Impressionistically, verbs seems to be as complex or more morphologically complex than nouns.

What are some good examples of languages, if there are any, where A) there are good diagnostics for distinguishing nouns and verbs and B) nouns have higher morphological complexity than verbs? (And, as a follow up, what's a good technique for measuring "morphological complexity" in this context?)

The best example I can think of off the top of my head is Tsez. Nouns appear to inflect, at least, for number and case, and many of the locative cases appear to consist of multiple morphemes.

The Tsez example is sort of borderline though because verbs inflect for the class and number of their absolutive argument (although not person) and verbs inflect for tense (which includes a two-way evidential split in the past), mood, and polarity. Tsez is not an unambiguous example of a language where verbs have greater morphological complexity (qualitatively) than nouns do in my opinion.

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    How do you define morphological complexity? Just the number of distinct morphological forms? The number of dimensions they encode (e.g., tense, aspect, mood, number, case, possession, definiteness)? Something else? If we’re not including all the forms of nominal verb forms in the verbal category (’cause that would kind of defeat the purpose), I think Finno-Ugric languages may well have more nominal forms than verbal ones. Finnish nouns, for instance, have 174 possible forms (as far as I can calculate), while verbs have… something like 56, if my counting is any good. Nov 17, 2021 at 1:49
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    But on the other hand, Finnish nouns only encode number, case and possession/person (and to some extent definiteness, or rather telicity, but only in syntactic context), whereas the verbs encode person, number, tense, aspect, mood and voice (partially). Nov 17, 2021 at 1:53
  • So, what kind of metric would be good here is also part of the question. I had in mind both number of distinct forms and number of dimensions as candidates when asking the question. Also you're right, I should have restricted attention to finite verbs. I think number of dimensions is the better metric, provided it isn't so ill-defined that it's unworkable. As an example, Tsez has an evidentiality distinction, but only in the past tense. Would evidentiality count as a dimension? Nov 17, 2021 at 1:56
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    What would you say about the case of the Yoruba language? It's an isolating language with all the grammar categories expressed by particles and word order. But it does have derivational morphology with the verbs usually being monosyllabic (all the syllables are open in Yoruba) and nouns 2-, 3-, and 4-syllabic usually beginning with a 1-vowel or a VCV- prefix (verbs have no prefixes), nouns can be formed by reduplication (often with infixation) which verbs can't do. In Yoruba, nouns are more complex structurally and morphologically than verbs. Does this kind of morphological complexity count?
    – Yellow Sky
    Nov 17, 2021 at 12:19
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    What I find fascinating is how rare or even nonexistent this is. It's not hard to make a conlang with way more noun forms than verb forms, even counting mandatory periphrastic marking of features, but for some reason, if my searching means anything, natural languages REALLY don't like to do this. It's very normal for languages to have zillions of cases, and also very normal for languages to have no verb agreement and little or no mandatory TAM, but I guess it's weird and unnatural to have both.
    – Mr. Nichan
    Jun 3, 2022 at 17:28

1 Answer 1


In Russian, nouns have a full-blown system of cases in singular and plural; adjectives have forms for the three genders as well. Verbs, on the other hand, have only two inflected tenses (the present and imperative).

  • The Russian verb “to be” has three inflected tenses — the present (есть), the future (буду, etc.) and imperative (будь, будьте). However, this adds little to the complexity of the Russian verb, but let it all be fair.
    – Yellow Sky
    Nov 17, 2021 at 12:24
  • But is it fair to exclude aspect?
    – Keelan
    Nov 17, 2021 at 13:39
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    @Keelan - Pretty fair. The verbs in Russian don't conjugate for aspect, they belong to it, like nouns belong to genders. Aspect is a derivational thing.
    – Yellow Sky
    Nov 17, 2021 at 14:31
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    @Keelan - It's all about the number of forms: in nouns there are 6 cases × 2 numbers = 12 forms, in verbs 3 persons × 2 numbers + 2 imperative forms = 8 forms, that's ⅓ less than in nouns.
    – Yellow Sky
    Nov 17, 2021 at 15:11
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    Very interesting, and thank you. I went through a Russian grammar many years ago but never did the paradigmatic math. It's surprising. I used to tell my students (and it has been my experience) that verbs have more fun. For one thing, they determine the parameters for everything of importance in a clause -- what can be the subject and object, what adverbs can be used, what syntactic rules can be applied, etc.
    – jlawler
    Nov 17, 2021 at 16:37

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