Inflection and declension

(Inflection/modification of words in English grammar)

Table of contents – inflection and declension

On this page you will find the following:

  1. English declension
  2. Further inflection
  3. Further explanations and exercises

What is the declension or inflection in English?

In general, inflection is the modification of words in a sentence. More precisely, it is called declension when certain words are changed according to grammatical cases, among other things. This way, various functions can be assigned to the different parts of the sentence (constituents).

Since a case system does not exist in English or is only minimally visible, the term inflection is more commonly used for such word adaptions. Compare in advance:

Declension/inflection of pronouns

The remaining English declension or inflection today – according to the grammatical case – is almost only limited to pronouns:

Grammatical person & number Subject (nominative case) Object (accusative or dative case) Possessive (genitive case)
1st person singular I me my, mine
2nd person singular and plural you you your, yours
3rd person singular (masculine) he him his
3rd person singular (feminine) she her her, hers
3rd person singular (neuter) it it its
1st person plural we us our, ours
3rd person plural they them their, theirs

Declension of the question word ‘who

The question (interrogative) word or pronounwho’, which can be inflected to ‘whom’ and ‘whose’, represents another remnant of inflection. However, note that ‘whom’ sounds a bit old-fashioned these days, especially in oral conversation, and is almost exclusively replaced by ‘who’. It is still quite common in formal written language:

Subject (nominative case) Object (accusative or dative case) Possessive (genitive case)
who whom whose

What other inflection does English grammar offer?

Rather than just declension, English inflection in general – that is, practically all other modifications of words in a sentence – accounts for many more changes. Typically, it is achieved by suffixes or even single letters appended to the end of a word. Nonetheless, English inflection happens far less than, for example, in German grammar.

The grammatical cases are negligible here; modifications mainly occur according to grammatical number and gender. Compare:

  • We can mainly see English inflection when forming the plural, indicating possession, and using gender-specific variants of nouns:
    • horse (singular) → horses (plural)
      • In most cases, an ‘-s’ or ‘-es’ is attached to designate the plural (for details, read the plural of English nouns).
    • “my friend’s house” and “my friends’ house”
      • Here, an apostrophe and the letter ‘s’ express the genitive (for possession).
    • waiter (masculine) → waitress (feminine)
      • Some nouns have separate forms for female people, often ending in ‘-ess’.
  • Some other pronouns also show inflection, which sometimes changes the words significantly:
    • this (singular) → these (plural)
      • Demonstrative pronouns have two different forms for number.
    • you (subject) → yourself (object)
      • The English reflexive pronouns are also inflected according to case (when used as the object).
  • Adjectives are also declined, primarily when they are used for comparison. In such cases, they get a suffix. Besides that, very few other adjectives are inflected:
    • heavy (positive) → heavier (comparative) → heaviest (superlative)
      • In this example, the ending ‘-y’ inflects to the suffix ‘-ier’ or ‘-iest’.
    • blond (masculine form) → blonde (feminine form)
      • Here, an ‘-e’ is attached to represent the feminine form. However, the pronunciation remains the same – a difference exists only in written language.
  • Information: Verbs are inflected as well; however, this type of inflection is called conjugation:
    • speakspeaksspokespokenspeaking

Further explanations referring to ‘Declension and inflection’

The following explanations relate to the topic ‘Declension and inflection in English grammar’ and could be interesting too: