A Little About Conjunctions

Conjunctions are the little words that make sentences go around. If you're American, you might even be humming in your head the old kids' show song from Schoolhouse Rock, "Conjunction Junction (What's Your Function)".

Conjunctions are words that help connect phrases and clauses together. They also connect words in pairs and lists. The most familiar of the English conjunctions are: and , but and or. In Latvian, these are called: saikļi.

Latvian has quite a few saikļi , which are classed into different groups by function. In the future, I'll be writing more about saikļi but for today, I'm just going to talk about the basics.

Saikļi - The Basics

Saikļi are classed as palīgvārdi , or helping words. They cannot be declined nor conjugated. Because they help other words, they don't answer questions. They are simply there to help the sentence along.


Un means and. Quite simple! You use un anywhere and everywhere you would use and.

Un belongs to the vienojuma group of saikļi. Vienojuma means " of joining" or " of union" and refers to saikļi which bind things together in a list. This can include words, clauses and other grammatical constructs.

As far as comma usage goes, un has some intricacies. Frankly, comma usage gets really complicated in Latvian so I'm not going to get into it right now. There'll be posts on that in the future when I feel up to digging into it. For now, here's the easiest rule to remember with using commas and un.

When using un in a list of words, never use a comma immediately before it.

Write lists this way: olas, piens, zemenes un āboli
But not this way: olas, piens, zemenes, un āboli

Artis' mnemonic for this is to think of un as the last comma in the list. It doesn't get a comma before it because it acts like a comma itself.

You can also have repeated usage of un in a list too! However, if you do this, you must put a comma before every repeated un in the list. Completely opposite of normal list behavior. Weird, huh? Here's what it looks like:

olas un milti, un sviests, un eļļa… -- eggs and flour, and butter, and oil…

Note here that the very first un does not have a comma. This is correct. The comma goes before each repeated un. (Luckily, it's also not that common.) It mimics speech.


Bet means but. Another easy one. It's just like in English - you can use bet everywhere you use but.

Bet belongs to the pretstatījuma group of saikļi. Prestatījuma means " of contrast" or " of juxtaposition" and refers to saikļi which set up contrasts between phrases and clauses.

Zibeņos patīk skatīties, pērkonā klausīties, bet arī gan tikai tad, kad tie nestāv virs pašu galvām. -Reinis Kaudzīte

As you can see, bet contrasts the first part of the saying to the second, pretty much how we would expect to do it in English. (I will leave the translation of this saying as an exercise to the reader. Feel free to comment with yours or ask for help!)


Vai (as or ) is part of the šķīruma , or separation class of saikļi. This group is made up of variations on vai and jeb and separates words, sentence parts, and sub-clauses.

Vai is extremely flexible. As such, it can be part of multiple groups depending on its usage. It can mean or but it can also turn a statement into a question! It can also function like "whether" or a non- conditional "if". Let's take a look.


There are two ways to say or in Latvian, depending on whether the items you are referencing are identical or not. The vast majority of the time, the items will not be identical, so you'll mostly be using vai. When they are synonyms, you'll use jeb.

You use vai for all pairs of words, clauses, phrases and sentences where the objects being compared are not identical synonyms.

Kaķi vai suņi -- Cats or dogs
Āboli vai vīnogas -- Apples or grapes

When it comes to commas, you can apply the same basic rule with vai when using it in a list as you can with un.


To turn any statement into a question, add vai to the beginning. To make it sound good , sometimes you need to rearrange the words a little, but that's a topic for another post.

Where the k-words ask specific questions that are answered in a specific case, vai asks for a yes or no response. It is often translated most capably as "Do…", "Is…" or "Are…". This is a case where you're not translating word- for-word but rather for how things are said in each language.

As such, there can be several ways to translate a question beginning with vai ; the most important consideration is that the question be answerable via yes or no.

Kaķis ēd peli. -> The cat eats (is eating) the mouse.
Vai kaķis ēd peli? -> Does the cat eat the mouse? Is the cat eating the mouse?

However, it usually doesn't get translated as "Can…" unless varēt - to be able to or an equivalent verb is in the sentence in the appropriate position.

Es varu izlasīt šo grāmatu. -- I can (am able to) read this book.
Vai es varu izlasīt šo grāmatu? -- Can I read this book? Am I able to read this book?

