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In the Latvian language, nouns, adjectives, pronouns and numerals are inflected in six declensions. There are seven cases:


Latvian has two grammatical genders, masculine and feminine.

Latvian nouns can be classified as either declinable or indeclinable. Most Latvian nouns are declinable, and regular nouns belong to one of six declension classes (three for masculine nouns, and three for feminine nouns).

Latvian nouns have seven grammatical cases: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, instrumental, locative and vocative. The instrumental case is always identical to the accusative in the singular, and to the dative in the plural. It is used as a free-standing case (i.e., in the absence of a preposition) only in highly restricted contexts in modern Latvian. (See below for a true prepositional case, the ablative.)

Masculine declensions

The three masculine declensions have the following identifying characteristics:

The full paradigms of endings for the three declensions is given in the following table:

1st decl. 2nd decl. 3rd decl.
Sing. Plur. Sing. Plur. Sing. Plur.
Nom. vīrs vīri skapis skapji tirgus tirgi
Gen. vīra vīru skapja skapju tirgus tirgu
Dat. vīram vīriem skapim skapjiem tirgum tirgiem
Acc. vīru vīrus skapi skapjus tirgu tirgus
Ins. vīru vīriem skapi skapjiem tirgu tirgiem
Loc. vīrā vīros skapī skapjos tirgū tirgos
Voc. vīr vīri skapi skapji tirgu tirgi

The 2nd declension exhibits palatalization of the final stem consonant in the genitive singular and throughout the plural (ppj in the example above, but see below for full details). Exceptions to this include compound nouns and proper names ending in -dis or -tis (e.g. Atis, gen. sing. Ata).

A small subclass of 2nd declension nouns have identical nominative and genitive singular (most of them ending in -ens). These are part of the so-called consonant stem nouns: e.g. akmens "stone", asmens "blade", mēness "moon", rudens "autumn", sāls "salt", ūdens "water", and zibens "lightning". The 2nd declension noun suns "dog" has the regular genitive singular suņa.

Feminine declensions

The three feminine declensions can be characterized as follows:

The full paradigms of endings for the three declensions is given in the following

4th decl. 5th decl. 6th decl.
Sing. Plur. Sing. Plur. Sing. Plur.
Nom. sieva sievas upe upes nakts naktis
Gen. sievas sievu upes upju nakts nakšu
Dat. sievai sievām upei upēm naktij naktīm
Acc. sievu sievas upi upes nakti naktis
Ins. sievu sievām upi upēm nakti naktīm
Loc. sievā sievās upē upēs naktī naktīs
Voc. sieva sievas upe upes nakts naktis

The final stem consonant is palatalized in the genitive plural of 5th and 6th declension nouns (in the examples above, ppj and tš, but see the next section for full details). Exceptions to this include loanwords such as epizode (gen. pl. epizodu) in the 5th declension and a handful of words in the 6th declension: acs "eye", auss "ear", balss "voice", zoss "goose".

The 4th and 5th declensions include a number of masculine nouns (e.g. puika "boy", or proper names such as Dilba, Zvaigzne), or common gender nouns that are either masculine or feminine depending on their use in context (e.g. paziņa "acquaintance", bende "executioner"). Some surnames (e.g. Klints) belong to the 6th declension for both masculine and feminine.[1] In these cases, the masculine nouns take the same endings as given in the table above, except in the dative singular:

The 6th declension noun ļaudis "people" is masculine. It has no singular forms, only regular plural forms.

Consonant shift (stem-final iotation and palatalization)

Some of the case endings given in the declension tables above begin with an underlying palatal approximant - /j/. This is true of the 2nd declension genitive singular (ending -ja), all forms of the 2nd declension plural, and the genitive plural of the 5th and 6th declensions (ending -ju).

