Nouns in Instrumental

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.

Nouns in Accusative

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.

[slider title="View the translations here"]

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.

Nouns in Dative, Part II

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

Singular Plural
Nominative >
es >
tu >
viņš >
viņa >

Example Time!

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 :)

Dative Verbs

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
| Meaning
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
| [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.


I've been laid out for the past week with a massively bad cold. It doesn't help that I got the cold the day I started a new job and a week after starting grad school.

In short, with all that plus Christmas, Part II of Dative is going to be delayed for about a week. Hopefully not more. I've got food to cook and gifts to wrap, and oh yeah, those pesky reading assignments and job duties. Should be back on an even keel shortly.

Now if only this damn cough would go away..

Nouns in Dative, Part I

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.


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.

Nouns in Genitive

The genitive case is one of the more complex cases in Latvian. Two of its uses, possession and prepositions, have already been discussed elsewhere on this blog.

I'll be summarizing what's in those two entries, but you should definitely go and read at least the entry on possession for the in-depth explanation, as it's the most common use of this case.

As always, every case has to answer to a question. Genitive answers to " Kā? " which means whose. It can also mean how but since nouns can't easily answer that question, so it doesn't apply.

Often you'll see kāds/kāda or what kind of being answered with a genitive response, even though it's not the question for the case. This is because sometimes genitive nouns are used like adjectives just like in English.

Basically, the genitive is used where we could expect to see " of " or " ' s".


We use the possessive all the time in English - Mary's book or John's house. Latvian works fairly similarly - the possessor will always precede the possessed. (May not be true in poetry.)

What's also neat is that 4th, 5th and 6th singular genitive nouns end in -s , just like in English. No apostrophes here though.

The possessor will always be in the genitive case and the object being possessed will be in the case required by the sentence structure.

Let's look at an example:

Tā ir Marijas grāmata. -- That is Marija's book.

As you can see, tā and grāmata are both nominative. This is because this sentence is a predicate nominative. I think of these type of sentences like an equation. You have a nominative noun on each side with a form of to be in the middle acting as an equals sign. The two nouns are equivalent to each other and the sentence is balanced.

In this example, that is a book or, as an equation: that = book. Whose book? Marija's.

Other Uses

All street names are in genitive. You could think of this as "street of [name]", for example.

Mēs dzīvojam Dzintaru ielā. -- We live on Dzintaru street.

Similarly, anywhere we could conceivably construct a phrase using "of", the genitive is probably the right case for the job, even if you wouldn't ordinarily use it when speaking. This is where the genitive nouns seem to work like adjectives.

Kāda ir jūsu darba adrese? -- What is your work address?

Technically, we could construct this as "What is the address of your work?" So work is in genitive.

As for why kāda instead of kā, it is because, in this case, work is pretty close to being an adjective rather than a noun. [To translate it so it makes sense in English, we use the simpler what as well. This seems to happen a lot with kāds/kāda questions.]

Let's look at what happens when we use the two to ask about the address.

Kāda adrese? Darba. -- What type of address? Work.

Kā adrese? Marijas. -- Whose address? Marija's.

Even though the answers are both in genitive, asking kā or kāda makes a difference in the information you receive back.

One last note on describing an [x] of [y]…

Viņš dzer ābolu sulu. -- He drinks apple juice.

Here again, we could say "the juice of apples" so apple is in genitive. Juice is the direct object of drinks, so it is in the accusative.

As for why apple is in plural in Latvian, unless more information is available, it's assumed to be plural instead of singular. It wouldn't make sense to say ābola sula because then we would be implying that the juice is from only one apple -- the apple's juice. Now, if you juiced one apple for your husband's breakfast, you'd have that knowledge, so that's when you could use the singular. Anything out of a box, however, is definitely plural. (Type of apple, like gala or honeycrisp, does not affect this. The box still contains juice from lots of apples.)

Prepositions taking the Genitive

As you hopefully read in Prepositions, you know that prepositions call one of three cases: accusative , genitive and dative. Since all prepositions take the dative in the plural , we only need to worry about this for singular nouns.

Luckily, of the common Latvian prepositions, only 11 of them take the genitive. (I've listed them at the end of this section.)

