Grammatical conjugation

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Not to be confused with grammatical conjunction.
Part of the conjugation of the Spanish verb correr, "to run", the lexeme is "corr-".
Red represents the speaker, purple the addressee and teal a third person.
One person represents the singular number and two, the plural number.
Dawn represents the past, noon the present and night the future.

In linguistics, conjugation (/ˌkɒnᵿˈɡʃən/[1][2]) is the creation of derived forms of a verb from its principal parts by inflection (alteration of form according to rules of grammar). Conjugation may be affected by person, number, gender, tense, aspect, mood, voice, or other grammatical categories. Typically the principal parts are the root and/or several modifications of it (stems). All the different forms of the same verb constitute a lexeme, and the canonical form of the verb that is conventionally used to represent that lexeme (as seen in dictionary entries) is called a lemma.

The term conjugation is applied only to the inflection of verbs, and not of other parts of speech (inflection of nouns and adjectives is known as declension). Also it is often restricted to denoting the formation of finite forms of a verb – these may be referred to as conjugated forms, as opposed to non-finite forms, such as the infinitive or gerund, which tend not to be marked for most of the grammatical categories.

Conjugation is also the traditional name for a group of verbs that share a similar conjugation pattern in a particular language (a verb class). For example, Latin is said to have four conjugations of verbs. This means that any regular Latin verb can be conjugated in any person, number, tense, mood, and voice by knowing which of the four conjugation groups it belongs to, and its principal parts. A verb that does not follow all of the standard conjugation patterns of the language is said to be an irregular verb. The system of all conjugated variants of a particular verb or class of verbs is called a verb paradigm; this may be presented in the form of a conjugation table.

Verbal agreement[edit]

Verbal agreement or concord is a morpho-syntactic construct in which properties of the subject and/or objects of a verb are indicated by the verb form. Verbs are then said to agree with their subjects (resp. objects).

Many English verbs exhibit subject agreement of the following sort: whereas I go, you go, we go, they go are all grammatical in standard English, she go is not (except in the subjunctive, as "They requested that she go with them"). Instead, a special form of the verb to go has to be used to produce she goes. On the other hand I goes, you goes etc. are not grammatical in standard English. (Things are different in some English dialects that lack agreement.) A few English verbs have no special forms that indicate subject agreement (I may, you may, she may), and the verb to be has an additional form am that can only be used with the pronoun I as the subject.

Verbs in written French exhibit more intensive agreement morphology than English verbs: je suis (I am), tu es ("you are", singular informal), elle est (she is), nous sommes (we are), vous êtes ("you are", plural), ils sont (they are). Historically, English used to have a similar verbal paradigm. Some historic verb forms are used by Shakespeare as slightly archaic or more formal variants (I do, thou dost, she doth, typically used by nobility) of the modern forms.

Some languages with verbal agreement can leave certain subjects implicit when the subject is fully determined by the verb form. In Spanish, for instance, subject pronouns do not need to be explicitly present, even though in French, its close relative, they are obligatory. The Spanish equivalent to the French je suis (I am) can be simply soy (lit. "am"). The pronoun yo (I) in the explicit form yo soy is only required for emphasis or to clear ambiguity in complex texts.

Some languages have a richer agreement system in which verbs also agree with some or all of their objects. Ubykh exhibits verbal agreement for the subject, direct object, indirect object, benefaction and ablative objects (a.w3.s.xe.n.t'u.n, you gave it to him for me).

Basque can show agreement not only for subject, direct object and indirect object, but it also on occasion exhibits agreement for the listener as the implicit benefactor: autoa ekarri digute means "they brought us the car" (neuter agreement for listener), but autoa ekarri ziguten means "they brought us the car" (agreement for feminine singular listener).

Languages with a rich agreement morphology facilitate relatively free word order without leading to increased ambiguity. The canonical word order in Basque is subject–object–verb. However, all permutations of subject, verb and object are permitted.

Nonverbal person agreement[edit]

In some languages,[3] predicative adjectives and copular complements receive a form of person agreement that is distinct from that used on ordinary predicative verbs. Although this is a form of conjugation in that it refers back to the person of the subject, it is not “verbal” because it always derives from pronouns that have become cliticised to the nouns to which they refer.[4] An example of nonverbal person agreement, along with contrasting verbal conjugation, can be found from Beja[5] (person agreement affixes in bold):

  • wun.tu.wi, “you (fem.) are big”
  • hadá.b.wa, “you (masc.) are a sheik”
  • e.n.fór, “he flees”

Another example can be found from Ket:[5]

  • fèmba.di, “I am a Tungus
  • .fen, “I am standing”

In Turkic, and a few Uralic and Australian Aboriginal languages, predicative adjectives and copular complements take affixes that are identical to those used on predicative verbs, but their negation is different. For example, in Turkish:

  • koş.u.yor.sun “you are running”
  • çavuş.sun “you are a sergeant”

Under negation this becomes (negative affixes in bold):

  • koş.mu.yor.sun “you are not running”
  • çavuş değil.sin “you are not a sergeant”

For this reason, the person agreement affixes used with predicative adjectives and nominals in Turkic languages are considered to be nonverbal in character. In some analyses, they are viewed as a form of verbal takeover by a copular strategy.

Factors that affect conjugation[edit]

Common grammatical categories according to which verbs can be conjugated are the following:

Other factors which may affect conjugation are:

See also[edit]

Conjugations by language[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "conjugation". OUP. Retrieved 2016-01-26. 
  2. ^ "conjugation". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved 2016-01-26. 
  3. ^ Stassen, Leon; Intransitive Predication (Oxford Studies in Typology and Linguistic Theory); published 1997 by Oxford University Press; p. 39. ISBN 0-19-925893-7
  4. ^ Stassen; Intransitive Predication; pp. 77 & 284-288
  5. ^ a b Stassen, Intransitive Predication; p. 40