Baltic Online

Lesson 1: Lithuanian

Virginija Vasiliauskiene and Jonathan Slocum

One of the most distinguished Lithuanian poets and playwrights of the second half of the 20th century, Justìnas Marcinkevičius has chosen as the basis of many of his works the most prominent cultural phenomena of the Lithuanian nation and, the most significant events of its history. The heroes of his dramas and poems are the first king of Lithuania, King Miñdaugas, the author of the first Lithuanian book, Martýnas Mãžvydas, the most famous writer, Kristijõnas Doneláitis, and the author of the first history of Lithuania, Sìmonas Daũkantas.

In his works, Justìnas Marcinkẽvičius gives meaning to the national culture (the birth of the state, writing, art and science) as a condition for the survival of the nation. Lithuanians do not have a heroic epic as do many other European nations. Thus the poems and plays of this writer have become a special national epic about the fundamental elements out of which Lithuania developed and from which Lithuania began.

Marcinkẽvičius is considered one of the most vivid stimulators of national consciousness and a supporter of passive resistance during the years of Soviet occupation. In his words, by using language, especially written, a nation enhances its existence and its self-consciousness.

Reading and Textual Analysis

In the selection given from Justínas Marcinkẽvičiuš book of essays, "The unity of the flowing river" (1994), there is a discussion of the first Lithuanian book, Martýnas Mãžvydaš catechism. This selection reflects the difficulty of the establishment of the Lithuanian language in its own country. In it the meaning of the book for all mankind is stressed. Marcinkẽvicius also points out some of the important characteristics of the preface of the first Lithuanian book -- its rhymed form and the use of personification. In his preface the readers are addressed with these words: "Brothers and sisters, take me and read (me) ..." In this statement it is possible to find several orthographic and phonetic features characteristic of the Old Lithuanian language, the lack of the marking of the long vowel y in the word sẽseris, the use of the Indo-European long a in place of the long o of the contemporary Lithuanian language (cf. brálei and bróliai), etc.

The language of the Old Lithuanian writings will be discussed at greater length in lessons 5-7.

Expand All
  • brálei -- noun, masculine; vocative plural of <brólis> brother -- brothers
  • sẽseris -- noun, feminine; vocative plural of <sesuõ> sister -- sisters
  • im̃kiet -- verb; 2nd person plural imperative of <im̃ti, ìma, ė̃mė> begin, start -- take
  • màni -- pronoun; accusative singular of <àš> I -- me
  • ir̃ -- conjunction; <ir̃> and -- and
  • skaitíkiet -- verb; 2nd person plural imperative of <skaitýti, skaĩto, skaĩtė> read -- read (me)

Expand All
  • ìš -- preposition; <ìš> from -- from
  • didelė̃s -- adjective; genitive singular feminine of <dìdelis, dìdelė> great, large -- great
  • méilės -- noun, feminine; genitive singular of <méilė> love -- love
  • viltiẽs -- noun, feminine; genitive singular of <viltìs> hope -- hope
  • ir̃ -- conjunction; <ir̃> and -- and
  • tikė́jimo -- noun, masculine; genitive singular of <tikė́jimas> faith -- faith
  • kỹla -- verb; 3rd person present of <kìlti, kỹla, kìlo> arise -- arise
  • tokiẽ -- pronoun; nominative plural masculine of <tóks, tokià> such -- such
  • žõdžiai -- noun, masculine; nominative plural of <žõdis> word -- words
  • rẽtas -- adjective; nominative singular masculine, of <rẽtas, retà> rare -- rare (man)
  • Lietuvojè -- proper noun, feminine; locative singular of <Lietuvà> Lithuania -- in Lithuania
  • jų̃ -- pronoun; genitive plural masculine of <jìs, jì> he, she, it -- them
  • nežìno -- negative particle; <ne> not + verb; 3rd person present of <žinóti, žìno, žinójo> know -- does not know
  • neskaĩtė -- negative particle; <ne> not + verb; 3rd person preterit of <skaitýti, skaĩto, skaĩtė> read -- has not read
  • ar̃ -- conjunction; <ar̃> if, or -- or
  • negirdė́jo -- negative particle; <ne> not + verb; 3rd person preterit of <girdė́ti, gir̃di, girdė́jo> hear -- has not heard

Expand All
  • ìš -- preposition; <ìš> from -- from
  • tolimõs -- adjective; genitive singular feminine of <tólimas, tolimà> distant -- distant
  • praeitiẽs -- noun, feminine; genitive singular of <praeitìs> past -- the past
  • ataĩdi -- verb; 3rd person present of <ataidė́ti, ataĩdi, ataidė́jo> echo -- echo
  • jiẽ -- pronoun; nominative plural masculine of <jìs, jì> he, she, it -- they
  • lìgi -- preposition; <lìgi> until -- until
  • šių̃ -- pronoun; genitive plural feminine of <šìs, šì> this -- these
  • dienų̃ -- noun, feminine; genitive plural of <dienà> day -- days