In Latvian literature this process is collectively referred to as līdzskaņu mija,[2] i.e., consonant shift. Jotēšana (cf. German Jotisierung), i.e., iotation can be further distinguished as a subcategory.[3] In English Academia the term "iotation" is often used to refer to properties of Eastern Slavic vowels wherein they acquire an underlying /j/ which palatalizes the preceding consonants regardless of their position within a word which is similar to the phenomenon of assimilative palatalization of consonants in Lithuanian. Latvian however does not have assimilative palatalization of consonants[4] and the term "iotation" is used strictly in the sense of stem-final labial consonants being "affixed with an iota" (i.e., the letter ⟨J⟩) in 2nd, 5th and 6th declension nouns.

change nom. sing. (not iotated) gen. plur. (iotated) translation
p → pj upe upju "river"
b → bj gulbis gulbju "swan"
m → mj zeme zemju "land"
v → vj dzērve dzērvju "crane"
f → fj žirafe žirafju "giraffe"

Besides labial consonants (/p, b, m, v, f/) that are iotated, coronal consonants (/n, t, d, s, z, l/, see below on /r/) and affricates (/ts, dz/) and their clusters can be said to undergo palatalization. Thus, for example, plain Latvian ⟨L⟩ (similar to the standard value of /l/ in American English or if not proceeded by a front vowel - Brazilian Portuguese, sometimes distinguished as "dark L" - /ɫ/) is palatalized to ⟨Ļ⟩, a palatal lateral approximant - /ʎ/.

change nom. sing. (unpalatalized) gen. plur. (palatalized) translation
c → č lācis lāču "bear"
d → ž briedis briežu "deer"
l → ļ brālis brāļu "brother"
n → ņ dvīnis dvīņu "twin"
s → š lasis lašu "salmon"
t → š nakts nakšu "night"
z → ž vāze vāžu "vase"
sn → šņ krāsns krāšņu "stove"
zn → žņ zvaigzne zvaigžņu "star"
sl → šļ kāpslis kāpšļu "stirrup"
zl → žļ zizlis zižļu "baton"
ln → ļņ vilnis viļņu "wave"
ll → ļļ lelle leļļu "doll"
nn → ņņ pinne piņņu "acne"
st → š rīkste rīkšu "rod"

History, exceptions and umlaut

After the Soviet occupation of Latvia minor reforms were made to Latvian orthography, namely the use of long ⟨ō⟩, the ⟨ch⟩ digraph and the use of "softened" ⟨ŗ⟩ were abolished. The use of ⟨ō⟩, ⟨ch⟩ and ⟨ŗ⟩ is often collectively referred to as “Endzelīns’ orthography.” The abolition of diacriticized ⟨ŗ⟩ effectively makes the trill sound (/r/) the only coronal consonant that does not undergo stem-final consonant shift.

For example, the of cepure "hat" is cepuru (but may be pronounced cepuŗu). It is, however, still used among people of Latvian origin and books outside of Latvia.

Proponents of ⟨ŗ⟩ point out that it aids in distinguishing a number of homographic heterophones and helps distinguishing the so-called "open ⟨e⟩" (/æ/) and "close ‹e›" (/e/) and prevents the appearance of their alternations in nominal paradigm (referred to as umlaut (pārskaņa), metaphony (metafonija) and other names such as regresīvā vokāļu harmonizācija, etc.)

Nominative Old orthography New orthography /e/ or /æ/ (IPA) Tone (Latvian notation: /~/ - level, /^/ - broken) Translation
mēris mēŗa mēra /meːra/ mẽra Gen.Sing. plague
mērs mēra Gen.Sing. mayor
mērs /mæːra/ Gen.Sing. measure
mērīt 3rd Pers.Ind. - he measures
bērt bēru bēru /beːru/ bêru I poured (sand, grain, etc.)
bēres bēŗu /bæːru/ Gen.Pl. funeral
bēris /beːru/ bẽru Gen.Pl. a bay horse

The use of ⟨ŗ⟩ has it that gen.sing. "plague" mēŗa would be distinguishable from gen.sing. "measure" mēra and bēŗu would not show umlaut being pronounced with a close /eː/ like the rest of its paradigm. Further, besides the 5th declension plurale tantum noun bēres ("funeral") another word that would have stem final consonant shift can be introduced - 2nd declension bēris ("a bay horse") both their will be bēŗu if ⟨ŗ⟩ is used. One could argue that the appearance of umlaut in "funeral" now allows to distinguish it from "bay horse" (assuming the latter is not subjected to umlaut), however, the more common occurrence of the words "I poured (a granular substance)" and "of funeral" becoming perfect homophones is likely to be seen as a net-loss by proponents of ‹ŗ›.

