at a glance.

Nouns in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd declensions are generally masculine.

Nouns in the 4th, 5th and 6th declensions are generally feminine.

Exceptions are words like puika (boy) which comes from a Finn-Ugric language, though I'm not sure which. Puika is masculine even though it is in the 4th declension. Still, it declines like any other 4th declension noun.

Nouns ending in -o , like radio, do not belong to any declension and are considered indeclinable. So they remain the same no matter what case they are in.

To form the plural of any 1st, 2nd or 3rd declension noun , whose singular form ends in -s , , -is or -us , change the ending to -i.

  • 1st: koks (tree) -> koki (trees)
  • 2nd: kuģis (ship) -> kuģi (ships)
  • 3rd: tirgus (market) -> tirgi (markets)

To form the plural of any 4th or 5th declension noun , whose singular form ends in -a , or -e , add an -s to the end.

  • 4th: diena (day) -> dienas (days)
  • 5th: upe (river) -> upes (rivers)

To form the plural of 6th declension nouns (those evil buggers), whose singular form ends in -s , insert an -i before the final -s.

  • 6th: govs (cow) -> govis (cows)