Expand All
  • užsižiẽbę -- verb; nominative plural masculine of preterit participle active reflexive of <užsižiẽbti, užsižiẽbia, užsìžiebė> flash -- have flashed
  • istòrijos -- noun, feminine; genitive singular of <istòrija> history -- of history
  • tamsojè -- noun, feminine; locative singular of <tamsà> darkness -- in the darkness
  • jiẽ -- pronoun; nominative plural masculine of <jìs, jì> he, she, it -- they
  • nùšvietė -- verb; 3rd person preterit of <nušviẽsti, nušviẽčia, nùšvietė> light -- have lighted
  • erškėčiúotą -- adjective; accusative singular masculine of <erškėčiúotas, erškėčiúota> thorny -- thorny
  • lietùviško -- adjective; genitive singular masculine of <lietùviškas, lietùviška> Lithuanian -- of Lithuanian
  • žõdžio -- noun, masculine; genitive singular of <žõdis> word -- the word
  • kẽlią -- noun, masculine; accusative singular of <kė̃lias> path -- the path
  • ir̃ -- conjunction; <ir̃> and -- and
  • lýg -- conjunction; <lýg> as, like -- like
  • pìrmas -- number; nominative singular masculine of <pìrmas, pirmà> first -- the first
  • naujãgimio -- noun, masculine; genitive singular of <naujãgimis> new-born -- of the new-born
  • klỹksmas -- noun, masculine; nominative singular of <klỹksmas> cry, scream -- cry
  • prànešė -- verb; 3rd person preterit of <pranèšti, pràneša, prànešė> announce, inform -- have announced
  • pasáuliui -- noun, masculine; dative singular of <pasáulis> world -- to the world
  • kàd -- conjunction; <kàd> that -- that
  • gìmė -- verb; 3rd person preterit of <gìmti, gìmsta, gìmė> be born -- has been born
  • rãštas -- noun, masculine; nominative singular of <rãštas> writing -- writing
  • gìmė -- verb; 3rd person preterit of <gìmti, gìmsta, gìmė> be born -- has been born
  • pirmóji -- definite number; nominative singular feminine of <pìrmas, pirmà> first -- the first
  • lietùviška -- adjective; nominative singular feminine of <lietùviškas, lietùviška> Lithuanian -- Lithuanian
  • knygà -- noun, feminine; nominative singular of <knygà> book -- book

Expand All
  • taĩ -- pronoun; neuter of <tàs, tà> this, that -- that
  • įvỹko -- verb; 3rd person preterit of <įṽykti, įvỹksta, įvỹko> happen -- happened
  • kaĩp -- conjunction; <kaĩp> as, like -- as
  • atspáusta -- verb; neuter of preterit participle passive of <atspáusti, atspáudžia, atspáudė> print -- printed
  • titulìniame -- adjective; locative singular masculine of <titulìnis, titulìnė> title -- title
  • jõs -- pronoun; pronoun <jìs, jì> he, she, it -- its
  • pùslapyje -- noun, masculine; locative singular of <pùslapis> page -- on the page
  • tū́kstantis -- number; nominative singular of <tū́kstantis> thousand -- one thousand
  • penkì -- number; nominative masculine of <penkì, peñkios> five -- five
  • šimtaĩ -- number; nominative plural of <šim̃tas> hundred -- hundred
  • kẽturiasdešimt -- number; <kẽturiasdešimt> forty -- forty
  • septintų̃ -- number; genitive plural masculine of <septiñtas, septintà> seventh -- seven
  • mẽtų -- noun, masculine; genitive plural of <mẽtai> year -- in the year
  • saũsio -- noun, masculine; genitive singular of <saũsis> January -- of January
  • aštuñtą -- number; accusative singular feminine of <aštuñtas, aštuntà> eighth -- on the eighth
  • diẽną -- noun, feminine; accusative singular of <dienà> day -- ...

Expand All
  • knỹgos -- noun, feminine; genitive singular of <knygà> book -- of a book
  • atėjìmą -- noun, masculine; accusative singular of <atėjìmas> arrival, coming -- the arrival
  • pàs -- preposition; <pàs> at, to -- among
  • žmónes -- noun, masculine; accusative plural of <žmónės> people -- men
  • galė́tumėm -- verb; 1st person plural subjunctive of <galė́ti, gãli, galė́jo> can -- we could
  • prilýginti -- verb; infinitive of <prilýginti, prilýgina, prilýgino> compare -- compare with
  • Prometė́jo -- proper noun, masculine; genitive singular of <Prometė́jas> Prometheus -- of Prometheus
  • žỹgdarbiui -- noun, masculine; dative singular of <žỹgdarbis> deed, feat -- the deed
  • diẽviškosios -- definite adjective; genitive singular feminine of <diẽviškas, diẽviška> divine -- divine
  • ugniẽs -- noun, feminine; genitive singular of <ugnìs> fire -- of the fire
  • pagrobìmui -- noun, masculine; dative singular of <pagrobìmas> steal -- the stealing
  • jõs -- pronoun; genitive singular feminine of <jìs, jì> he, she, it -- (and) its
  • išdalìjimui -- noun, masculine; dative singular of <išdalìjimas> distribution -- distribution
  • žmonė́ms -- noun, masculine; dative plural of <žmónės> people -- to men

