Inflection for verbs is called conjugation, and for nouns, pronouns and adjectives are called declension. Why are "conjugation" and "declension" in use when "inflection" is? Is there any reason to distinguish inflection in the two cases by using different terms?

1 Answer 1


Historical accident, really.

A lot of our grammatical terminology comes from the ancient Greek and Roman grammarians. The ancient terminology was overall kind of ad hoc, without much systematicity behind it, and using "declension" for nouns and "conjugation" for verbs was just one of these little inconsistencies. (It came from a metaphor where nouns are "bent" through their different cases, which also gives us terms like "oblique", while verbs are "joined together" with the separate features of person, number, tense, aspect, voice, and mood.)

Nowadays, we have "inflection" (both that and "declension" are from Latin calques of Greek énklisis) to cover both cases, but the old terms are still traditional, so they still see some use.

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    By the way, not all languages differentiate the two terms. In Ukrainian the verb for both is the same, відмінювати “to decline; to conjugate” (lit. “to alter”), the noun for the name of the action is also the same, відміна “declension; conjugation” (lit. “alternation”), and only the names for the category of word classifications according to what inflections they take, like “1st declension, 2nd conjugation” are different, but only slightly, in order to keep the two numbered sets distinct: “declension” is відміна (lit. “alternation”) and “conjugation” is дієвідміна (“verb-alternation”).
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented May 9 at 5:17

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