Latvian Verbs (Part XV)
- Person: first, second, third person
- Number: singular vs. plural
- Tense: present, past, future
- Conjugation classes: 1st conjugation, 2nd conjugation, 3rd conjugation
- Irregular verbs
- Reflexive verbs
- Complex tenses: complex present, complex past, complex future
- Participles: declinable, partially declinable, indeclinable
- Mood: indicative, imperative, subjunctive, etc.
- Voice: active vs. passive
What is voice?
We're not talking about the quality of airwaves you produce when speaking. In grammar, voice (kārta) refers to different types of verb forms (e.g. active or passive). and their appropriate word orders. Before I get into definitions, let me give you a couple of example sentences; the active verbs are in dark blue, and the passive verb constructions are dark purple (Note: in English the item focused on is (usually) at the beginning of a sentence):
Both sentences mean the same thing, but the focus is slightly different. If the topic of a conversation is Martin Tipiklothre (where he lives, how many children he has, his hobbies, what he's been doing lately, etc.), the first sentence might be more appropriate. On the other hand, if the topic under discussion is books on pickling, then the second sentence might be better. Let's look compare the construction of each sentence:
- Martin Tipiklothre wrote How to Grow Great Pickles. [Active voice]
- How to Grow Great Pickles was written by Martin Tipiklothre. [Passive voice]
Sentence (1): The active construction places the agent (or doer) of the action (i.e. Martin Tipiklothre) at the beginning of the sentence, where it acts as the subject of the active verb (i.e. wrote).
Sentence (2): the passive construction places the recipient (or target) of the action (i.e. the book called How to Grow Great Pickles) at the beginning of the sentence, where it acts as the subject of the passive verb phrase (i.e. was written).
This leads us very nicely into some definitions (from the Wikipedia article on Grammatical voice): "When the subject is the agent or actor of the verb, the verb is in the active voice. When the subject is the patient, target or undergoer of the action, it is said to be in the passive voice."
English uses a periphrastic passive voice; that is, it isn't a single verb form, but rather a phrase composed of two (or more) verb forms. To be specific, the English passive verb construction consists of: the helping verb to be (which expresses the number, tense, mood, etc.) and the past participle form of the main verb.
Just for fun, here are a few more examples of passive sentences in English:
Notice that only transitive verbs can occur in the passive voice. (Transitive verbs are those which can have a direct object, like: bake, hit, kill, kiss, shoot, write, etc.) Compare the following completely ungrammatical sentences in the passive construction, which contain intransitive verbs (i.e. verbs which cannot take a direct object):
- Cecil was bitten by a large wasp.
- The solution will not be found in my lifetime.
- The cars were damaged by enormous hailstones.
- The umpire was hit by the baseball.
- A rabbit was appeared by the magician.
- The little baby will be rejoiced.
- Influenza may be ailed by Marie.
Voice in Latvian
Latvian voice is actually fairly similar to voice in English. For one thing, Latvian also has only two voices: active (darāmā kārta) and passive (ciešamā kārta.).
(Note: some languages have three (or more) voices; 3 voices: active, middle, and passive (Classical Greek); 5 voices: active, passive, causative, reciprocal and cooperative (Classical Mongolian). Makes you grateful for small mercies, right?)
As in English, the Latvian passive construction is formed by a helping verb and a past participle form of the main verb. Also, the passive can only apply to transitive verbs in Latvian. And, finally, as in English, the passive construction places the recipient of the action at the beginning of the sentence, where it acts as the subject of the passive verb.
Let's look at a few example sentences in Latvian which illustrate the passive construction; the recipients (i.e. the subject nouns or pronouns) are shown in olive green, and the passive verb phrases are shown in dark purple:
One difference between English and Latvian passive constructions is the agreement on the participle. The English participle shows no agreement; however, Latvian uses the past passive participle form of the main verb. This participle is fully declinable. Thus, it agrees with the subject noun (or pronoun) in gender and number. Note that, in the four sentences above, each past passive participial ending (‑ts, ‑ta, ‑ti, & ‑tas) agrees with the gender and number of the subject noun (or pronoun). As for case, the participle will always be in the nominative case, since nominative case is required for the subject of any verb.
- Trešdien zelts tiks vests uz cietoksni . '(On) Wednesday (the) gold will be brought to (the) fort.'
- Māja tika uzbūvēta 1929. gadā. '(The) house was built (in) (the) year 1929.'
- Mēs tikām svērti katru dienu. 'We were weighed every day.'
- Slavenas kino zvaiznes bieži tiek attēlotas žurnālos. 'Famous movie stars often are shown (literally: depicted) (in) magazines.'
One major difference between English and Latvian passive constructions is the expression of the agent. In English it is possible to express the agent of the action by placing it in a prepositional phrase with the preposition by (e.g. by a large wasp). This is not possible in Latvian. Note the following pair of sentences; both are passive, both mean the same thing, but the English sentence is perfectly grammatical and the Latvian sentence is not grammatical:
- This cake was baked by Robert.
- *Šī kūka tika izcepta no Roberta.
The Latvian passive is formed by a helping verb and the past passive participle form of the main verb. However, unlike English (which uses only the helping verb be), a Latvian passive construction has a choice between four possible helping verbs: tikt, tapt, and kļūt (all of which mean 'to become'), and būt 'to be'. Here are a few more examples of a passive construction (but using different helping verbs); all four of the following sentences mean 'The house was painted brown':
Although all of these are grammatical passive constructions, the first two (using tikt 'to become' and būt 'to be') are the most common by far. There is also a very slight difference in meaning between the first two sentences. The first sentences focuses more on the action, while the second focuses more on the end result. Thus, it would be possible to translate sentence (1) as 'The house got painted brown', while sentence (2) might be translated 'The house was the colour brown' or 'The house had been painted brown.' However, these are rather minor quibbles. You can easily use tikt 'to become' OR būt 'to be' as helping verbs in a passive construction with no worries.
- Māja tika nokrāsota brūna.
- Māja bija nokrāsota brūna.
- Māja tapa nokrāsota brūna.
- Māja kļuva nokrāsota brūna.
The helping verb expresses the tense, number, mood, etc. of the passive construction. Here is a chart showing some of the possibilities, using the helping verb tikt 'to become; reach, arrive at' :
This verb is usually considered to belong to the third subclass of first conjugation verbs. Howver, in the present tense it substitutes the diphthong ie for the regular root vowel i, as evidenced in the chart above.
The verb tapt 'to become' belongs to the third subclass of first conjugation verbs, and is conjugated just like the verb zagt 'to steal'.
The verb kļūt 'to become' belongs to the fifth subclass of first conjugation verbs, and is conjugation just like the verb salt 'to become cold'.
Finally, to see how the verb būt 'to be' is conjugated, go to → Irregular verbs.