In Latvian literature it is usually assumed that open /æ/ is the underlying value of e which became the more close /e/ when followed by a palatal element - either a front vowel /i, e, iɛ, ei/ (cf. German Gast : Gäste /gast : ɡɛstə/) or the palatal approximant /j/ (the "shifted" values can always be analyzed as sums of some consonant and *j in historical terms: š < *tj, ž < *dj, etc.)

In fact, consonant shift can be viewed as a means of blocking umlaut alternations in nominal paradigm, e.g., the 5th declension in -e has front vocalic endings (-e, -es, -ei, -ēm, etc.) in all cases except pl.gen. which has the back vowel -u and pl.gen. happens to be the only case where consonant shift takes place for this declension (the 2nd declension in -is is not as immediately obvious because the modern pl.nom. ending -i is a front vowel which should not require consonant shift to block possible umlaut, however, it likely originates from an earlier back vocalic ending *-ai explaining the consonant shift.)

Some suggest[3] that the abolition of Endzelīns' orthography in 1946 and 1957 was motivated by the fact that after the occupation Soviet authorities were promoting Russian-born Latvians for positions in the new administration, who, in turn, were not familiar with the developments that had taken place during the decades of independence.

During the Soviet rule one could observe what might seem motivation to simplify consonant shift further. Thus, for example, in a 1971 book by Aldonis Vēriņš Puķkopība ("Horticulture") the pl. gen. of narcise ("daffodil") is consistently spelled narcisu instead of narcišu.

A 2000 handbook on Latvian orthography lists the following words as exceptions to consonant shift due to reasons of euphony.[2]

nom.sing./ gen.sing./ translation
Guntis Gunta Guntis (name)
Atis Ata Atis (name)
viesis viesu guest
gaišmatis gaišmatu a light-haired person
tālskatis tālskatu telescope
pase pasu passport
gāze gāzu gas
mute mutu mouth
kaste kastu box, carton
torte tortu cake
azote azotu bosom
acs acu eye
auss ausu ear
balss balsu voice
dzelzs dzelzu iron
valsts valstu country, state
zoss zosu goose
debesis debesu sky

This list is far from exhaustive. 2nd declension two-syllable male names with stems ending in ‹d,t› never undergo consonant shift (Uldis, Artis, Gatis, and so forth.) Besides body parts (acs, auss) there is a number of other words that historically do not undergo consonant shift, e.g., the name of the town of Cēsis. Words with stem-final -st are not subject to consonant shift this includes all feminine forms of -ist nouns (e.g., feministe and so forth.) Further in a number of words consonant shift has been dropped to avoid homophony, thus of "passport" pase would be homophonous with "of (our-, your-, their-) selves" pašu, the same goes for gāze "gas" which would be homophonous with 1st pers. indicative of the verb gāzt "to topple." Perhaps only a small number could be genuinely attributed to euphony, e.g., gaišmaša due to two concomitant /ʃ/ sounds occurring within a three-syllable word which some might find "unpleasantly sounding."

Dorsal consonants

As has been noted stem-final labial consonants undergo iotation, whereas stem-final unpalatalized coronal consonants and affricates undergo case-specific palatalization and unlike Lithuanian, Latvian does not exhibit assimilative palatalization. However, the last large group of consonants, the dorsal consonants are an exception to both of these rules. Latvian has 3 unpalatalized dorsal consonants /k/, the voiced /ɡ/ and /x/, the latter occurring only in loanwords, represented respectively by the letters ⟨K⟩, ⟨G⟩ and ⟨H⟩, as well as palatalized versions of the natively occurring ones /c/ and /ɟ/ represented by the letters ⟨Ķ⟩ and ⟨Ģ⟩ respectively.

Similar to the "hard and soft C" and "hard and soft G" distinction in many (mostly Western) European languages Latvian seeks to palatalize /k/ and /g/ when they are proceeded by front vowels (/e/ or /i/) to either:

Unlike most Western European languages where the reader is expected to predict the "softness" or "hardness" of the ⟨c⟩ and ⟨g⟩ based on whether they are proceeded by a front vowel and the orthography doesn't change (e.g., cocoa /ˈkəʊ.kəʊ/ and Cecilia /seˈsilja/ both being written with ⟨c⟩), the highly phonetic orthography of Latvian requires any such changes to be shown in writing.