Expand All
  • -- preposition; <sù> with -- with
  • knygà -- noun, feminine; instrumental singular of <knygà> book -- a book
  • -- preposition; <põ> after, over, on -- over
  • žẽmę -- noun, feminine; accusative singular of <žẽmė> earth -- the earth
  • ė̃mė -- verb; 3rd person preterit of <im̃ti, ìma, ė̃mė> begin, start -- began
  • sklìsti -- verb; infinitive of <sklìsti, skliñda, sklìdo> spread -- to spread
  • šviesà -- noun, feminine; nominative singular of <šviesà> light -- light
  • ir̃ -- conjunction; <ir̃> and -- and
  • šilumà -- noun, feminine; nominative singular <šilumà> warmth -- warmth
  • -- pronoun; nominative singular feminine of <jìs, jì> he, she, it -- it
  • -- particle; <nè> no, not -- not
  • sỹkį -- noun, masculine; accusative singular of <sỹkis> once -- once
  • gýnė -- verb; 3rd person preterit of <gìnti, gìna, gýnė> defend -- defended
  • žmõgų -- noun, masculine; accusative singular of <žmogùs> human being, person -- man
  • nuõ -- preposition; <nuõ> from -- from
  • tamsõs -- noun, feminine; genitive singular of <tamsà> darkness -- of darkness
  • ir̃ -- conjunction; <ir̃> and -- and
  • mẽlo -- noun, masculine; genitive singular of <mẽlas> falsehood -- of falsehood
  • žvėriũ -- noun, masculine; genitive plural of <žvėrìs> beast -- the beasts
  • šìldė -- verb; 3rd person preterit of <šìldyti, šìldo, šìldė> warm -- it warmed
  • sugrùbusią -- verb; accusative singular feminine of preterit participle active of <sugrùbti, sugrum̃ba, sugrùbo> numb -- benumbed
  • -- pronoun; genitive singular masculine of <jìs, jì> he, she, it -- his
  • síelą -- noun, feminine; accusative singular of <síela> soul -- soul
  • žãdino -- verb; 3rd person preterit of <žãdinti, žãdina, žãdino> awake -- awakened
  • miñtį -- noun, feminine; accusative singular of <mintìs> thought -- thought
  • skãtino -- verb; 3rd person preterit of <skãtinti, skãtina, skãtino> encourage, induce -- encouraged
  • veĩklai -- noun, feminine; dative singular of <veiklà> activity -- activity
  • ir̃ -- conjunction; <ir̃> and -- and
  • kūrýbai -- noun, feminine; dative singular of <kūrýba> creativity -- creativity

Expand All
  • taĩgi -- conjunction; <taĩgi> thus -- thus
  • knygà -- noun, feminine; nominative singular of <knygà> book -- the book
  • prabỹla -- verb; 3rd person present of <prabìlti, prabỹla, prabìlo> speak -- speaks
  • lietùviškai -- adverb; <lietùviškai> Lithuanian -- (in) Lithuanian
  • ir̃ -- conjunction; <ir̃> and -- and
  • -- particle; <nè> no, not -- not
  • bèt kaĩp -- adverb; <bèt kaĩp> anyhow -- any kind
  • õ -- conjunction; <õ> and, but -- but
  • eiliúotai -- adverb; <eiliúotai> rhyme -- rhymed

