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Inflectional Endings: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:05 Inflectional Endings
  • 1:25 Modify Verbs
  • 2:40 Modify Nouns
  • 3:53 Modify Adjectives
  • 5:01 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Andrew Diamond

Andrew has worked as an instructional designer and adjunct instructor. He has a doctorate in higher education and a master's degree in educational psychology.

Inflectional endings can indicate the tense of verbs, whether a noun is plural, and whether an adjective is comparing two things. This lesson discusses these and several other inflectional endings.

Inflectional Endings

Picture an aging train pulling into a station. The locomotive is chugging, pulling the railcars along behind it, and at the end is the caboose. Morphemes are like the railcars. They're the smallest grammatical unit in a language. 'Pre,' 'tend' and 'er' are all morphemes in English. As you can see, they're different than words. Words can always be understood on their own. Like the railcars in a mental train, morphemes may or may not be able to move under their own power; some are self-propelled railcars, some need a locomotive to move.

A morpheme that can be understood on its own is called a free morpheme, or a root. This would be your self-propelled railcar. The morpheme 'car' would be one example.

A bound morpheme, or affix, must be pulled along by a locomotive in order to be understood. For example, '-er' is a morpheme that is not understandable on its own, but when attached to 'fast' it becomes 'faster,' a word that we can understand.

One type of bound morpheme is an inflectional morpheme, or inflectional ending. Inflectional endings are the caboose of your train. You tack them on at the end, and they house the crew or the conductor's office. Let's take a look at some of the things inflectional endings can do.

Modify Verbs

Inflectional endings can modify verbs to indicate tense, or when the action the verb is describing happened. Regular verbs, which are most of them, use the inflectional endings '-s,' '-ed' and '-ing' to indicate tense. For example, let's take the verbs 'to travel' and 'to conduct.'

For the morpheme '-s' in present tense, we can look at examples like 'travels' or 'conducts.' For the morpheme '-ed' in past tense, examples include 'traveled' and 'conducted.' Lastly, for the present participle and the '-ing' morpheme, we have 'traveling' and 'conducting.'

Irregular verbs are the exception, and there is no hard and fast rule for identifying an irregular verb. Luckily there aren't very many of them. The inflectional endings that modify irregular verbs are '-s,' '-en' and '-ing.' Let's take the irregular verbs 'to ride' and 'to drive.'

For the '-s' morpheme in present tense, we have 'rides' and 'drives.' For the past participle using the '-en' morpheme, we have 'ridden' and 'driven.' Lastly, for the present participle of the '-ing' morpheme, we have 'riding' and 'driving.'

Modify Nouns

Inflectional endings can indicate that a noun is plural. The most common inflectional ending indicating plurality is just '-s.' For example, combining the morpheme '-s' and the noun 'train,' we form the plural 'trains,' for 'car' we have 'cars' and for 'rider' we have 'riders.'

However, when a word ends in a sibilant consonant ('-s,' '-ss,' '-sh,' '-ch,' or '-x'), you would use '-es.' For the word 'hiss,' we add the morpheme '-es,' which gives us the plural 'hisses.' Other examples include 'box' and 'boxes' as well as 'switch' and 'switches.'

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