The preposition does not decline or conjugate, it will always remain the same. However, the noun that follows it (and is part of the prepositional phrase) must be changed to genitive.

Let's look at how to form a prepositional phrase with no.

Es neesmu no Latvijas. -- _I am not from Latvia. _

No Latvijas is a prepositional phrase. Since no takes the genitive, Latvija must change to Latvijas , the singular genitive form.

Prepositions that take the Genitive

Preposition | Definition
aiz | behind, due to
apakš | below, under
bez | without
kopš | since
no | from, out of
pēc | after, according to
pie | next to, at (the place of)
pirms | since, ago
uz | on
virs | above
zem | below

How to Decline in the Genitive

I love that the genitive ending is the same for every declination in the plural but sometimes the changes in the preceding consonant get me.

The endings are as follows:

vsk.   1. dekl. | 2. dekl. | 2. dekl. exc. | 3. dekl.
Kā?       -a    |    -a    |    -s         |   -us

vsk.   4. dekl. | 5. dekl. | 6. dekl.
Kā?       -as   |    -es   |    -is

dsk.   1. dekl. | 2. dekl. | 2. dekl. exc. | 3. dekl.
Kā?        -u   |    -u    |     -u        |   -u

dsk.   4. dekl. | 5. dekl. | 6. dekl
Kā?        -u   |    -u   |    -u

Red indicates potential palatalization changes in the preceding consonant.

Nouns in Nominative

Today begins a new series on nouns. Each case will be posted one at a time for the next few weeks. I'm trying something different, so for the next while, updates will be on Mondays with grammatical building blocks. I'm beginning with nouns and verbs, then will move into adjectives, adverbs and pronouns. That's the plan, anyway.

Latvian is a case-based system, similar to Latin and other languages, but not very much like English. What this means is that every noun can be declined into one of seven cases. Each case represents a different sentence part, the subject, direct object, indirect object and so on. The case system changes the endings of the nouns, which makes it possible to infer more information without requiring additional words.

Nominative is the first case and correlates to the English subject. The singular nominative is also the dictionary form , or the form used to list nouns in dictionaries.

Let's look at an example of how this works.

Pele grib sieru. -- The mouse wants the cheese.

Pele is nominative. Sieru is accusative. The mouse does the action, so it is the subject of the sentence. The cheese is affected by the action, so it is the direct object.

In case-based languages like Latvian, you can play with the order of the words, " sieru pele grib", for instance, and still have the same meaning. (This is not something you can do in English!) Latvian poetry takes full advantage of this, believe me, even if prose and conversation tends not to mix things up too heavily.

Asking the Question

Latvian associates a question word with six of the seven cases. (Vocative does not have an associated question word specifically for it alone.) For nominative , Latvians ask Kas? (Read more about interrogating nouns here.)

Kas means who or what. It can refer to a person (who) or a thing (what). The word is the same regardless and can be answered in either singular or plural.

Kas grib sieru? Pele. -- Who wants the cheese? The mouse.

Kas asks for an answer in the nominative. You can't ask: Kas pele grib? or Kas grib pele? It would be like asking in English "Who the mouse wants?" You wind up with two identical subjects, which just doesn't work. And no, you can't change it to "What does the mouse want?" because the question is still pursuing the direct object. Kas is pursuing the subject of the sentence, the doer of the action.

Most sentences will have a subject in the nominative case, but not all. Just as in English, sometimes the subject is inferred or dropped. In that case, context will tell you what the subject is.

Forming the Plural

Pluralizing nominative nouns is very easy, but you can read more about it in On Plurals.

For nouns in the 1st , 2nd and 3rd declension , the ending changes to - i.

For nouns in the 4th and 5th declension , add an - s to the ending. Just like in English!

For nouns in the 6th declension , change the ending from -s to - is.

Remember that the 2nd declension plural will always involve palatalization when possible. For example, brālis becomes brāļi because l can change to ļ, while tālskatis becomes tālskati , as t doesn't seem to change in the 2nd declension nouns. (It is possible for t to change to š, as in the 5th declension noun bite which becomes bišu in the genitive plural.)