As you can see from all of the examples, English largely ignores vai as a word and swaps the position of the noun and verb to produce "Can..?" but translates vai for "Do/Does…?" and "Is…?" Vai doesn't necessarily have meaning beyond "I make this a question that is answerable by yes or no." How you translate and understand it is up to you.

Whether and If

This is something I just learned the other day while translating when I had an if to translate. Now, I knew that if is generally ja , but ja is used for if …then statements and I had the type of if that means whether.

Enter vai. You use vai to mean whether or if when it begins a subordinate clause, as so:

Es nezinu, vai es varēšu iegriezties. -- I don't know whether (if) I would be able to drop in.

The key here is the subordinate clause. "Vai es varēšu iegriezties" is subordinate, it can't stand on its own without becoming a question. It answers the question, "Ko es nezinu?" with "Vai es varēšu iegriezties." (What don't I know? Whether I am able to drop in.)

Again, this is because if vai starts a statement, it becomes a question, but if it starts a subordinate clause as part of a statement, it means whether.


Jeb is the form of or that functions as the Latvian version of i.e. , the abbreviation for the Latin phrase " id est " or, in English, that is. Jeb can only be used with synonyms when the two words are exactly equal.

Telefons jeb tālrunis
Telefons is the foreign loan-word while tālrunis , lit. far-speaker is the Latvian word for telephone. The two are synonyms for the same object, so we use jeb.

Glāzi jeb krūzi -> Glāzi vai krūzi.
However, because a glass is generally used for the same purpose as a mug but isn't the same object, you would use vai as the two nouns are not synonyms. They're alternative choices instead of alternative names.

For the example given, you'd be less likely to hear the nominative forms, so the accusative was given instead for a more real-world feel (think your host asking which you want your kefīrs in). Plus they make immediate sense as a question where the nominative does not if you add a question mark!

Jeb is the only saikļis in its group, paskaidrojuma or explanatory words. It explains things or concepts , which is pretty much what we would expect from something that can only be used with synonyms.

Šis un Tas: Demonstrating Demonstratives

For fast reference, you can also go to Charts to look at just the Demonstratives chart or grab the easy printable / downloadable PDF.

Today's post is a Reader Request! Do you want me to cover a topic or answer a question? Just comment or send me an email with the Contact Form. :)

What are Demonstratives?

Demonstratives are a type of word which refer to an object that is near or far in relation to the speaker. The distance can be literal or figurative.

I find it's pretty easy to work with demonstratives in Latvian. Generally, the rules for Latvian demonstratives are the same as in English. I'll talk a bit about demonstratives and how they're used because if you've never really thought about them before, well, it can be a little confusing to get started.

We use demonstratives all the time. When you refer to this book or these darn cats on your desk, you're talking about objects (or animals) that are very close to you. Similarly, when referring to that tree or those buildings, you're discussing objects that are far from you.

Demonstratives also can reference items being spoken about , which is how we use "this" or "these" in sentences to reference previous statements or clauses. These are called "entities of discourse" and the use of "these" and "this" in this very sentence are examples of its usage.

Latvian demonstratives work generally the same way but with the added complexity of the case and gender system. Šis/šī and tas/tā are declined a little differently from the standard, but when you read the chart, you'll see similarities to the normal endings that will help you figure out what is what.

A demonstrative can function like an adjective or a pronoun.

A demonstrative adjective modifies a noun and must agree in number, gender and case. This can also be called a determiner because it determines which object you are referencing specifically.

Šis kaķis sēž uz galda. -- This cat sits (is sitting) on the table.

Man garšo tās zemenes. -- I like those strawberries.

A demonstrative pronoun replaces a noun and must fulfill the same number, gender and case. This is also called a spatial adjective because it can help determine where the object is that you are referencing.

Interestingly, when translating into English, it often makes sense to translate tas/tā as it instead of that. This is due to English's little idiosyncrasies with "it" usage so be aware that's a potential translation path. Since Latvian doesn't have a neuter gender or "it", it can make sense to do the opposite as well -- translate an "it" as a "that" when translating from English. It depends on context.

When there is no noun for the demonstratives to agree with, they need to stand on their own and act like pronouns. Let's take a look:

Kaķis to atrada zem galda. -- The cat found that under the table.

This is an example where, "The cat found it under the table" is also a valid translation. It is equivalent to that in this case, so it works either way.

Types of Demonstratives

Šis un šī

For any type of noun that is literally or figuratively close to the speaker , we use šis for masculine nouns and šī for feminine nouns.

