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Inflections in English

The rise of the information age has made the need for writing clear, concise English more important than ever, particularly in the travel industry. This first part in a series of monthly articles, extracted from DailyWritingTips.com, is about that − with topics ranging from grammar to punctuation, from spelling to usage and vocabulary in the English langauge. By Daniel Scocco.

Inflections are word elements that indicate grammatical relationships among the words in a sentence. For example, the verb walked is in the past tense; we know this because of the inflectional ending –ed. The noun girls is plural. We know this because of the s that has been added to the singular word girl.

All languages make use of inflections. Those that make use of a great many inflections – like Latin – are called synthetic languages. Those that do not have as many – like English – are called analytic languages.

The low incidence of inflections in English requires speakers to pay attention to word order.

Nouns

Nouns are inflected by the addition of an apostrophe (‘) to show possession:
The boy’s backpack was stolen. (singular noun, ’s). The boys’ backpacks were stolen. (plural noun, s’).

The letter s is usually added to a noun to form the plural:
The girl climbed Mount Everest. The girls climbed Mount Everest.

Errors with plural nouns occur with words that do not form the plural by adding s, for example, woman/women; calf/calves, etc. Errors in placing the apostrophe are quite common. For example: The mens’ locker room instead of The men’s locker room.

Some uncertain writers sprinkle apostrophes in very unlikely places:
Chloe sing’s with the choir. (Should be sings). The dog hurt it’s paw. (Should be its paw).

Verbs

Regular verbs are inflected to show past tense by adding the suffix ed: talk, talked, (have) talked. Errors occur with verbs that indicate past tense by changes in spelling, for example, write, wrote, (have) written.

Pronouns

Because pronouns have retained more inflected forms than nouns, they are the source of probably half the grammatical errors made by native English speakers. The inflections that give trouble with the personal pronouns are these:
Subject forms: I, he, she, we, they.
Object forms: me, him, her, us, them.

Possessive forms are of two kinds: those that stand for a noun (possessive pronouns), and those that stand before a noun to show possession (possessive adjectives).
Possessive pronouns: mine, yours, his, hers, ours, theirs.
Possessive adjectives: my, your, his, her, its, our, their.
For example, That book is mine. (Possessive pronoun standing for book). That is my book. (Possessive adjective qualifying book).

The pronouns you and it present no problems, because they are the same in both their subject and object forms.

Other errors with the possessive forms are misspelling its and using their with a singular antecedent:
Wrong: The house is having it’s roof replaced.
Correct: The house is having its roof replaced.
Wrong: Every scout will do their duty.
Correct: Every scout will do his duty.

Adjectives

Adjectives are inflected to show comparison. This article illustrates the different ways of doing it: Comparative Forms of Adjectives

Adverbs

Adverbs are also inflected to show comparison. Adverbs that end in –ly are inflected by adding more and most in front of them: happily, more happily, most happily.

Note: Some authorities regard the comparison of adjectives and adverbs as word formation rather than inflection.

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About the Author: Daniel Scocco is the founder of Daily Writing Tips. He is fluent in English, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian, but he is always trying to improve his grammar and writing skills. He also writes actively on DailyBlogTips.com, a place where he shares tips and tricks to build successful blogs.

About Daily Writing Tips: Daily Writing Tips Pro is aimed at people who are serious about improving their writing skills. Every day subscribers receive a useful writing tip (just like the one in this article) and a set of writing exercises via email. Subscribe at: www.dailywritingtips.com/pro

Part 2 of English Writing Tips deals with prefixes, suffixes and the correct hyphenation of prefixes, and can be read on page 18 of the Tourism Tattler July edition by clicking HERE.