How to Decline in the Nominative

This is the easiest one, as it is the dictionary form. The endings are as follows:

vsk.   1. dekl. | 2. dekl. | 2. dekl. exc. | 3. dekl.
Kas?     -s, -š |    -is   |    -s         |   -us

vsk.   4. dekl. | 5. dekl. | 6. dekl.
Kas?       -a   |    -e    |    -s

dsk.   1. dekl. | 2. dekl. | 2. dekl. exc. | 3. dekl.
Kas?       -i   |    -i    |     -i        |   -i

dsk.   4. dekl. | 5. dekl. | 6. dekl
Kas?      -as   |    -es   |    -is

Red indicates potential palatalization changes.

[slider title="Vocabulary in this post:"]
gribēt , gribu, gribēju: mixed : to want
siers : cheese

Review: Teach Yourself Latvian

Teach Yourself Latvian Complete Course (Teach Yourself Language)
Also available with CDs: Teach Yourself Latvian Complete Course with Audio CDs

I bought this book last week to see how it was. I chose to get just the book since I can easily ask my husband to read Latvian texts to me and help me with pronunciation. The audio cds, according to the book, enable you to read the dialogues along with native speakers, as well as giving some conversational listen-and-repeat help. This isn't really helpful for me, but I can see how it would be very helpful for those folks who don't have easy access to a native speaker.

If you're studying Latvian on your own, this is the book to get. It 's excellent. It is, in fact, the book I wish I could write. It doesn't make any promises about your proficiency upon finishing that I know of yet, so I'm interested to see how well I can understand Latvian by the end of the book. I'll update this post when I get that far.

Overall, the book is well written and includes interesting little snippets about Latvia's places, people and history. The grammatical points are explained clearly and call attention to how it's done in English so you'll learn more about English grammar too. The author appears to be a native Latvian who lives in the UK and tutors students, which shows in her descriptions and explanations.

The first chapters are very basic, so you'll find those easy if you've been studying using other materials for any length of time. As usual, they focus on the alphabet and pronunciation first.

However, despite the basics in the Introduction and Chapter 1, the book picks up quite quickly. By the middle of the book, the readings and grammar topics are more complicated.

There are only fourteen chapters but each chapter covers multiple points and provides several dialogues to translate. Vocabulary is comprehensive and provided as an appendix, with new words appearing nicely annotated after the dialogues.

Coverage of the topics is somewhat random and no charts of the various declensions and conjugations are provided. You definitely want to have a book like Tabulas un Shēmas for reference. You can also use my chart for nouns and verbs.

The biggest fault of this book is that the exercises are not as extensive as they could be. I would have liked to have seen a lot more exercises or, ideally, a companion workbook. I was happy to see that complete answers are provided in the back of the book so you can check your work easily. If you work on translating all of the dialogues (translations are provided at the end of each chapter), you will get plenty of practice. Adding some basic children's books would nicely round this out.

One of the best things about this book is its price. It's less than $20 without CDs and only $25 with them, which makes it eligible for free shipping from Amazon. It's definitely worthwhile.

I'm really quite happy I picked this up. I'm working on it in conjunction with a Latvian textbook for foreign (i.e., Russian) students and it seems to be helping already.

This is definitely a recommended book for the beginning Latvian student.

Update March 9, 2011: There is another fault to this book. No index. It drives me nuts! Finding a particular grammatical point means flipping through the book until I chance upon it or hit the page I remember. The table of contents is basically useless for finding them as well. However, I still think it's a great book.

Status Update

I've been working on and thinking about how to write about all of the collected reference works I have for learning Latvian. Honestly, I got overwhelmed and I don't want to put up huge posts of marginal usefulness. I was also overwhelmed by life and obligations - even taking a break from my normal writing over at Kitchen Mouse.

This happens. I don't work on my Latvian studies all the time, usually doing a burst of studying for about two months, then taking two or three months off. Somehow, this works for me. I come back and the vocabulary has settled in, even random one-liners from my husband are remembered. I guess it just takes me a while to process.