Expand All
  • jõs -- pronoun; genitive singular feminine of <jìs, jì> he, she, it -- its
  • áutorius -- noun, masculine; nominative singular of <áutorius> author -- author
  • supràsdamas -- verb; singular masculine of half participle of <supràsti, suprañta, suprãto> understand -- understanding
  • momeñto -- noun, masculine; genitive singular of <momeñtas> moment -- of the moment
  • iškilmingùmą -- noun, masculine; accusative singular of <iškilmingùmas> solemnity -- the solemnity
  • pačiõs -- pronoun; genitive singular feminine of <pàts, patì> itself -- itself
  • knỹgos -- noun, feminine; genitive singular of <knygà> book -- of the book
  • vardù -- noun, masculine; instrumental singular of <var̃das> name -- in the name
  • įtaigiaĩ -- adverb; <įtaigiaĩ> suggestively -- suggestively
  • kreĩpiasi -- verb; 3rd person present reflexive of <kreĩptis, kreĩpiasi, kreĩpėsi> address -- addresses himself
  • į̃ -- preposition; <į̃> at, for, in, to -- to
  • skaitýtojus -- noun, masculine; accusative plural of <skaitýtojas> reader -- the readers
  • pranèšdamas -- verb; singular masculine of half participle of <pranèšti, pràneša, prànešė> announce, inform -- announcing
  • jíems -- pronoun; dative plural masculine of <jìs, jì> he, she, it -- to them
  • jóg -- conjunction; <jóg> that -- that
  • taĩ -- pronoun; neuter of <tàs, tà> this, that -- all that
  • -- pronoun; genitive of <kàs> which, what -- which
  • tėvaĩ -- noun, masculine; nominative plural of <tėvaĩ> parent -- their fathers
  • ir̃ -- conjunction; <ir̃> and -- and
  • prótėviai -- noun, masculine; nominative plural of <prótėvis> ancestor -- forefathers
  • neregė́jo -- negative particle; <ne> not + verb; 3rd person preterit of <regė́ti, rẽgi, regė́jo> see -- had never seen
  • dabar̃ -- adverb; <dabar̃> now -- now
  • štaĩ -- particle; <štaĩ> here -- here
  • ateĩna -- verb; 3rd person present of <ateĩti, ateĩna, atė̃jo> come -- is at hand

Lesson Text

"Brálei, sẽseris im̃kiet màni ir̃ skaitíkiet..." Ìš didelė̃s méilės, viltiẽs ir̃ tikė́jimo kỹla tokiẽ žõdžiai, rẽtas Lietuvojè jų̃ nežìno, neskaĩtė ar̃ negirdė́jo. Ìš tolimõs praeitiẽs ataĩdi jiẽ lìgi šių̃ dienų̃. Užsižiẽbę istòrijos tamsojè, jiẽ nùšvietė erškėčiúotą lietùviško žõdžio kẽlią ir̃ lýg pìrmas naujãgimio klỹksmas prànešė pasáuliui, kàd gìmė rãštas, gìmė pirmóji lietùviška knygà. Taĩ įvỹko, kaĩp atspáusta titulìniame jõs pùslapyje, tū́kstantis penkì šimtaĩ kẽturiasdešimt septintų̃ mẽtų saũsio aštuñtą diẽną. Knỹgos atėjìmą pàs žmónes galė́tumėm prilýginti Prometė́jo žỹgdarbiui - diẽviškosios ugniẽs pagrobìmui, jõs išdalìjimui žmonė́ms. Sù knygà põ žẽmę ė̃mė sklìsti šviesà ir̃ šilumà, jì nè sỹkį gýnė žmõgų nuõ tamsõs ir̃ mẽlo žvėriũ, šìldė sugrùbusią jõ síelą, žãdino miñtį, skãtino veĩklai ir̃ kūrýbai. Taĩgi knygà prabỹla lietùviškai, ir̃ nè bèt kaĩp, õ eiliúotai. Jõs áutorius, supràsdamas momeñto iškilmingùmą, pačiõs knỹgos vardù įtaigiaĩ kreĩpiasi į̃ skaitýtojus, pranèšdamas jíems, jóg taĩ, kõ tėvaĩ ir̃ prótėviai neregė́jo,- dabar̃ štaĩ ateĩna.


"Brothers and sisters, take me and read (me) ..." Such words arise from great love, hope and faith and (it is) a rare Lithuanian (who) does not know, has not read or has not heard them. They echo from the distant past until today. Having flashed bright in the darkness of history, they have lighted the thorny path of Lithuanian literature (the word) and like the first cry of the new-born have announced to the world that writing has been born that the first Lithuanian book has been born. That happened, as printed on the title page on the eighth of January in the year one thousand five hundred and forty-seven.
We could compare the arrival of a book among men with the heroic deed of Prometheus, the stealing of the divine fire and its distribution to men. With a book light and warmth began to spread over the earth, not once (but many times) it defended man from the beasts of darkness and falsehood, it warmed his benumbed soul, awakened thought, encouraged activity and creativity.
Thus the book speaks Lithuanian, and not any kind, but rhymed. Its author, understanding the solemnity of the moment, in the name of the book itself, addresses himself suggestively to the readers announcing to them that all that which their fathers and forefathers had never seen, is now at hand.


1 The Alphabet

The present-day Lithuanian alphabet took shape in the early 20th century. It developed from the Latin alphabet under the influence of the writing systems of such languages as Polish, German and Czech. The first Lithuanian alphabet was presented in the first printed Lithuanian book, the catechism by Martýnas Mãžvydas.

Today the Lithuanian alphabet consists of 32 letters: 20 consonants and 12 vowels --

    a   ą   b   c   č   d   e   ę   ė   f   g   h   i   į   y   j
    k   l   m   n   o   p   r   s   š   t   u   ų   ū   v   z   ž

Among the differences between the Lithuanian and English alphabets are 4 additional letters:

  • š = sh (as in 'push');
  • ž = zh (as in 'pleasure');
  • č = ch (as in 'check');
  • ė = eh (as in German 'Ehre').

Also, "nasal" letters ą, ę, į, ų are used. In the 16th and 17th centuries they represented long nasalized vowels. Now the diacritic below a letter denotes a long oral vowel, e.g., skų́sti 'to complain about', and may differentiate one grammatical form from another, e.g., accusative singular žõdį 'a word' vs. locative singular žõdy 'in the word'.

1.1 Vowels

The Lithuanian vowels are pronounced as they are in Latin. The letters į and y always denote a long vowel as in English 'be' and ų and ū as in English 'moon'. The letter a denotes a short vowel when stressed with the grave accent, or unstressed (as in English 'box'), but it is always long when under the circumflex accent, e.g., nãmas. It is similar to the English long vowel in 'calm'. ą always denotes a long vowel: diẽną 'day'. e denotes a long vowel when under the circumflex accent, e.g., sẽnas 'old' (as in English 'man'). It can also denote a short vowel (mostly in stressed final and unstressed syllable): kiemè 'in the yard', nom. sg. vedė́jas 'manager', nèšti 'to carry'. It is similar to the English short vowel in 'let'. In borrowings e is shorter and narrower, e.g., ètika 'ethics'. ę always denotes a long vowel: žẽmę 'earth'. ė always denotes a long vowel (close to English 'yeah'), e.g., gėlė̃ 'flower'. i and u denote short vowels (as in English 'sit' and 'book'): mìškas 'forest', bùtas 'apartment'. o denotes a long vowel (as in English 'bought'): nósis 'nose'. In some borrowings, however, it denotes a short vowel, e.g., tònas 'tone' (as in English 'brawny').

1.2 Consonants

The letter j corresponds to the English 'y' (as in 'yet'). The articulation of Lithuanian consonants differs from that of English consonants. Lithuanian consonants are pronounced with the speech organs relatively relaxed. No Lithuanian consonant is aspirated like English 'p', 't', 'k'. The Lithuanian r is rolled as in Spanish.

Consonants have two variants, one hard or unpalatalized and the other soft or palatalized, the only exception being j. Consonants are always soft before front vowels: rẽtas 'rare'. This feature is not marked in writing in any other way. Consonants that occur before back vowels may be hard or soft, e.g., rãtas 'wheel', siū́las 'thread'. The front vowel letter i before back vowels denotes palatalization; the letter does not stand for a separate sound, but marks palatalized consonants only, e.g., žvėrių̃ 'wild animals', žãlias 'green'. Palatalized t and d become č and when they occur before back vowels, cf. kãtės 'cats' and kačių̃ 'of cats', mẽdis 'tree' and mẽdžio 'of tree'.

Although the feature of palatalization occurs simultaneously with the pronunciation of the consonant, to the American ear the effect is that of a 'y' sound following the consonant. In the beginning of native Lithuanian words and in international words j is commonly pronounced, but not written, e.g., ieškóti 'to search', variántas 'variant' The letters f, ch, h occur only in recent loanwords.

1.3 Other Notes

Some sounds are represented by digraphs: ch (as in the Scottish pronunciation of 'loch'), dz (as in 'adz'), ('g' as in 'age').

In scholarly and teaching texts, diacritics indicate word stress and syllable intonation. There are three stress marks: the grave, as in à; the acute, as in é; and the circumflex, as in ĩ. The stress is not fixed in Lithuanian, and may fall on any syllable of the word. The stressed syllable can be short (with a short vowel) or long (with a long vowel or a diphthong).

The manner of pronouncing a long stressed syllable is called intonation. Two types of intonation can be distinguished: falling (acute) or rising (circumflex). Falling intonation is usually marked by the acute on a long vowel or by the grave on the first element of the diphthongs ùi, ìl, ìm, ìn, ìr, ùl, ùm, ùn, ùr, e.g., brólis 'brother', méilė 'love', výras 'man', pìrmas 'the first', kùmštis 'fist'.

Rising intonation is marked by the circumflex on a long vowel or on the second element of a diphthong, e.g., žõdis 'word', vỹnas 'wine', var̃das 'a name', šim̃tas 'hundred', saũsas 'dry'.

Short stressed syllables are always marked by the grave on the vowel, e.g., dìdelis 'big', pùsė 'half'. Intonation helps to distinguish words otherwise having the same sound structure, e.g., imper. šáuk, 'fire, shoot' and šaũk 'cry, shout', áušta 'it cools' and aũšta 'dawn is breaking'.

