Latvian Language Learning Hacks


You may have heard that the 3rd and 6th noun declensions are rarer than the others.

But how rare are they really?

I analyzed over 1000 movie subtitles in Latvian and here is how often each declension was used:

Declension Nouns %
1 (-s) 548,197 40.66%
4 (-a) 463,227 34.36%
5 (-e) 175,792 13.04%
2 (-is) 125,381 9.30%
6 (-s) 29,005 2.15%
3 (-us) 6,684 0.5%

It means that of all nouns whose declension I was able to determine 40.66% of them were the 1st declension nouns.

Don’t sweat about the 3rd declension nouns

There are only about 10 words that frequently came up in my analysis.

They are ice, rain, beer, honey, market, cough, fake, middle, Jesus, Christ, Ingus and Mikus. See the full list here.

You can creatively come up with synonyms to say instead of these words.

I am not saying you should completely ignore this declension. All I’m saying is that you can safely not worry about it when you start learning Latvian.

Don’t sweat about the 6th declension nouns

If I told you that all nouns in Latvian that end in -s are masculine, I’d technically be wrong.

If you didn’t know about this rule and decided to check for yourself, you’d find that I’d be right only 96% of the time.

Declension Nouns %
1 (-s), 2 (-is), 3 (-us) 680,262 95.91%
6 (-s) 29,005 4.09%

But isn’t the precision of 96% pretty good for you as a language learner when starting out?

Here are some words that end in -s but belong to the 6th declension: eye, night, door, heart, country, blood, fire, voice, sky, fish, ear, boobs, card, breakfast, castle, cliff, sand, tribe, notice, tent, cow, oven, goose, axis, lice, note, reciept, barn, stove. See the full list.

As you can see, some common nouns on this list. But not too many of them.

My suggestion is that you ignore this declension for now. The most important thing when you start learning a language is to take it easy and make it simple so that you don’t get overhelmed and discouraged.

Ignore the instrumental case

It’s pointless.

I have no idea why it’s included in some grammar tables.


It’s definitely not there to help learners.

If you haven’t noticed, the instrumental case is the same as the accusative case in the singular and the dative case in the plural. The only difference is that it comes with the preposition ar (with).

You may also know that in Latvian some prepositions take the accusative case in the singular and the dative case in the plural. There’s many of such pronouns. One of them happens to be ar.

When you know these rules, which will happen sooner or later, there is absolutely no need to know about the instrumental case.

Just ignore it.

Don’t worry about the 2nd declension exceptions

There are a handful of the 2nd declension nouns that are exceptions: rock, blade, autumn, water, lightning.

You can treat them as regular 2nd declension nouns. Just like many Latvians do.

I can hear your Latvian teacher scream: but that is wroooooooong! It’s akmens, not akmeņa. It’s akmens, not akmenis!!!!!

But you know what?

Most Latvian won’t even notice or even if they do they are not going to care.

If they were not taught this rule in school, they wouldn’t even know there is something wrong with it. Because the prescribed “wrong” forms sound just fine.


Learn the subjunctive mood first

Language classes and books teach you the correct grammar but never seem to offer any shortcuts that you could use in real life.

What do you do when you are having a conversation in Latvian and forget the present stem of a verb or the correct ending to use? Do you pause and think it through while your listener is patiently waiting?

Let’s say that you want to say I want to drink a coffee, you know gribēt means to to want but you forgot the present stem of the verb.

You could just use the infinitive:

Es gribēt iedzert kafiju.

That’s fine. You’ll be understood but it sounds like something a child would say.

I’d like to suggest using the subjunctive mood in these situations.

In English, the subjunctive seems very complex at first. Sentences like I advise he be here tomorrow are perfectly valid.

In Latvian, the subjunctive is probably the easiest verb form.

What are the steps to use the subjunctive mood? Add -u to the infinitive. That’s it.

ceļot, to travel
ceļotu, would travel
Es/tu/mēs ceļotu. I/you/we would travel.

Ja man būtu nauda, es daudz ceļotu.
If I had money, I’d travel a lot.

Let’s use the subjunctive instead of the infinitive:

Es gribētu iedzert kafiju. I’d like a coffee.
Ko tu gribētu? What’d you like?
Ko varētu tev piedāvāt? What could I offer you?
Viņam vajadzētu mūsu palīdzību. He’d need our help.
Kāpēc viņi to sauktu par atlasi? Why’d they call it elimination?
Es apsolītu, ka drīz jūs būtu atkal kopā. I’d promise, you’d soon be togther again.

It will often still be wrong but I’m talking about percieved wrongness here. The use of subjunctive, in my opinion, will be percieved as less wrong than the use of the infinitive, or it will at least be more understandable in natural conversation.

Wanna say “I am going for a run” but forgot how to say I go (es eju)? Use the subjunctive!

Es ietu skriet, ja es mācētu izlocīt iet pareizi.
I’d go for a run, if I could conjugate iet correctly.

Learn the simple future first, then past and then present

I suggest learning verb tenses in the following order:

  • The simple future tense (I will travel)
  • The simple past tense (I traveled)
  • The simple present tense (I travel)

I already explained that the subjunctive mood is the easiet to learn and should be a no brainer at this point.

You could then learn the future tense because it also is very simple. You just need to know the infinitive of a verb and memorize some endings.

The reason I suggest learning the past simple tense first instead of the present tense is because it is completely regular. You do need to know the past stem to be able to use it (see below) but it is completely regular unlike the present which has exceptions. All you’ve got to do is know the past stem and memorize some endings.

Learn all forms of verbs at once

When Latvians learn English, we memorize all three forms of the irregular English verbs: get, got, gotten. For all other verbs, there’s a rule where you add the ending -ed.

Unfortunately, there’s no such fallback rule in Latvian.

If you want to speak Latvian well, you will need to learn the infinitive form of a verb, the present stem and the past stem. Three words in total. Just like you would when learning German.

One way to do this is to learn the infinitive, then later go back and relearn all other forms.

Or you could learn all of them at once.

I’d say this is the most efficient way. Some learners agree with me.

Imported words belong to the II conjugation

If you don’t know how to say something in Latvian, you can do what many Latvians do and simply add an ending to an English verb.

to stream – strīmot
to chill – čillot
to download – nolādēt
to import – importēt

It is my observation that almost all such nouns belong to the II conjugation.

It’s good news because the present and past stems are the same (čilloju – I am chilling/čilloju – I was chilling) and you can derive them from the infinitive: čillot – čilloju.