What Are Inflections in English Grammar?

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

inflection
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Inflection is a process of word formation in which items are added to the base form of a word to express grammatical meanings. Also spelled as inflexion (chiefly British). Adjective: inflectional (or inflexional).

Inflections in English grammar include the genitive 's; the plural -s; the third-person singular -s; the past tense -d, -ed, or -t; the negative particle 'nt; -ing forms of verbs; the comparative -er; and the superlative -est.

Etymology

From the Latin, "to bend"

Examples and Observations

  • "Inflections are morphemes that signal the grammatical variants of a word; the inflectional -s at the end of ideas indicates that the noun is plural; the inflectional -s at the end of makes indicates that the verb is the third person singular, so that we say she makes but I make and they make. In addition, some affixes signal the part of speech to which a word belongs: the prefix -en in enslave converts the noun slave into a verb, and the suffix -ize converts the adjective modern into the verb modernize."
  • "Word endings can also be inflections, which indicate categories such as tense, person, and number. The inflection -ed can change a verb from present to past tense (walk/walked), and the inflection -s can indicate the third person singular concord with a subject. But inflections do not change the word class. Walk and walked are both verbs."
  • Word Stems and Inflections
    "Inflections are used then to give us more grammatical information about words. They can be used to indicate singular or plural--what is sometimes known as number--and to indicate tense. They can also be used to indicate other features . . .. When considering inflections, it can . . . be helpful to use the notion of stem. A stem is what remains of a word when any inflections are removed from it. In other words, inflections are added to the stem of a word. So frogs is made up of the stem-frog and the inflection -s, while turned is made up of the stem turn and the inflection -ed. . . .
  • Inflections in Old English
    "In its grammar, Old English resembles modern German. Theoretically, the noun and adjective are inflected for four cases in the singular and four in the plural; . . . the adjective has separate forms for each of the three genders."

Pronunciation

in-FLEX-shun

Sources

S. Greenbaum, The Oxford English Grammar. Oxford University Press, 1996

R. Carter and M. McCarthy, Cambridge Grammar of English. Cambridge University Press, 2006

Kim Ballard, The Frameworks of English: Introducing Language Structures, 3rd ed. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013

A. C. Baugh, A History of the English Language, 1978

Simon Horobin, How English Became English. Oxford University Press, 2016