As with assimilative palatalization /k/ and /ɡ/ before a front vowel (/e/ or /i/) take on their palatalized values regardless of their position in a word, furthermore, /c/ has been used historically to assimilate pre-front vowel /x/ (found in Russian) and /ç/ (found in German.) For example:

When /k/ or /g/ is followed by a foreign front vowel sound not present in Latvian vowel inventory and when it's changed to a front vowel the palatalization will occur as well. This is the case with German ⟨ü⟩ (/ʏ/), for example:

Consequently as in the case of ķēķis, for example, no stem-final consonant shift can take place, cf. milzis - milža but ķēķis - ķēķa, since the /k/ is already palatalized.

As is evident with the loan ģimene "family," from the Lithuanian language,[6] /c/ and /ɟ/ are over-represented in borrowed lexical items. By comparing Lithuanian gimti (source of Lithuanian giminė and eventually Latvian ģimene) and Latvian dzimt ("to be born") it can be observed that replacing dorsal consonants with affricates (/k//ts/, /ɡ//dz/) before a front vowel is the more "native" way reserved for pre-front vowel dorsal consonant changes in native words as can be observed in gadzinieks, logs ("window") → palodze ("windowsill") or koks ("tree") → kociņš ("a stick.")

Indeclinable nouns

Some nouns do not belong to any of the declension classes presented above, and show no case or number inflection. For the most part, these indeclinable nouns are unassimilated loanwords or foreign names that end in a vowel. Some example are: taksi "taxi", ateljē "studio", Deli "Delhi".


Adjectives in Latvian agree in case, number, and gender with the noun they modify. In addition, they express the category of definiteness. Latvian has no definite and indefinite articles, but the form of the adjective chosen can determine the correct interpretation of the noun phrase. For example, consider the following examples:

Viņa nopirka [vecu māju]. "She bought [an old house]."
Viņa nopirka [veco māju]. "She bought [the old house]."

In both sentences, the adjective is feminine singular accusative, to agree with the noun māju "house". But the first sentence contains the indefinite form of the adjective, while the second one contains the definite form.

Indefinite declension

Masculine indefinite adjectives are declined like nouns of the first declension, and feminine indefinite adjectives are declined like nouns of the fourth declension.

Masculine Feminine
singular plural singular plural
Nom. -s -i -a -as
Gen. -a -u -as -u
Dat. -am -iem -ai -ām
Acc. -u -us -u -as
Loc. -os -ās

Definite declension

In the history of Latvian, definite noun phrases were constructed with forms of an old pronoun *jis; traces of this form can still be seen in parts of the definite adjectival paradigm.[7] Note that only definite adjectives are used in the vocative case. The nominative form can always be used as a vocative. If, however, the modified noun appears as a vocative form distinct from its nominative form (this can only happen with singular nouns, as can be seen from the declension tables above), then the vocative form of the adjective can optionally be identical to its accusative form in -o.[8]

Masculine Feminine
singular plural singular plural
Nom. -ais -ie -ās
Gen. -o -ās -o
Dat. -ajam -ajiem -ajai -ajām
Acc. -o -os -o -ās
Loc. -ajā -ajos -ajā -ajās
Voc. -ais / -o -ie -ā / -o -ās


The declension of the adjective zils/zila "blue" is given below.

Adjectives containing the suffix -ēj- have reduced case endings in the dative and locative. For example, vidējs, -a "central" (indefinite) has the following definite paradigm:

Masculine Feminine
singular plural singular plural
Nom. vidējais vidējie vidējā vidējās
Gen. vidējā vidējo vidējās vidējo
Dat. vidējam vidējiem vidējai vidējām
Acc. vidējo vidējos vidējo vidējās
Loc. vidējā vidējos vidējā vidējās
Voc. (= nominative)


Personal pronouns

The third person personal pronouns in Latvian have a regular nominal declension, and they have distinct masculine and feminine forms. The first and second person pronouns, and the reflexive pronoun, show no gender distinction, and have irregular declensions.

