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Grammatical Inflections in Spanish

By djthyberg

Word structure is often overlooked when students study the Spanish language. However, there are some useful cues that can be taken from learning about inflection. There are three kinds of inflections that we can study in Spanish.

It's the Way You Say It

There are three main types of inflections in Spanish:

1) Nominal inflection - This group is inflected in regard to GENDER and NUMBER.

The endings are -o for the masculine singular and -a and for the feminine singular and -os and -as respectively for plurals.

2) Verbal inflection - This group is inflected in regard to PERSON and NUMBER.

The endings for verbs are first person singular of the present indicative -o, second person singular -s, third person singular -a or -e, first person plural -amos or -emos or -imos, second person plural -áis or -éis or -ís, and third person plural -an or -en.

This group is also inflected in regard to TENSE and MOOD.

The endings are -aba (preterit imperfect indicative, first conjugation); -ía (preterit imperfect indicative, second conjugation); -ra, -se (preterit pluperfect subjunctive); -ría (conditional); -re (future subjunctive); -e (present subjunctive, first conjugation); and -a (present subjunctive, second and third conjugations).

3) Verbal-Nominal inflections - This is made up of the infinitive ending -ar or -er- or -ir, the gerund -ando or -endo, and the past participle -do.

Example of Nominal Inflection

"Somos hermanas." (We are sisters.)

Let's break down the word "hermanas":

herman - a - s

*herman - This conveys the quality of being siblings.

*a - This indicates that the noun is feminine, that we are talking about being a sister.

*s - This tells us that there is more than one sister.

Example of Verbal Inflection

"¿Qué me decías?" (What were you saying to me?)

Let's break down the word "decías":

dec - ía - s

*dec - This conveys the meaning of "speaking" or "telling."

*ía - This indicates that the verbal action took place in the preterit imperfect of the indicative.

*s - This tells us that the second person singular "tú" (you) is the subject of this verb.

Example of Verbal-Nominal Inflection

"Tengo ganas de comer." (I feel like eating.)

Let's break down the word "comer":

come - r

*come - This conveys the meaning of "eating."

*r - This indicates the infinitive form of the verb, which for all intensive purposes operates as a noun.

Sample Sentences

Nominal Inflection:

Los niños siempre toman una siesta. (The kids always take a nap.)

Verbal Inflection:

Se levantaron temprano. (They got up early.)

Verbal-Nominal Inflection:

Prefiero levantarme tarde. (I prefer to get up late.)

Additional Notes

Learning the fundamentals of inflection in Spanish will give you a clear idea of the big picture. For example, if you're at the intermediate level, you've undoubtedly found yourself in situations where you follow the general meaning of what someone is saying in Spanish, but there are some words here and there that are new to you. If you learn how to recognize the way that Spanish words change their endings, which is just another way of saying if you learn the inflection of Spanish, then you'll be able to understand the function of the word, and many times, by learning this information, you will be able to intuit the meaning of the root.