I've got a new book coming in that seems promising. It'll be here on Thursday, so I plan to write about it next week. This is one that's affordable and readily available from Amazon, so I have high hopes for it.

I'm also working through a Latvian textbook for foreign students. I try to do about two pages per day which should result in my finishing by the end of the year. If, of course, the new book is not more attractive. I'm not sure if I will work on them simultaneously or take a break from the one I'm working through now. It's quite possible that the new book will make it easier to write about different points of Latvian grammar.

I think I have a plan of attack for the references, but it will take a while. Of course, any progress is better than my current lack of anything and I feel horrid that I haven't gotten it done, so…

Finding Your Grammatical Center

One thing my husband continually nags me about is guessing the content of the sentence without really working through it. Especially when I start applying English grammatical rules to Latvian sentences because I'm tired.

Why is this bad? Because Latvian is highly flexible when it comes to word order, thanks to their system of cases and endings. Poetry is even more flexible. (I hate translating poetry right now. Don't do it until you're very comfortable with all the endings and have a decent vocabulary.)

When in doubt, find the grammatical center and fan out from there; remember to always look at the endings to decide which part it can be.

Latin is very similar - I used to take apart sentences all the time in class. Each word would get labeled with its case, tense, type and number (as applicable), then its English translation underneath. Finally, the English would be rewritten and rearranged to make sense. (Translating word for word is usually not wise.) In each case, finding the grammatical center was the first step.

Grammatical Centers

The grammatical center is comprised of the subject (in nominative) and the verb. Either one can be implied. Missing verbs are usually a form or variant of "to be" - context will give you the correct tense.

If you know what the subject and main verb are, then you're on your way to understanding the rest. Next you'll identify the direct object or noun in accusative, for or to what/whom the action occurs (dative), and where (locative). Not all parts will be in every sentence, obviously.

Let's take apart a sentence and mark each type of word in a different color. Vocabulary's at the bottom of the page.

Viņi paņēma miltus, pienu, olas un sajauca kopā.

Find the noun or pronoun in the nominative case:

Viņi paņēma miltus, pienu, olas un sajauca kopā.

Now find the verb or verbs in the sentence:

Viņi paņēma miltus, pienu, olas un sajauca kopā.

We'll add in the conjunction so it makes more sense in English. The grammatical center is as follows:

Viņi paņēma un sajauca

What can we figure out from this?

  1. The subject of the sentence is viņi, the 3rd person plural pronoun. It refers to a group that is either all males or mixed gender.
  2. Thus, the verbs should also be in the 3rd person plural form.
  3. Pa- and sa- are both prefixes that modify the meaning of the verbs. We need to look at the verbs ņemt and jaukt to identify the tense.
  4. Both paņēma and sajauca are in the past tense:
    1. In ņemt, the 3rd person plural is ņema in present and changes to ņēma for past
    2. In jaukt, the 3rd person plural is jauc in present and changes to jauca for past
  5. Un is a contraction that means "and". I put it in now because it makes things easier to understand.

So far, our sentence center makes some sense, but we need to know what the verbs act upon, which means we need at least one direct object. Those will be in the accusative case.

Viņi paņēma miltus, pienu, olas un sajauca kopā.

Only one word left! Now, the ending ā would imply locative, but this isn't a noun. It's an adverb and plays by somewhat different rules.

Viņi paņēma miltus, pienu, olas un sajauca kopā.

So, now we can translate it as follows:

They took flour, milk, eggs and mixed (them) together.

The (them) is implied, it's not as necessary to add in a pronoun like you would in English since we have the whole list right next to it.

This sentence turned out pretty straightforward and uses the same word order as English. The thing is though, we could scramble all the words up just about and still arrive at the same translation. While many Latvian sentences do fall into the format of subject-verb-object, it is not required in any way. That's the power of cases and why finding the grammatical center is important.

[slider title="Vocabulary used in today's post"]

  • kopā : together
  • milti : n., flour (almost always used in plural)
  • ola : n., egg
  • paņemt , paņemu, paņēmu: v., to take or grab
  • piens : n., milk
  • sajaukt , sajaucu, sajaucu: v., to mix together, stir
  • un : conj., and
  • viņi : pro., they