2 The Sound System

Sounds in Lithuanian may be divided into vowels and consonants. The sounds may be arranged in tables according to their articulation. Vowels can be classified as follows:

    Short Front   Short Back   Long Front   Long Back
High   i   u   i   u
Middle   (e)   (o)   ė   o
Low   e   a   e   a

Vowels make up about one-third of all the sounds used in speech. Under similar circumstances, the long vowels are twice as long as the short ones and in stressed position they are articulated more clearly.

o and u are rounded vowels. In their production, the lips are spread somewhat sideways but not protruded, e.g., ùpė 'river', ožỹs 'goat'. Short mid vowels o, e occur in words of foreign origin: poètas'poet', òpera, 'opera'. In the diagram above they are given in parentheses because they are not equivalent to the corresponding long vowels o, ė. They are considered peripheral members of the Lithuanian vowel system.

The table below lists consonant sounds:

    Voiceless   Voiced
Plosives   p   b
    t   d
    k   g
Sibilants   s   z
    š   ž
    ch   h
Sonorants       v

All the consonants except palatal j can be contrasted as being either palatalized or unpalatalized. As was already mentioned above, palatalization before back vowels is indicated by the letter i. If a consonant of a cluster is palatalized, the immediatelly preceding consonant will also be palatalized, e.g. ram̃stis 'prop', penkì 'five'.

The affricates c (t + s), dz (d + z), č (t + š), (d + ž) are composite sounds. They may also be either hard or soft: giñčas 'argument', čiùpti 'to snatch'.

Voiced consonants occurring in final position are devoiced, e.g., kàd 'that', daũg 'much, many'. English voiced consonants are not devoiced in word-final position. Lithuanian consonants may be subject to assimilation. The main rules of assimilation are:

  • a voiced consonant followed by a voiceless one becomes voiceless, e.g., darbštùs 'industrious', žiñgsnis 'step' (in these examples the b is pronounced like p, and the g like k),
  • a voiceless consonant followed by a voiced one becomes voiced, e.g., kasdiẽn 'every day', išbė́gti 'to run out' (in these examples the s is pronounced like z, and the š like ž).

Assimilation of consonants in Lithuanian differs from that in English. In Lithuanian geminate consonants are simplified to a single consonant, e.g., pùsseserė '(she) cousin', iššókti 'jump out'.

3 Noun Inflection

Nouns in Lithuanian are inflected to show their relations with other words and their function in the sentence. Endings play a very important role. They mark number, case and (usually) the gender of the noun.

For the most part a noun is masculine or feminine. For nouns denoting living beings natural gender is common, i. e., the gender of the noun is determined by the sex of the living being referred to: arklỹs 'horse' is masculine and kárvė 'cow' is feminine. The gender of nouns denoting inanimate things is usually indicated by case endings: masc. stógas 'roof', fem. žiemà 'winter'.

Contemporary Lithuanian has two numbers, singular and plural, which are indicated by endings. Some nouns in Lithuanian cannot change their number but are either singular (singularia tantum), e.g., medùs 'honey' or plural (pluralia tantum), e.g., vestùvės 'wedding'. In dialects and older writings the dual may appear (see Lesson 7).

There are seven cases in Lithuanian: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, instrumental, locative, vocative. The vocative is used to address a person or thing, e.g., bróli 'brother'. The locative singular and plural, the instrumental singular and plural, and the dative plural are frequently shortened. In addition, there are four other cases with a locative meaning encountered in dialects and old writings: inessive, illative, adessive, allative. These will be discussed later.

There are five declensions in Lithuanian. The nominative and genitive singular provide information on the declension to which a noun belongs:

Declension   Nominative   Genitive   Gender   Stem
1st   -(i)as   -(i)o   masc.   (i)a
    -is   -io   masc.   ia
    -ys   -io   masc.   ia
2nd   -(i)a   -(i)os   fem. (masc. possible)   (i)o
    -ė   -ės   fem. (masc. possible)   ė
    -i   -ios   fem.   io
3rd   -is   -ies   fem. (masc. possible)   i
4th   -(i)us   -(i)aus   masc.   (i)u
5th   -uo   -ens   masc.   n
    -uo   -ers   fem.   r
    -ė   -ers   fem.   r
3.1 The 1st Declension

The first declension is the most common declension of masculine nouns. This declension is further classified according to whether the final stem consonant is hard (unpalatalized) or soft (palatalized). Soft variants of the first declension have the nominative singular -ias, -is, -ys. The paradigms below are for the first declension nouns výras 'man' kẽlias 'road', brólis 'brother' and ožỹs 'goat'.

