Word Pairs

One of my professors told me that this year in Lithuania would be my “last chance to become really fluent in Lithuanian.”  No pressure there.  As I mentioned before, I understand a lot and can make myself understood.  But my speaking ability is still fairly rudimentary.  I often wish I could wear a t-shirt that says “I’m not as ignorant as I sound in Lithuanian.”  Therefore, my goal this year is to increase my vocabulary and to refine my language usage.  Towards that goal, I am trying to learn the distinctions between pairs of words that might have the same definition in English but have different distinctions in Lithuanian.

For example, I learned the word minkštas for soft.  One day I was reading the English-language book Pat the Bunny to a little boy and I explained to him in Lithuanian that the bunny was minkštas.  His mother corrected me — a bunny is švelnus, she said.  Minkštas means “squishy soft,” like a piece of foam that you can squeeze, whereas švelnus means “soft like fur.”

Similarly, I learned the word dalykas for thing.  However, I noticed last fall that Lithuanians seemed to be using the word daiktas, which I discovered by looking in the dictionary also means thing.  So which thing to use?  It turns out that dalykas is used for abstract things and daiktas is usesd for concrete things.  So, for example, if you enter a room carrying an armful of stuff, I will tell you to put the things daiktai (plural) – on the sofa.  On the other hand, I could tell you that I have learned interesting things dalykai — through my interviews.

The example above leads to another type of challenging word pair — one Lithuanian word that has two different English meanings.  I was struggling to remember the Lithuanian word for “to put or to lay down” even though I kept looking it up in the dictionary.  Every time I wanted to use the word “to put down” when speaking Lithuanian, I would start to say padėti and then I would say to myself “No, that means to help.”  Finally, after an embarrassing long time — over a year — I finally realized that I wasn’t wrong.  Padėti does mean to help, but it also means to put down.

Now I have these six words down, only several thousand more to go…


About amanda

Creating academic and public environments for the humanities to flourish Researching Soviet and Eastern European history Engaging people and ideas as a writer and interviewer Traveling as much as possible View all posts by amanda

3 responses to “Word Pairs

  • Litlocal

    “To help” is also “pagelbėti” (from “pagalba”), i.e. to help in essence, and “padėti” means “to help a bit”, sort of.

  • Lauryna

    How interesting, I’ve never noticed that ‘padėti’ has two meanings and I’m Lithuanian! 😀 But believe me, English has many words with so many meanings so we Lithuanians get the same problems. The most difficult for me in English is punctuation and the articles, they drive me nuts sometimes 🙂 I don’t think I’ll ever be able to learn all the rules…

    • amanda

      Ah, “pagelbėti” — I’ll have to remember that one. And most Lithuanians are surprised when I point out that “padėti” has two meanings. It’s interesting what we don’t notice about our own languages.

      Even though Lithuanian is a difficult language, I think English is probably equally difficult to learn — articles, of course; but also pronunciation often doesn’t match the spelling and all the verb tenses. So I empathize with your struggles!

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