Šis and šī seem to be generally reserved for things being held or possessed by the speaker or, in the case of large things like cars, that are immediately next to the speaker. Often the nearest thing being referenced will be referred to with šis/šī, while everything else gets tas/tā. It is not as flexible as tas and tā and the distance it refers to is very small. Anything within arm 's length works well with šis/šī. Don't be surprised if the object gets touched while you're talking about it!

Always keep in mind with šis and šī is that the singular genitive has two possible options.

Šis un Šī - This

| vsk. | | dsk.
| masc. | fem. | | masc. | fem.
Kas? | šis | šī | | šie | šīs
Kā? | šā, šī | šās, šīs | | šo | šo
Kam? | šim | šai | | šiem | šīm
Ko? | šo | šo | | šos | šīs
Ar ko? | ar šo | ar šo | | ar šiem | ar šīm
Kur? | šājā | šājā | | šajos | šajās
| šai | šai | | šais | šais
| šinī | šinī | | šinīs | šinīs

Tas un Tā

Tas and tā are used for nouns that are literally or figuratively far away from the speaker. Use tas for masculine and for feminine nouns.

Tas and tā tend to be very flexible, at least in my experience. They can be used for anything nearby or somewhat far away, so the distance is more ambiguous. Unlike with šis, many objects can be considered "tas" and often something I would consider a "this" in English is a "that" in Latvian. A book sitting on the corner of my desk? Tā. The apple tree in my front yard? Tas. Figure if you can point at it, it 's probably far enough away to be a tas or a tā.

Of course, this is also dependent on the speaker's preferences and biases. Still, it's safe to use tas or tā for any object not in your hands or right next to you, so if you're unsure, err on the side of tas/tā.

Tas un Tā - That

| vsk. | | dsk.
| masc. | fem. | | masc. | fem.
Kas? | tas | tā | | tie | tās
Kā? | tā | tās | | to | to
Kam? | tam | tai | | tiem | tām
Ko? | to | to | | tos | tās
Ar ko? | ar to | ar to | | ar tiem | ar tām
Kur? | tajā | tajā | | tajos | tajās
| tai | tai | | tais | tais
| tanī | tanī | | tanīs | tanīs

Viņš un Viņa

Now, here is an odd type. I know, I know. Viņš and viņa are already pronouns you're familiar with! Latvian has a provision for referencing things that are very far away from the speaker and borrows viņš and viņa to do it.

English actually has an archaic form that handles this provision as well - yon and yonder. I still hear yonder in colloquial speech where I live and use it myself, for that matter! It's quite popular in the Southern dialects and colloquially used in rural Western dialects here in America. Whether it's used outside the US at all, I don't really know. Wikipedia implies that it's become idiosyncratic to dialects of American English. Anyway…

Imagine for a moment that you're on the banks of the Daugava. (If you've never been there, just check out my header image, taken from one coast.) You can point to Vecrīga on the other coast, sure, but if I were to tell you that Vecrīga is "on that side" without you seeing the image, you may not realize just how far I mean. "That" is too ambiguous in distance.

Enter viņš and viņa. I can say "Vecrīga ir viņā krastā" which means, "Vecrīga is on the far coast" or "Vecrīga is on yonder coast" without being ambiguous about it being really far.

Viņš and viņa are also used for time in a general fashion when referring to distant times far from your current time, whether literally or figuratively. If it feels like summer was forever ago, you could use "viņā vasarā". "A long time ago" is a perfect opportunity to use viņš.

There's also a caveat with the viņš/viņa construction. This always takes the locative, so it cannot be used to directly reference the object itself, only its location.

Viņš and viņa are included on the full chart for completeness and are declined normally.

Šāds un Šāda, Tāds un Tāda

Similar to the related question words, kāds and kāda , which ask " What kind of? ", these demonstratives identify the answer as " this kind of " or " that kind of ". The traditional reply to kāds is tāds, but it's not required that you use it.

Unlike šis, šī, tas and tā, which are irregularly declined, both šāds/šāda and tāds/tāda are declined as regular, indefinite adjectives. I have included them on the full chart for completeness.

Locative Tricks

The locative is where it can get a little tricky. There are three ways you can decline both šis/šī and tas/tā in the locative! Each of them is correct.

How do you know which one to use? Use the one that sounds good or fits the best.

