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When I indicate noun properties morphologically, I am "inflecting." When I indicate them with separate words:

fish

this fish

these fish

from these fish

I am not "inflecting." Is there a similar verb for what more analytical languages do?

Further, to describe this activity accurately, does it matter whether the separate word is itself inflected? e.g., "I inflect this->these to [insert requested verb] both proximal and plural"?

3 Answers 3

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The use of function words to do what might otherwise be achieved via inflection is called periphrasis. The adjectival form is periphrastic (as in periphrastic future tense). I don't think there's a verb.

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  • Thanks very much! My language uses connect the verb with the function word(s) periphrastically, then inflection to combine multiple function words.
    – Vir
    Commented Aug 27, 2023 at 16:19
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    Wiktionary (sourcing Webster's) indicates a verb to periphrase meaning 1. (transitive) to express by periphrase or circumlocution or 2. (intransitive) to use circumlocution,” besides a noun periphrase which is an alternate form of periphrasis.
    – Wtrmute
    Commented Aug 29, 2023 at 17:24
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Verbum Nullum


For the examples given, I would argue that none of those are inflexion per se, except "from". As you note, English does have morphological inflection, but not all grammatical relationships are shown with inflexion.


I would say that "these" simply modifies "fish"; but also that I do not think "modify" is being set up as a "non-inflexional synonym". It modifies the totality of all individual fish by specifying a particular non-singular subset of fish that happen to be in close proximity to the speaker. We can contrast with "those fish" which specifies a particular non-singular subset of fish that happen to be somewhat distant from the speaker. Similarly, we can modify "fish" in other ways by size, by colour, by type, by sex, by gender, etc. So, inflexion is a kind of modification, but not all modifications are inflective.


I would also argue that English does have extramorphological inflexion. For example, we have a rich verbal system, that inflects (morphologically) for basically one person, sometimes for number and sometimes for mood. We also have a somewhat complex system of modal and auxiliary mediated inflexion.


For example:

  • I mought could see to that.
  • If she had only would've done this...
  • She done gone spoilt the milk.


Your dialect may vary, but I would argue that these modals do in fact count as inflexion for English as much as any Latin synthetic inflexion. Long story short: English has (at least) two kinds of inflexion.

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  • Thank you for the clarifying information. I'm seeking this term because I am writing a grammar for a conlang. I hadn't intended to make my question about English, although I can see I opened that interpretation by using examples from English. I'll edit the question to make it less ambiguous.
    – Vir
    Commented Jul 9, 2023 at 7:37
  • On a second look, maybe I'm making a mistake expecting some esoteric technical counterpart to 'inflecting.' Maybe, as well as describing the English situation, 'modifies' is the answer to the title question for linguistics in general.
    – Vir
    Commented Jul 9, 2023 at 7:43
  • Are "inflection" and "inflexion" intended to mean something different here? Commented Jul 10, 2023 at 14:57
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Edit 2023-08-26: I think this answer is wrong and is superseded by this one.

As far as I know, there isn't a dedicated word for adding more words to express grammatical meaning.

I propose exflect(ion) by analogy with inflect(ion) to fill this gap.

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  • Sounds reasonable to me. I second the proposal. Thanks for the input!
    – Vir
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 16:21
  • @Vir there's a real word for this periphrasis. Commented Aug 26, 2023 at 15:37
  • @GregNisbet Rather than rewriting this answer, I'd recommend posting "periphrasis" as a new one, so it can be voted up separately and notifies the OP.
    – Draconis
    Commented Aug 27, 2023 at 0:09
  • @Draconis It is done. Please leave your comment here because it makes the fact that I have two answers make more sense. Commented Aug 27, 2023 at 6:25

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