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What is inflectional morphology and how does it differ from derivational morphology?

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Susana Scanlon eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Morphology is an area of linguistics that focuses on words. The morpheme is the basic unit of morphology, and morphology is divided into two branches: inflectional and derivational. The other main branch of morphology is syntax—the study of sentences.

Inflectional morphology is a change in word form. This usually means the use of endings. He works, he worked, and he is working shows the use of different endings to represent simple present, simple past, and present continuous forms. The -s, -ed, and -ing are affixes. In this example, words are inflected to show verb forms. Inflection is also used for plural forms: book, books. In addition, inflection is used to show noun case (student, student's, students') and the comparative and superlative forms of adjectives (soft, softer, softest).

Derivational morphology creates new words. For example, beauty becomes beautiful. The affix -ful changes the word from a noun to an adjective. Another example is changing teach into teacher; the -er changes it from a verb into a noun. The suffix -ize can be attached to a noun to create a verb: critic, criticize. Derivational morphology uses many more affixes than inflectional morphology.

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eisigeyes eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The core of this answer is really about how the semantic meaning of the word changes after it has been altered. Inflectional morphemes don't undergo the same kind of drastic change that derivational morphemes do. By this, I mean that a word like 'cat' can be inflected for plural form by simply adding the suffix -s to the end (i.e. 'cats'). When you do this, you are still dealing with 'cat' as a noun and simply adding more of it to the count. Likewise, the infinitive 'to dance' can be inflected for person (he DANCES) and tense (he DANCED).

However, with a derivational morpheme, you are altering the class or category of the word entirely. For instance, if I gave you the infinitive 'to inform', we could transform it into a noun by adding the suffix -ation, which would give us 'information' (after you deleted the 'to' infinitizer). If you took the noun 'love' and transformed it into an adjective, it would be 'lovable' with the addition of the suffix -able.

Hopefully this clears up some of those differences for you!

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