Latvian nouns change based on gender, number and case.
Following a very common feature in languages, Latvian nouns have “gender,” either masculine or feminine. This is not the same as natural gender, though natural gender is matched with grammatical gender where appropriate. A few nouns, like nationalities, often have both masculine and feminine versions.
The difference between a single object or multiple objects will change the ending of a word, making differentiation clearer.
Latvian is a case-based system that, making use of noun suffixes in order to identify the function of nouns within a sentence or phrase. There are 7 cases:
- Nominative – Used to distinguish the subject, or “who?” of a phrase or sentence.
- Genitive – Used to denote ownership, relationship or membership, answering the question “whose?”
- Locative – Used to express positioning of an action (within space and time); think “when?” and “where?”
- Dative – Used to point out the indirect object, the receptor of an action, thus answering “to/for whom?”.
- Accusative – Used to identify the direct object; in general, the object that the verb acts upon.
- Instrumental – Used to express the object that an action is accomplished “by” or “with” – “how?” in a non-adverbial sense.
- Vocative – Used when the noun in question is being spoken to directly.
The Instrumental case uses the same endings as the Accusative case, but is differentiated by use of the preposition ar, “with”. The vocative case is used only with singular nouns.
All together now…
Masculine nouns come in three varieties, distinguished by their nominative singular endings:
- -us [rare]
Feminine nouns also come in three varieties, similarly distinguished:
- -s [rare]
The following chart demonstrates the different endings to be expected:
Starting with the nominative, the rules can be described thus:
- Masculine genitive ending is -a, except for -us nouns, which stay the same in the genitive.
- Feminine genitive ending is -s, added to nominative ending, except for -s nouns which do not change in the genitive.
- Masculine -is nouns receive a slight change to the final root consonant, called palatalization, in the nominative plural, singular genitive and plural (I have added a -j- to indicate this y-glide).
- Masculine plural nominative ending is -i.
- Plural genitive ending is -u for every gender variety.
- There is no plural vocative.