Singular Plural reflexive
1st 2nd 3rd masc. 3rd fem. 1st 2nd 3rd masc. 3rd fem.
I you (fam.) he/it she/it we you (pol./plur.) they -self/-selves
Nom. es tu viņš viņa mēs jūs viņi viņas
Gen. manis tevis viņa viņas mūsu jūsu viņu viņu sevis
Dat. man* tev* viņam viņai mums jums viņiem viņām sev*
Acc. mani tevi viņu viņu mūs jūs viņus viņas sevi
Loc. manī tevī viņā viņā mūsos jūsos viņos viņās sevī

*After a preposition governing the dative (e.g. līdz "to, until"), the dative forms manim, tevim, and sevim are possible. These forms may replace genitive and accusative pronouns with other prepositions, too.[9]

Possessive pronouns

There are five root possessive pronouns that change endings depending on the declension.

The below table of endings replace the bolded characters above for the various declensions,

Masculine Feminine
singular plural singular plural
Nom. -s -i -a -as
Gen. -a -u -as -u
Dat. -am -iem -ai -ām
Acc. -u -us -u -as
Ins. -u -iem -u -ām
Loc. -os -ās
Voc.* -s -i -a -as

In addition to the pronouns that have different declensions, there are pronouns that stay the same in all declensions,

Other pronouns

The following tables show the declension of the demonstratives tas "that" and šis "this".

Masculine Feminine
singular plural singular plural
Nom. tas tie tās
Gen. to tās to
Dat. tam tiem tai tām
Acc. to tos to tās
Loc. tajā / tai / tanī tais / tajos / tanīs tai / tajā / tanī tais / tajās / tanīs
Masculine Feminine
singular plural singular plural
Nom. šis šie šī šīs
Gen. šī, šā šo šīs, šās šo
Dat. šim šiem šai šīm
Acc. šo šos šo šīs
Loc. šai / šajā / šinī šais / šajos / šinīs šai / šajā / šinī šais / šajās / šinīs

The interrogative/relative pronoun kas "who, what" has the same declension, but it has only singular forms (and no locative form, with the adverb kur "where" used instead). The same applies to forms derived from kas: nekas "nothing", kaut kas "something", etc.

The intensive pronoun pats/pati (cf. "I myself", "they themselves") is irregular:

Masculine Feminine
singular plural singular plural
Nom. pats paši pati pašas
Gen. paša pašu pašas pašu
Dat. pašam pašiem pašai pašām
Acc. pašu pašus pašu pašas
Loc. pašā pašos pašā pašās

Other pronouns and determiners exhibit regular (indefinite) adjectival declension:


In Latvian there are two types of numerals: cardinals and ordinals.

The numbers from 1 to 9 are declinable. The number 1 (viens/viena) combines with a singular noun, 2 (divi/divas) through 9 (deviņi/deviņas) with plural nouns. With the exception of trīs "3", these numbers take the same endings as indefinite adjectives.

Masculine Feminine
nominative trīs
genitive triju
dative trim, trijiem trim, trijām
accusative trīs
locative trijos, trīs trijās, trīs

The following cardinal numbers are indeclinable:

Ordinal numbers ("first", "second", etc.) are declined like definite adjectives. In compound numbers, only the final element is ordinal, e.g. trīsdesmit otrajā minūtē "in the 32nd minute".

Archaic forms

Instrumental case

The following table illustrates case syncretism in the Latvian instrumental form. In the singular, the instrumental is identical to the accusative. In the plural, the instrumental is identical to the dative.

Some linguists also distinguish an ablative case that is identical to the genitive in the singular and the dative in the plural.

1st decl. 2nd decl. 3rd decl.
sing. plur. sing. plur. sing. plur.
genitive vīra vīru skapja skapju tirgus tirgu
ablative vīra vīriem skapja skapjiem tirgus tirgiem
dative vīram vīriem skapim skapjiem tirgum tirgiem
instrumental vīru vīriem skapi skapjiem tirgu tirgiem
accusative vīru vīrus skapi skapjus tirgu tirgus

The ablative is generally not presented as a separate grammatical case in traditional Latvian grammars, because it appears exclusively with prepositions. One can say instead that prepositions requiring the genitive in the singular require the dative in the plural. Also it is important to note that the Latvian ablative case is not an archaism but rather an innovation.

