The Wikipedia article Morphology says:

A further difference is that in word formation, the resultant word may differ from its source word's grammatical category whereas in the process of inflection the word never changes its grammatical category.

I can partly understand this statement and how "dishwasher" is different from both "dish" and "washer", but I couldn't understand how "the word never changes its category":

  • I wash dish. (verb) / He breaks glass.
  • A pile of washed dish (adjective) / some broken glass

"Washed" and "broken" are inflected forms of "wash" and "break", but they can be used as non-verb. This is clearly a different grammatical category.

I'm certainly misunderstanding either "inflection" or "grammatical category". What am I missing?

  • 1
    Washed and broken as used here are not generally considered inflected forms of their respective verbs in English – they are adjectives that happen to be identical (in form) to the past participles of those verbs. In this case, we usually say that the adjective is derived from the participle by zero-derivation (which is exceedingly common in English). Some would also consider participles themselves to be derivations, not inflections, but that’s rather circular to me. Oct 22 at 15:58
  • 1
    @JanusBahsJacquet I'm under the impression that virtually every single past participle can be used as an adjective (when sensible). Also participles (present and past) are usually thought to be inflections, aren't they?
    – iBug
    Oct 22 at 17:38
  • Yes, pretty much. So can the vast majority of nouns. That doesn’t mean there’s no derivation involved. Oct 22 at 17:38

The Wikipedia article means part of speech when it says grammatical category. While the statement is true (with some caveats, participles are counted as inflected, but categorised as verb forms usually, therefore not changing part of speech) for most European languages, both ancient and modern, I am not so sure about other language families, specially the Semitic languages.

Of course, one can define inflection and derivation in a way such that inflection never changes part of speech, but such a definition may be unsatisfactory for other reasons.

The English language has the unique feature that it can easily change the part of speech of a word without changing the word form itself (To verb a noun and to noun a verb, as a proverb says), this is interpreted as zero derivation in some theories. In English a word form can have different part of speech depending on its usage in a concrete sentence.

  • 2
    I wouldn’t call zero derivation ‘unique’ to English – it’s quite common in lots of isolating languages. Oct 22 at 17:40

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