Latvian Nouns (lietvārdi)


Gender (dzimte)

Latvian nouns have two genders: masculine and feminine. In general it's fairly easy to figure out the gender of a noun: if it ends in -s or , it's masculine; if it ends in -a or -e, it's feminine. Here are a few examples:

Masculine translation Feminine translation
tēvs father māte mother
brālis brother māsa sister
saimnieks landlord, farm owner, host saimniece landlady, farm wife, hostess
dziedātājs (male) singer dziedātāja (female) singer

All of the above examples refer to human beings, who (of course!) have two sexes. However, gender applies to all nouns — including those that refer inanimate objects or abstract concepts. Notice the following examples:

Masculine translation Feminine translation
cimds glove, mitten cepure hat
piens milk maize bread
zalktis grass snake čūska snake
mēness moon saule sun
vējš wind upe river
racionālisms rationalism racionalizācija rationalization

As you can see from these examples, grammatical gender really has very little to do with sex. Instead, you can think of it as a way that the language groups nouns into classes. These classes aren't logical or rational; they are pretty much arbitrary. In other words, there is no logical reason why piens 'milk' (which is produced by female mammals) should be masculine, while maize 'bread' is feminine.

Fortunately, it is possible to determine the gender of most nouns by the final letter. As already stated above: if a noun ends in -s or , it's masculine; if it ends in -a or -e, it's feminine. But, as with everything there are exceptions. Here are a few:

Masculine translation Feminine translation
puika boy nakts night
radio radio pils castle
pļāpa gossip, babbler auss ear

There is nothing you can do with exceptions except memorize them. Sorry!

Number (skaitlis)

"Number" is very straightforward: Take a look at the following examples:

Masculine noun Feminine noun
singular plural translation singular plural translation
tēvs tēvi father(s) māte mātes mother(s)
brālis brāļi brother(s) māsa māsas sister(s)
deguns deguni nose(s) mute mutes mouth(s)

Although they don't work 100% of the time, you can use the following as guidelines for forming noun plurals:

That's not so hard, is it?

Noun Cases (locījumi)

English nouns only have two cases: possessive (dog's) and non-possessive (dog). Latvian nouns have six cases: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, locative, and vocative.

What's a case?

The case of a noun indicates the role it plays in a sentence. For example, the Latvian word galds 'table' has a different role (i.e. grammatical function) in each of the following sentences:

Latvian sentence English translation Grammatical role of galds 'table'
Galds ir brūns. The table is brown. Subject of the sentence
Galda virsma ir balta. The top of the table is white. Possessor of virsma 'top'
Galdu druscītiņ pakustināju. I moved the table a little bit. Direct object of verb pakustināju 'moved'
Galdā stāvēja trīs pudeles. Three bottles stood on the table. Location of pudeles 'bottles' (i.e. 'on the table')

In English these different grammatical functions are indicated by word order, or by the use of prepositions (e.g. on, in). In Latvian this is not necessary. Notice that the Latvian word galds (meaning 'table') has a different ending in each case, but the word itself can be in the same position in the sentence and the sentence will still be perfectly correct.

Here is a table listing the different cases, and illustrating their grammatical functions, which uses the Latvian word māte 'mother' as the example word:

Case Grammatical function Latvian sentence English translation
nominative subject of the sentence Māte neēd aprikozus. Mother doesn't eat apricots.
genitive possessor Mātes cepure ir brūna Mother's hat is brown
dative indirect object of the verb Anna iedeva mātei cepuri. Anna gave (her) mother (a) hat.
accusative direct object of the verb Anna mīl savu māti. Anna loves (her) own mother.
locative location (in, on) Anna tic mātē. Anna believes (in) (her) mother.
vocative direct address Māt! Ko tu dari? Mother! What (are) you doing?

Note: some Latvian grammars include a seventh case, the instrumental, but this is incorrect. These grammars show a form of the word which occurs with the preposition ar 'with, by' (for example: ar zīmuli 'with (a ) pencil'; ar roku 'by hand'). There is no separate instrumental case in Latvian.

To continue on with nouns, click at right to see Declension classes.


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This page created and maintained by
A. Steinbergs

Last revised February 15, 2010