Grammar Glossary for Spanish Students

running in the surf
El surfista corre en las olas después de surfear. (The surfer runs in the surf after surfing.). Martin Garrido/Creative Commons.

Definition of 'Inflection'

The change in the form of a word to indicate a change in its grammatical usage. In both English and Spanish, a noun can be inflected to indicate a change in number (that is, to indicate whether it is singular or plural) or gender (although changes in gender are unusual in English). In both languages, conjugation is the inflection of verbs to indicate tense, mood, and person.

In Spanish, adjectives are inflected to indicate gender and number.

The inflection can take the form of a prefix, a suffix, a change in the word ending or beginning, or a change in the way the word root is formed. (In both English and Spanish, prefixes aren't used for inflection, although they can change the meanings of words.) In both languages, the suffix and changed word ending are the most common inflections. For example, both languages typically add an "-s" or "-es" to indicate that a word is plural, and Spanish frequently changes word endings to indicate gender. Similarly, both languages can add a suffix or change the word ending to indicate verb tenses (although English does so only for the past tense). In both languages, changes in the root word are also used in some irregular verbs. For example, the difference in tense can be seen in changing "I go" to "I went," the same as the corresponding Spanish term, voy, changes to fui to indicate the change in tense.

Greek and Russian are examples of highly inflected languages. Spanish is moderately inflected, more so than English, but not as much as Greek or Russian. Chinese is an example of a language that has little inflection. In general, word order tends to be more important in languages that have more inflection.

You can see how this plays out in English and Spanish: Spanish, the more inflected language, also requires more attention to word order.

There is also a second meaning for "inflection." It can refer to how words are stressed or given tone. For example, a question is often inflected in raising the tone at the end of a sentence.

Inflection is known as either inflexión (change of voice) or flexión (grammatical change) in Spanish.

Examples of Inflection

Inflected differences are shown in boldface:

Tengo un coche rojo. Tengo dos coches rojos. (I have a red car. I have two red cars.)

Pablo es actor. Ana es actriz. (Pablo is an actor. Ana is an actress.)

Samuel es abogado. Katarina es abogada. (Samuel is a lawyer. Katarina is a lawyer.)

Abre la ventana. Le gusta ventanear. (She is opening the window. She likes being by the window.)

Soy rico. Si fuera rico, compraría otro coche. (I am rich. If I were rich, I would buy another car.)

Como carne. Comí la carne. (I eat meat. I ate the meat.)

La mujer está feliz. Las mujeres están felices. (The woman is happy. The women are happy.)

Corre cada día. Le gusta correr. (He ru ns daily. He likes running.)