Inflection, Derivation, Declension, Conjugation

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Information can in a general linguistic way be expressed in different forms. From a somewhat formal viewpoint, inflection and derivation are morphosyntactic operations in languages that are at least somewhat synthetic. They visually changing a word to mark properties or relational information, such as number, person and gender.

Inflection and Derivation


  • does not change the lexical category
  • creates grounded forms, and
  • usually creates variations with clear, predictable meanings.

For example: 'come' → 'Comes'. Sometimes words change with consistent affixes, sometimes with a habit of structural change and/or interaction with pronunciation.

Derivation are word changes that (usually) change the lexical category.

Examples: 'joyful' from 'joy', 'amazement' from 'amaze', 'national' from 'nation'.

Derivation may ground, but regularly don't.

These two concepts are not strictly defined and are not the exclusive opposites they are sometimes taken as; many cases can be said to fall into one or the other, but there are various cases inbetween. As such, judging by earmarks of each is a little more accurate.

Conjugation versus Declension

Conjugation and declension refer to specific types of inflection, or rather, that of specific classes:

  • conjugation describes inflection of verbs. In many languages this is more complex than ...
  • declension, which describes inflection of anything else, usually nouns, but possibly also pronouns, adjectives, determiners, depending on the language.

Languages tend to structurally mark specific properties on specific lexical categories. For example, many languages conjugate verbs for number, and not unusually for another thing or two.

A language's declension system declines things into different forms while not changing their lexical category, to distinguish certain direct properties such as number and gender, but also case (a.k.a. grammatical case), which is a more relational change. For example, the accusative case marks the direct object of a transitive verb, dative to relate to whom something is given, genitive as a wide/abstract and posessive as a more concrete posession relation between two nouns. Examples:

  • German primarily declines nouns, pronouns, articles, and adjectives - for number, gender, and/or case.
  • Modern english primarily just declines nouns for number. It also declines pronouns somewhat. It doesn't decline adjectives.

Modern English declension is perhaps the simplest among Indo-European languages, having use for up to four cases, though regularly not inflecting for them(verify); only grammatical number is systematically declined. Middle and particularly Old English had richer declension.

See also