inflectional morphology

last changed in 2002

Inflectional morphology is one of the two main branches of morphology, the other being derivational morphology. In a nutshell, inflectional morphology distinguishes different inflections of the same lexeme, whereas derivational morphology distinguishes different lexemes that are related to one another; but they both use much the same range of morphological resources to do it. For example, the -ing of painting is inflectional in (1) and derivational in (2).

(1) He was painting a picture.

(2) We bought a painting.

In (1), painting is just one of the four distinct forms of the lexeme PAINTv (the verb PAINT), contrasting with paints, painted and paint. In (2) it is a distinct lexeme, the noun PAINTING, whose two inflected forms are painting and paintings.

Here are the main differences between inflectional and derivational morphology:

In WG the difference between derivational and inflectional morphology lies in the relation 'whole', which is reserved for inflectional morphology. A word's whole is its fully inflected form, so this can only be produced by inflectional morphology; so what inflectional morphology has to explain is whatever differences there may be between the word's whole and its `stem' - e.g. the difference between the stem {dog} and the whole {dogs}. This difference is a matter of inflectional morphology because it is due to the inflection Plural.

In contrast, derivational morphology is only concerned with stems, not wholes. It explains the relations between the stems of different lexemes, for example, the relation between {dog} and {doggy}, which are stems of different lexemes.

Both derivational and inflectional morphology may use the same morphemes and morphological patterns, so these are best described separately. In WG they are described in terms of x-forms; e.g. the 'ing-form' of an English word may be used as:







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