All three can be used interchangeably, which offers Latvians a lot of flexibility and they definitely take advantage of this in poetry and song. So, don't just memorize one of each and forget the other two -- you don't want to miss out!

Wordy Wednesday - Whither Weather

Man, am I tired. On the upside, finals are finally done this week so I can actually devote some time to the blog before my next semester begins in a month. Of course, next semester is going to be considerably harder, plus work may pick up the pace about a week into the semester too. However, I've got some time right now since work is slow too, so I'm going to take the opportunity to work up some of the ideas I have floating around.

For now, however, let's talk about the weather today for the Wordy Wednesday. If you're in America, you've undoubtedly heard about the massive storms tearing up the Deep South and East Coast, with more tornadoes in the past few days in North Carolina than normally happen all season. Even though we're very, very far West, we're not unaffected and have had our own set of nasty spring storms. At this rate, we might go from a 10-year drought to a 7-year! My state's reservoirs are full and we haven't even hit snow melt. It's shaping up to be an interesting year, that's for sure.

It's hard to talk about the weather without also talking about some of Latvia's interesting mythology. I won't go into much detail right now but you might see this crop up again in future Wordy Wednesdays.

  • līt : to rain [slider title="conjugate me"] līt , 1. konj.
    tag. līstu, līsti, līst, līstam, līstat
    pag. liju, liji, lija, lijām, lijāt
    nak. līšu, līsi, līs, līsim, līsiet / līsit
    pav. lij, lijiet [/slider]

My spelling dictionary thinks this is the most boring verb in the world and as such is undeserving of a real entry. I think it's a pain to conjugate, but apparently that means I need to pick out more 1st conjugate for Wordy Wednesdays. Clearly I'm getting plenty of practice on the other two and not enough on 1st.

  • pērkons : thunder [slider title="decline me"] pērkons , m, 1. dekl.
    vsk.: pērkons, pērkona, pērkonam, pērkonu, ar pērkonu, pērkonā
    dsk.: pērkoni, pērkonu, pērkoniem, pērkonus, ar pērkoniem, pērkonos [/slider]

Pērkons is also one of the old gods of the Baltic pantheon. I confess that I know very little about Baltic pagan mythology, but Wikipedia notes that Pērkons is the god of thunder, mountains, rain, the sky and oak trees. There are quite a few interesting little tidbits, so take a look at the article if you're interested.

  • saule : sun [slider title="decline me"] saule , f, 5. dekl.
    vsk.: saule, saules, saulei, sauli, ar sauli, saulē
    dsk.: saules, sauļu, saulēm, saules, ar saulēm, saulēs [/slider]

Saule is another important Baltic goddess. She is the goddess of the sun, fertility, and the unfortunate, according to Wikipedia. However, she is not the most powerful, though she is one of the more powerful deities.

  • sniegs : snow [slider title="decline me"] sniegs , m, 1. dekl.
    vsk.: sniegs, sniega, sniegam, sniegu, ar sniegu, sniegā
    dsk.: sniegi, sniegu, sniegiem, sniegus, ar sniegiem, sniegos [/slider]

Generally, sniegs is used in the singular since this is an uncountable noun. Still, it can be and is used in the plural too.

Our family back in Latvia tells us that this past winter was very hard, with an incredible amount of snow. Some of the pictures we received were astonishing: some of their storms resulted in more snow than we received all the way up here in the mountains!

  • vējš : wind [slider title="decline me"] vējš , m, 1. dekl.
    vsk.: vējš, vēja, vējam, vēju, ar vēju, vējā
    dsk.: vēji, vēju, vējiem, vējus, ar vējiem, vējos [/slider]

Interestingly, Latvian mythology anthropomorphizes the wind as one of the many female "mother" deities. Vēja māte is the goddess of wind, patron of sailors and also oversees forests and birds. There are several dozen goddesses like this that cover many aspects of natural life.

  • zibens : lightning [slider title="decline me"] zibens , m, 2. dekl.
    vsk.: zibens, zibens, zibenim, zibeni, ar zibeni, zibenī
    dsk.: zibeņi, zibeņu, zibeņiem, zibeņus, ar zibeņiem, zibeņos [/slider]

Don't be fooled by the lonely -s on the end of this noun. This is one of the 7 exception words for the 2nd declension. It's also one of the things I adore about Latvian - the irregulars, by and large, are so few that you can easily memorize them in a sitting.

Bit late tonight, but better late than never. :)