    Hard   Soft   Soft   Soft
Nom sg   výras 'man'   kẽlias 'road'   brólis 'brother'   ožỹs 'goat'
Gen sg   výro   kẽlio   brólio   óžio
Dat sg   výrui   kẽliui   bróliui   óžiui
Acc sg   výrą   kẽlią   brólį   óžį
Inst sg   výru   keliú   bróliu   óžiu
Loc sg   výre   kelyjè   brólyje   ožyjè
        kelỹ   bróly   ožỹ
Voc sg   výre   kelỹ   bróli   ožỹ
Nom pl   výrai   keliaĩ   bróliai   ožiaĩ
Gen pl   výrų   kelių̃   brólių   ožių̃
Dat pl   výrams   keliáms   bróliams   ožiáms
    výram   keliám   bróliam   ožiám
Acc pl   výrus   keliùs   brólius   óžius
Inst pl   výrais   keliaĩs   bróliais   ožiaĩs
Loc pl   výruose   keliuosè   bróliuose   ožiuosè
    výruos   keliuõs   bróliuos   ožiuõs
Voc pl   výrai   keliaĩ   bróliai   ožiaĩ
3.2 The 2nd Declension

The great majority of feminine nouns belong to the second declension. A few nouns refer to male persons, e.g., dė̃dė 'uncle', Smetonà (surname). Only two nouns have the ending -i: martì 'daughter-in-law' and pati 'wife'. The following are paradigms for the second declension nouns síela 'soul', žinià 'news', bìtė 'bee' and martì 'daughter-in-law'.

    Hard   Soft   Soft   Soft
Nom sg   síela 'soul'   žinià 'news'   bìtė 'bee'   martì 'daughter-in-law'
Gen sg   síelos   žiniõs   bìtės   marčiõs
Dat sg   síelai   žìniai   bìtei   mar̃čiai
Acc sg   síelą   žìnią   bìtę   mar̃čią
Inst sg   síela   žinià   bitè   marčià
Loc sg   síeloje   žiniojè   bìtėje   marčiojè
    siéloj   žiniõj   bìtėj   marčiõj
Voc sg   síela   žìnia   bìte   martì
Nom pl   síelos   žìnios   bìtės   mar̃čios
Gen pl   síelų   žinių̃   bìčių   marčių̃
Dat pl   síeloms   žinióms   bìtėms   marčióms
    síelom   žinióm   bìtėm   marčióm
Acc pl   síelas   žiniàs   bitès   marčiàs
Inst pl   síelomis   žiniomìs   bìtėmis   marčiomìs
    síelom   žiniõm   bìtėm   marčiõm
Loc pl   síelose   žiniosè   bìtėse   marčiosè
Voc pl   síelos   žìnios   bìtės   mar̃čios
4 Verb Inflection

Verbs are inflected for person, number, tense, and mood. The first and second person endings show not only person, but also number, e.g., the 1st singular present klausaũ 'I listen'. The 3rd person singular and the 3rd person plural are the same in all tenses in Lithuanian.

Lithuanian has four simple (non-compound) verb tenses: present, simple past (preterit), frequentative past (frequentative preterit), and future. The frequentative past is rather recent; some Lithuanian dialects lack this tense. The Lithuanian tense system is rather simple compared with that of other Indo-European languages.

The aspect system, word formation, and compound tenses all compensate for this rather spare tense system. Compound tenses are formed with participles. In addition to the singular and plural, the dual number was still alive and used until the middle of the 20th century.

Lithuanian has four moods: indicative, subjunctive, imperative, and optative (permissive). Traditionally, the imperative mood includes the forms of the optative. Some grammars also give an indirect mood which is formed with participles of various tenses.

The infinitive, the 3rd person present, and the 3rd person preterit forms are the principal parts of the verb. They are listed in Lithuanian dictionaries. From their stems are derived all other verb forms. The infinitive ending is -ti; the shortened form -t is also common.

Lithuanian verbs are divided into 3 conjugations. The conjugation is determined by the endings of the third person, present tense: the 1st -(i)a (šóka 'dances'), the 2nd -i, (žiū̃ri 'looks'), the 3rd -o (sãko 'says').

4.1 The Present Tense

The present tense is formed from the present tense stem by adding the appropriate personal endings. There are no progressive forms in Lithuanian. The Lithuanian present tense can correspond to all the other English present tense forms: the simple present, the present continuous, the present perfect, and the present perfect continuous. The present tense forms are used independently of whether the action is regular, continuous, and whether it is taking place at the moment of speech, earlier, or later.

A good number of Lithuanian verbs have irregular conjugation. This is particularly characteristic of non-derived (two syllable) verbs of the first conjugation (-(i)a stem). They can have infixes, e.g., -n-, -v-, -st- or a lengthened root vowel, cf. gáuti 'to get', gauna 'gets', pū́ti 'to rot', pū̃va 'rots', pỹkti 'to be angry', pỹksta '(he) is angry', šìlti 'to get warm', šỹla 'gets warm'. In 3rd conjugation verbs (o stem) the suffixes -y- or -o- might be deleted: rašýti 'to write', rãšo 'writes', bijóti 'to fear', bìjo 'fears'; in 2nd conjugation (i stem) the suffix -ė-: sėdė́ti 'to sit', sė́di 'sits', etc. For this reason, it is always good to check the principal parts of the verb in the dictionary.

