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What is inflection?



Inflection is variation in the form of a word, typically by means of an affix, that expresses a grammatical contrast which is obligatory for the stem’s word class in some given grammatical context.


In contrast to derivation, inflection

  • does not result in a change of word class, and
  • usually produces a predictable, nonidiosyncratic change of meaning.
Characteristics of inflectional operations

Inflectional operations ground the semantic content of a root according to place, time, and participant reference, without substantially affecting the basic semantic content of the root. They often specify when an event or situation took place, who or what were the participants, and sometimes where, how or whether an event or situation really took place. In other words, roots can be inflected for such things as:

  • Agreement: person, number, and gender
  • Sequential, temporal or epistemological grounding: tense, aspect, mode

    Inflectional operations

    • are grammatically required in certain syntactic environments

      Example: The main verb of an English sentence must be inflected for subject and tense.

    • tend to be regular and productive, in comparison to derivational operations, and
    • tend to occur in paradigms .
    Example (English)
    • In the following English sentence, come is inflected for person and number by the suffix -s:

      The mailman comes about noon.

    Example (Spanish)
    • In the following Spanish noun phrase, las and rojas are inflected for agreement with manzanas in grammatical gender by -a and in number by -s:
  • las manzanas rojas ‘the red apples’
  • Generic
      Inflection is a kind of
    See also

    Crystal 1985 157


    Payne, T. 1997a 26, 233, 234


    Quirk, Greenbaum, Leech, and Svartvik 1985 1548


    Mish 1991 620


    Richards, Platt, and Weber 1985 139


    Hartmann and Stork 1972 112


    Bybee 1985 2, 99

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