The ablative case emerged in Latvian under the circumstances of shifting the government of almost all prepositions in the plural to the dative form. This shift was caused by the loss of the old accusative form in the singular, which became identical to the instrumental form: A.-I. vīru, kāju, māsu. In the plural, most feminine nouns had identical forms for the dative and the instrumental case. The masculine form ending in "-īs" was dropped and the dative ending was introduced there by analogy: I. vīrīs >> vīriem (<< D. vīriem). Therefore, the instrumental case merged with the dative in the plural and the accusative in the singular. Feminine nouns had in the meantime levelled their G.Sg.~N.Pl.~Acc.Pl. endings: GSg,NPl,AccPl kājas; AccSg,ISg,GPl kāju. Therefore, prepositional constructions became ambiguous: uz pļavas - "on the meadow" or "to the meadows"; uz pļavu - "on the meadows" or "to the meadow". To at least partly reduce this, the dative case was introduced after most prepositions in the plural: uz pļavas (on the meadow), uz pļavu (to the meadow), uz pļavām (on/to the meadows). Therefore, almost all the prepositions that governed the genitive started taking the dative-instrumental case in the plural, giving a new birth to the ablative case.

The instrumental case, on the other hand, cannot be eliminated so easily, because it can be used in some contexts without any preposition:[10]

Dual number

Old Latvian had also a dual number. Nowadays perhaps in some dialects the dual might be used only in some words representing body parts,[citation needed] e.g. divi roki, kāji, auši, akši, nāši 'two hands, legs, ears, eyes, nostrils', in such phrases like: skatīties ar abāmu akšāmu 'to look with both eyes', klausīties ar abāmu aušāmu 'to listen with both ears', ņemt ar abāmu rokāmu 'to take with both hands', lekt ar abāmu kājāmu 'to jump with both legs'.[citation needed]

The old dual endings of all cases:

Masculine Feminine
1.decl. 2.decl. 3.decl. 4.decl. 5.decl. 6.decl. 7.decl.
Nom.Acc.Voc. -u -ju -u -i -ji -ji -u
Abl.Dat.Ins. -amu -jamu -umu -āmu -ēmu -īmu -ūmu
Gen.Loc. -i -ji -u -i -ji -ji -u

Locative case forms

The locative case once had three forms:[citation needed] inessive (the regular and most common form), illative (for example in old Latvian texts: iekš(k)an tan pirman vietan, in modern Latvian it has been replaced by the inessive, but vestiges of what once was an illative final -an changed to an [citation needed] remain in some adverbs, e.g. āran > ārā 'outdoors, outside', priekšan > priekš 'for'), allative (only used in a few idiomatic expressions like: augšup, lejup, mājup, kalnup, šurp, turp). The later two are adverb-forming cases.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ Согласование слов в роде, числе и падеже (in Russian).
  2. ^ a b Romane, Anita (2000). Latviešu valodas rokasgrāmata, tabulas, shēmas. Zvaigzne ABC. ISBN 9984-17-102-7.
  3. ^ a b Grīsle, Rasma (2000). "Termins blakne un citi apvainotie, arī ŗ, ch". Latvijas Vēstnesis (22/23). Archived from the original on 2012-04-26. (..)līdz ar citu līdzskaņu jotēšanu (bj, pj, mj, vj), kur to prasa gramatikas sistēma.
  4. ^ Virginija Vasiliauskiene and Jonathan Slocum. "Lesson 7: Lithuanian". The Latvian language does not have the assimilative palatalization of consonants.
  5. ^ a b c Karulis, Konstantīns (1992). Latviešu etimoloģijas vārdnīca. Rīga: Avots. ISBN 5401004117.
  6. ^ Vija Ziemele. "Leksikas slāņi". (..) vairāki desmiti (..) (lituānismu). (..) Piemēram, ģērbt, ģimene, ķekars, ķepuroties, ķērpji, ķirmis, mēģināt, paģiras, snuķis, žilbt.
  7. ^ J. and D. Petit (2004), p. 93
  8. ^ Andronov (2001), p. 202
  9. ^ Andronov (2001), p. 201, 204
  10. ^ See the discussion in Andronov (2001).