I'm developing a heavily prefixing language, and I'm trying to work out a lemma/citation form for my verbs. However, nearly all forms of the verb have a prefix. For example, the verb "to go" has the stem m(a), but the standard infinitive is um, the first-person singular standing conjugation is irim, and the participle is ënda.

Obviously, the latter is wholly unsuitable as a lemma because it has a tendency to set off a number of phonological processes that can cause the stem to get lost, I don't really want to list words under any of these forms in my dictionary, because if I do, I'll end up with all of my verbs listed in the lexicon under "u," "i," or "e."

2 Answers 2


You could just list them under the stem in that case. If you can easily reconstruct the infinitive by a simple rule, then that would be the easiest way. There is no law that states that you always have to put the infinitive as the main dictionary entry. It's only common practice in most Western languages because it suits the way they work.

Another possibility would be to look at how other languages deal with this issue. For example, Indonesian verbs also tend to have prefixes; I'm not sure what they do in the dictionary. In Arabic, I believe the root is in the dictionary, ie the three core consonants from which the other forms are derived.

Just do whatever works for you: it's your language after all!


It's possible to use the infinitive as the citation form / lemma in your dictionary, but have collation rules specific to your language.

For example, if um is the infinitive, you can have it sorted under the m section in your dictionary.

Collation in Tibetan works this way and prefixes don't influence the collation order, but there's the further complication that Tibetan orthography is non-phonemic and the prefixes aren't pronounced anymore. Here's another source describing collation in Tibetan and there's a NativLang video on YouTube that covers Tibetan historical spelling generally.

You can also pick an inflected form arbitrarily, like the first person standing form, maybe, and use that as the head entry. You can then add entries for common forms like the infinitive and participle and have a cross-reference for the first person standing form. Latin entries on Wiktionary, for example, use the first-person present singular as the citation form.

  • I always think it weird when people write “amo = to love”. May 4, 2021 at 7:04

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.