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Grammatical inflection (sometimes known as accidence or flection in more traditional grammars) is the way in which a word is changed or altered in form in order to achieve a new, specific meaning.
Verbs are the most commonly inflected words, changing form to reflect grammatical tense, as well as mood, voice, aspect, person, and speech. Collectively, this is known as conjugation.
The other parts of speech that can undergo inflection are nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and adverbs. These are categorized collectively under the term declension.
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in grammar. In many languages, words or parts of words are arranged in formally similar sets consisting of a root, or base, and various affixes. Thus walking, walks, walker have in common the root walk and the affixes -ing, -s, and -er. An inflectional affix carries certain grammatical restrictions with it; for example, with the plural inflection -s, a change from singular to plural in the noun tree/trees requires a concommitant change in the verb form from singular to plural: "the tree is green," "the trees are green." Other examples of English inflectional suffixes are the verb tenses. Many languages have far more extensive inflection than English, e.g., Latin, Eskimo, Arabic. In Latin grammar the typical noun and adjective are inflected for casecase,
in language, one of the several possible forms of a given noun, pronoun, or adjective that indicates its grammatical function (see inflection); in inflected languages it is usually indicated by a series of suffixes attached to a stem, as in Latin amicus,
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 and numbernumber,
entity describing the magnitude or position of a mathematical object or extensions of these concepts. The Natural Numbers

Cardinal numbers describe the size of a collection of objects; two such collections have the same (cardinal) number of objects if their
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, and the adjective is additionally inflected for the gendergender
[Lat. genus=kind], in grammar, subclassification of nouns or nounlike words in which the members of the subclass have characteristic features of agreement with other words. The term gender is not usually considered to include the classification of number.
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 of the noun. Latin verbs have overlapping categories of inflection: moodmood
or mode,
in verb inflection, the forms of a verb that indicate its manner of doing or being. In English the forms are called indicative (for direct statement or question or to express an uncertain condition, e.g.
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, voicevoice,
grammatical category according to which an action is referred to as done by the subject (active, e.g., men shoot bears) or to the subject (passive, e.g., bears are shot by men). In Latin, voice is a category of inflection like mood or tense.
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, tensetense
[O.Fr., from Lat.,=time], in the grammar of many languages, a category of time distinctions expressed by any conjugated form of a verb. In Latin inflection the tense of a verb is indicated by a suffix that also indicates the verb's voice, mood, person, and number.
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, person, and number. Noun inflection is called declension, and the inflection of verbs is called conjugation. To be distinguished from inflectional affixes are those of derivation. Derivation is the process of forming words from other words or roots by the addition of affixes that in themselves either have meaning or denote word function. Derivational affixes in English may be either prefixes—e.g., de-press, un-common—or suffixes—e.g., work-er, retire-ment, happi-ness. The name stem is given to a root together with its derivational affixes; thus in racket-eer-s, racket is the root, racketeer the stem, and -s the plural inflection. Beginning in the 19th cent., the modification of a root or base by the amount of inflection or derivation in a language was used as a basis for classification. An isolating language is one in which there are only roots, with no derivation or inflection, such as Chinese. On the other hand, inflected languages, e.g., English and Latin, use roots, stems, and affixes, but the amount of inflection is not as great as in agglutinative languages where roots and affixes are readily identifiable, e.g., Turkish baba "father," babam "my father," babama "to my father." The old belief that agglutinative languages were the most primitive and isolating languages the most civilized is no longer held, it being recognized that every language is just as expressive as any other and can develop new vocabulary to fit new situations. See ablautablaut
[Ger.,=off-sound], in inflection, vowel variation (as in English sing, sang, sung, song) caused by former differences in syllabic accent. In a prehistoric period the corresponding inflected forms of the language (known through internal reconstruction) had
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; grammargrammar,
description of the structure of a language, consisting of the sounds (see phonology); the meaningful combinations of these sounds into words or parts of words, called morphemes; and the arrangement of the morphemes into phrases and sentences, called syntax.
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; umlautumlaut
[Ger.,=transformed sound], in inflection, variation of vowels of the type of English man to men. In this instance it is the end product of the effect of a y (long since disappeared) that was present in the plural; the y
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; English languageEnglish language,
member of the West Germanic group of the Germanic subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages (see Germanic languages). Spoken by about 470 million people throughout the world, English is the official language of about 45 nations.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the formation of a paradigm for any word that does not belong to the class of uninflected parts of speech; the formation of all the inflected and periphrastic forms of a word.

In inflection, the identity of the word (lexeme) is not destroyed: one and the same word appears in different grammatical forms. Inflection thus differs from word-formation, in which different words are formed from an original word. Inflection in a given class of words consists in altering the words for a certain grammatical category or for various categories, which are called the inflectional categories for the given class of words. For example, Russian nouns are inflected for case and number: sad (“garden,” nominative singular), sáda (genitive singular), sádu (dative singular), and so on; sadý (nominative plural), sadóv (genitive plural), sadám (dative plural), and so on. The nominal inflection—that of substantives, adjectives, numerals, and pronouns—is sometimes called declension, and the inflection of verbs is sometimes known as conjugation. In a narrower sense, however, declension signifies only the altering of nominal words for case, and conjugation refers to only the formation of the personal forms of verbs. The term “form building” (formoobrazovanie) is sometimes used as a synonym for the term “inflection,” but some linguists use the former in a somewhat different sense.

The line between inflection and word-formation is not absolute, and intermediate phenomena are possible. For this reason, a number of linguists have divergent views on the boundaries of inflection in a specific language. For example, there is some question as to whether the formation of Russian verbal aspects can be classified as inflection.

That part of inflection having to do with the formation of inflected forms but not periphrastic forms is also called morphological inflection, or inflection in the narrow sense. Morphological inflection is developed to very different degrees in different languages. For example, it is highly developed in Sanskrit, Latin, Russian, Hungarian, and Arabic but weakly developed in English. In isolating languages, morphological inflection may be altogether absent.


Fortunatov, F. F. Izbrannye trudy, vol. 2. Moscow, 1957. Pages 312–31.
Smirnitskii, A. I. “K voprosu o slove (problema ‘tozhdestva slova’).” In Trudy Instituta iazykoznaniia AN SSSR, vol. 4. Moscow, 1954.
Kuznetsov, P. S. Oprintsipakh izucheniia grammatiki. Moscow, 1961.
Zalizniak, A. A. Russkoe imennoe slovoizmenenie. Moscow, 1967.




the marker of a complex of grammatical categories, or the system that makes use of such markers. Inflection may be internal or external. The former refers to a system in which word forms are created by altering sounds within the stem. For example, in Arabic, qatala (“he killed”) is divided into the root q-t-l and the vocalism a-a-a, which expresses grammatical meaning (compare qutila [“he has been killed”] with the vocalism u-i-a). External inflection involves the use of synthetic affixes, as in the Russian pol-e (“field”), pol-ia (“fields”), and pol-ei (“of the fields”). Languages in which the morphology relies primarily on inflection are called inflected languages.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


, inflexion
Maths a change in curvature from concave to convex or vice versa
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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