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What Are Inflectional Endings?

What are inflectional endings? Inflectional endings are word parts added to the end of a root word to affect the word’s grammatical properties.

In grammar, words can be broken into morphemes, which are the smallest units of meaning in a language. Two types of morphemes are free morphemes and bound morphemes. What is the difference?

  • Free morphemes can stand alone as words. Examples: tree, walk, cold
  • Bound morphemes, also called affixes, attach to the beginning or end of a root word to alter its meaning. Examples: s, ed, er

Given these definitions, what is an inflectional morpheme? An inflectional morpheme (another term for inflectional ending) is a bound morpheme added to a word to indicate grammatical properties. The inflectional morpheme or ending affects one of these factors:

  • Tense: Adding ‘ed’ to ‘walk’ (walked) makes the verb past tense.
  • Number: Adding ‘s’ to tree (trees) means there are more than one.
  • Comparison: Adding ‘est’ to cold (coldest) is a superlative comparison.
  • Possession: Adding an apostrophe and ‘s’ to tree (tree’s) shows that something belongs to the tree.

It should be noted that an inflectional morpheme will not change a word’s part of speech. If, for example, an ‘or’ is added to ‘act’ (actor), it changes from a verb to a noun. This use of ‘or’ is a derivational morpheme rather than an inflectional morpheme.

The following table shows the inflectional morphemes used in English.

Part of Speech Inflectional Morphemes Purpose
Verbs -s, -ed, -en, -ing affect tense
Nouns -s, -es create plurals
Nouns -‘s, -s’ show possession
Adjectives/Adverbs -er, -est show comparison

The use of these inflectional endings will be further explored below.

Words with Inflectional Endings

English grammar identifies eight parts of speech. Four of these parts of speech can take inflectional endings. Words with inflectional endings can be nouns, verbs, adverbs, or adjectives.

Verbs with Inflectional Morphemes Examples

Verbs are action words. Verbs use inflectional morphemes to indicate verb tense; that is, when the action of the verb occurs. Following are some inflectional endings examples that show the use of inflectional endings with regular verbs.

  • -s is used to form the present tense used with third person singular nouns and pronouns: walks, wants, cooks
  • -ed is used to form the past tense: walked, wanted, cooked
  • -ing is used to form the present participle: walking, wanting, cooking

Inflectional endings such as -ing can change the tense of a verb, such as changing learn to learning.

Inflectional endings such as -ing can change the tense of a verb.

English contains numerous irregular verbs, and inflectional morphemes examples are different for irregular verbs. These guidelines reflect some uses of inflectional morphemes with irregular verbs.

  • -en forms the past participle of some irregular verbs: driven, ridden, hidden
  • -ing forms the present participle for verbs ending in ‘e’ by dropping the ‘e’ before adding ‘-ing’: driving, riding, hiding
  • -ing forms the present participle for verbs ending in one vowel and one consonant by doubling the final consonant before adding ‘-ing’: running, sitting, hitting

Knowing if a verb is regular or irregular takes practice. If a verb consists of a root word plus -s, -ed, -ing, or -en, that verb has an inflectional ending.

Nouns with Inflectional Morphemes Examples

A noun names a person, place, thing, or idea. For nouns, inflectional morphemes can serve two purposes: creating the plural form and creating the possessive form.

Plural means more than one. Inflectional endings examples that show plurality are:

  • -s is added to most words to form a plural: cats, plates, bows, pencils
  • -es is added to words ending in sibilant consonants (-s, -ss, -sh, -ch, -x) to form a plural: boxes, kisses, churches, wishes

Possession is a way of stating who or what owns something. Inflectional morphemes examples that show possession are:

  • -‘s (apostrophe plus ‘s’) is added after most words to show possession: Melissa’s, book’s, Keith’s, doctor’s
  • -‘ (an apostrophe) is added after the final ‘s’ if the word ends in ‘s’ (this includes plural words): penguins’, business’, Texas’

A morpheme added to the end of a noun is only an inflectional morpheme if the new word is still a noun. If the morpheme changes the part of speech, it is not inflectional.

Words with inflectional endings include nouns, like gadgets, that is made plural by adding the inflectional morpheme -s.

Words with inflectional endings include nouns that are pluralized by adding the inflectional ending -s.

Adjectives and Adverbs with Inflectional Morphemes Examples

Adjectives and adverbs are two descriptive parts of speech. Adjectives describe nouns and pronouns, while adverbs describe verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. For both adjectives and adverbs, inflectional endings are used to make comparison.

The ending -er makes a comparison between two items or qualities. Comparative inflectional morphemes examples include:

  • Adjectives: colder, taller, warmer, longer
  • Adverbs: faster, louder, quieter, slower

The ending -est is known as a superlative form and shows the greatest degree of comparison between three or more items or qualities. Superlative inflectional endings examples include:

  • Adjectives: coldest, tallest, warmest, longest
  • Adverbs: fastest, loudest, quietest, slowest

Two important spelling rules apply to both the -er and -est inflectional morphemes:

  • If the root word ends in ‘y’, change the ‘y’ to an ‘i’ before adding the ending. (happier, happiest, sillier, silliest)
  • If the root word ends in one vowel and one consonant, double the final consonant before adding the ending. (bigger, biggest, wetter, wettest)

It should be noted that some adjectives and adverbs form the comparative and superlative using the words more/most instead of using inflectional endings.

Common Errors with Inflectional Endings

Inflectional endings are useful to show tense, number, possession, and comparison. However, they can be used improperly. The following chart shows several common errors to avoid when using inflectional morphemes.

Error Example Error Solution Example Solution
Using an apostrophe to make a plural noun shoe’s Only use an apostrophe if the noun is possessive. shoes
Using ‘-s’ instead of ‘-es’ for a plural noun boxs If a noun ends in a sibilant consonant, form the plural by adding ‘-es’. boxes
Retaining the ‘e’ when forming present participle shareing If a verb ends in ‘e’, drop the ‘e’ before adding ‘-ing’. sharing
Extra ‘s’ sisters’s When forming the possessive of a word ending in ‘s’ (including a plural word), add only an apostrophe. sisters’
Incorrect ‘y’ happyer When forming the comparative or superlative of a word ending in ‘y’, change the ‘y’ to an ‘i’ before adding the ending. happier

Note that some of these errors are dependent on context and meaning. Writers should consider the rules of inflectional endings to avoid unclear or incorrect usage.

Lesson Summary

Morphemes are the smallest units of meaning in a language. Free morphemes can stand alone as words, while bound morphemes (or affixes) are attached to the beginning or end of a word to change its meaning. Inflectional morphemes, also known as inflectional endings, are bound morphemes added to a word’s ending to show tense, number, comparison, or possession.

Inflectional morphemes can be used with different parts of speech.

  • Verbs use the morphemes -s, -ed, -ing, and -en to show tense. Irregular verbs may form the past participle using the -en morpheme, or the verb may have to drop an ‘e’ or double a consonant before adding -ing.
  • Nouns use the morphemes -s and -es (for words ending in sibilant consonants) to show plurality, and -‘s (or just an apostrophe if the noun ends in s) to show possession.
  • Adjectives and adverbs use the morphemes -er (two items) and -est (three or more items) to show comparison. If a word ends in ‘y’, change the ‘y’ to an ‘i’ before adding the ending.

Inflectional morphemes do not change a word’s part of speech.

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