Derivational & Inflectional Morphemes - Differences

Derivational and Inflectional Morphemes: Differences

Sometimes, speakers or students of English may find it hard to differentiate between derivational and inflectional morphemes. To be able to do this, three (3) simple tips are provided for you in this post: Derivational and Inflectional Morphemes: Differences. Take a look at them…

3 Major Differences

  1. Inflectional morphemes do not change the grammatical category of a word, only derivational morphemes do. So when you add morpheme to a word and the word class or the part of speech changes, then you do not have inflectional morpheme; rather, you have a derivational morpheme.
  1. Derivational morphemes are recursive. There can be more than one in a word or words may be derived through the addition of several derivational morphemes. Inflectional morphemes are not recursive.
  1. When derivational suffixes and inflectional suffixes are attached to the same word, they always appear in that order. Inflectional morphemes always come at the end of a word in English, that is, no other morpheme can be added after an inflectional morpheme. Take this sentence for example:
  • The girl’s wildness shocked the teachers.
  • The + girl+s + wild+ness +shock+ed + the +teach+er+s

You will notice that it is the inflectional morpheme that appeared last in the sample sentence above.

Morpheme Symbols




z1 Plurality boy+ z1 – boys
z2 Genitive or Possessive John+ z2 – John’s
z3 Third person singular

Simple Present Tense form of a Verb

go+ z3 – goes

come+ z3 – comes

eat+ z3 – eats

‘-ing’ Progressive/Continuous Aspect form of a Verb sing+‘-ing’ – singing

run+‘-ing’ – running

d1 Past Tense form of a Verb go+ d1
d2 Past Participle/Perfective form of a Verb go+ d2 – gone

expect+ d2 – expected

‘-er’ Comparative form of an Adjective tall+‘-er’ – taller
‘-est’ Superlative form of an Adjective fat+‘-est’ – fattest

Note that most of these inflectional suffixes do not change the word class; they only inflect the words for the grammatical categories listed in the table above.


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