Plural forms can easily be formed by adding -me or -te respectively to the 3rd person form. The 1st and 2nd plural forms are trisyllabic and frequently shortened. Below those parts of the endings that may be dropped are given in parentheses.

    'grow'   'wait'   'have'   'read'
1st sg   áugu   láukiu   turiù   skaitaũ
2nd sg   áugi   láuki   turì   skaitaĩ
3rd sg   áuga   láukia   tùri   skaĩto
1st pl   áugam(e)   láukiam(e)   tùrim(e)   skaĩtom(e)
2nd pl   áugat(e)   láukiat(e)   tùrit(e)   skaĩtot(e)
3rd pl   áuga   láukia   tùri   skaĩto
4.2 The Past Tense

The simple preterit expresses an event which took place in the past. The event may be still in progress or completed. The past tense chiefly refers only to one occasion. The past event may or may not be connected with present moment of speaking.

The 3rd person ending of the simple preterit has either the ending -o or - ė, by which two conjugations are distinguished:

  • -au, -ai, -ome, -ote.
  • -iau, -ei, -ė, -ėme, -ėte.

The relationship of the preterit tense stems with the present and the infinitive stems is rather complicated. Many verbs have an irregular preterit. The past tense stem is formed by dropping the infinitive ending -ti; if a -y- precedes the -t- then -yti is dropped, e.g., ver̃kti 'to cry', ver̃kė 'cried', rašýti 'to write', rãšė 'wrote'. First conjugation verbs with an infinitive stem in -uo- or -au- replace final -uo- or -au- with -av-, e.g., dainúoti 'to sing', dainãvo 'sang', keliauti 'to travel', keliãvo 'traveled'. Second and third conjugation verbs with infinitive stems in -ė- or -o- drop the -ti and insert -j- between the stem and the ending, e.g., mylė́ti 'to love' mylė́jo 'loved', žinóti 'to know', žinójo 'knew'. One cannot always predict from the infinitive or present tense what the past tense conjugation will be.

    'grew'   'waited'   'had'   'read'
1st sg   áugau   láukiau   turė́jau   skaičiaũ
2nd sg   áugai   láukei   turė́jai   skaiteĩ
3rd sg   áugo   láukė   turėjo   skaĩtė
1st pl   áugom(e)   láukėm(e)   turė́jom(e)   skaĩtėm(e)
2nd pl   áugot(e)   láukėt(e)   turė́jot(e)   skaĩtėt(e)
3rd pl   áugo   láukė   turėjo   skaĩtė
5 Word Order

Word order in Lithuanian is not rigidly determined. It may vary depending on the communicative value (Functional Sentence Perspective) of the constituents. In an unemphatic declarative sentence, constituents conveying communicatively unimportant information (theme) generally precede those conveying communicatively important information (rheme). Grammatical relations between the constituents are indicated morphologically. All of the following word orders are possible:

  • Dū́mai gráužė akìs 'Smoke was making the eyes smart';
  • Gráužė dū́mai akìs;
  • Akìs dū́mai gráužė, etc.

In emphatic sentences the order is reversed, e.g., Ìš didelė̃s méilės kỹla tokiẽ žõdžiai 'Such words arise from great love'. Word order in interrogative sentences is usually the same as in declarative sentences: Ar̃ dū́mai gráužė akìs? 'Was smoke making the eyes smart?'

There are no articles in Lithuanian. Definiteness and indefiniteness may be expressed by word order and various pronouns and quantifiers. Nouns occurring in the initial position are usually considered to be definite, and nouns occurring in final position, indefinite: Brólis per̃ka mašìną 'The brother is buying a car'; Mašìną per̃ka brólis 'The car is being bought by a brother'.

In unemphatic speech, attributes precede their headnouns, e.g., dìdelė méilė 'great love', Prometė́jo žỹgdarbis 'deed of Prometheus' (lit. Prometheus' deed).

Lithuanian word order has become much more strict in the course of the last century. This can be connected with the process of the formation of the standard language at the end of the 19th century and the influence of other Indo-European languages. This rigidity of word order is particularly evident in attributive phrases. In the written language of the 16-19th centuries, the position of the defining genitive was not fixed and it was possible to say either Diẽvo tarnaĩ or tarnaĩ Diẽvo 'God's servants'.

previous lesson   |   next lesson

  • Linguistics Research Center

    University of Texas at Austin
    PCL 5.556
    Mailcode S5490
    Austin, Texas 78712

  • For comments and inquiries, or to report issues, please contact the Web Master at