I saw the following formula on Wikipedia:

morpheme + derivational morphemes + desinence (inflectional morphemes)

followed immediately by the comment not not necessarily in this order. But all the languages that I'm more or less fluent (Turkish, English, French) do follow that order.

Is there a general tendency for inflectional suffixes to follow derivational ones, or for derivational prefixes to follow the inflectional ones? In other words, is there a general tendency for derviational morphemes to be attached closer to the root morpheme? Can someone point to some counterexamples?

NOTE: This question is related, but not specific enough; none of the answers address the derivational/inflectional dichotomy.

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    How does French form its adverbs? In the Iberian Romance languages, you go adjective + feminine marker + adverb morpheme (larg- + -a + -mente = largamente), which seems to me to be an example of going inflectional then derivational, no? Oct 16, 2014 at 14:23
  • A related question would be whether infixes are ever inflectional. But maybe the existence of infixes (even derivational ones) shows that this order is not always followed - the integrity of the root can be violated as it were.
    – neubau
    Oct 17, 2014 at 3:25
  • If you consider the morpheme -sya in Russian reflexive verbs to be derivational, it is generally located farther from the root than the ending showing person and number.
    – neubau
    Oct 17, 2014 at 4:54
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    I wonder if the order is the opposite for prefixing languages: inflectional morphemes + derivational morphemes + morpheme. If so it would seem natural just to say that in general derivation is applied to the root and inflection is applied to the possibly derived root. Oct 17, 2014 at 6:20
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    The mediopassive-reflexive suffix -s(t) in Nordic languages is more derivational than inflectional, and it follows desinence: Icelandic ég kall-a-st ‘I am called/named’ vs. við köll-um-st ‘we are called/named’, where -a and -um are the first singular and plural desinences, respectively. -st originates in a postpositioned sik ‘(my-/your-/him-/her)self, (our-/your-/them)selves’ in Old Norse, just like the Romance adverbs derive from the ablative of an independent noun mente in Latin, so in both cases it makes sense that inflection isn't last. Oct 17, 2014 at 9:19

1 Answer 1


The Wikipedia “formula” is indeed highly problematic in so far as it assumes that derivation and inflection are effected solely by suffixation, which is manifestly not true in many languages. For example, in Arabic yatakātabūna “they write to each other” the root is k-t-b, the first /ta/ is a derivational morpheme, the prefixed /ya/ and the suffixed /ūna/ are inflectional elements. So what comes before what?

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    If you try to bracket the verb, a solution may be at hand: [[ya[ta[kātab]]]una]. Disclaimer: I don't know Arabic, but I know Hebrew, and this looks like a Hitpael verb. Hitpael verbs are structured in the same fashion. Oct 16, 2014 at 12:48
  • I think you have to bracket ya- and –ūna together as single morpheme “3rd person plural masculine present indicative”.
    – fdb
    Oct 16, 2014 at 13:46
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    When I asked "do inflectional suffixes follow derivational ones?" I was referring to suffixing agglutination. In your example the derivational morpheme is still closer to the root morpheme. That was my expectation. I'll edit and rephrase the question.
    – cyco130
    Oct 16, 2014 at 13:57
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    @fdb Even if ya- and -ūna are a circumfix, they are still farther away from the core than the derivational prefix. The notion that derivational affixes as closer to the verb than inflectional ones, doesn't concern only linear order. If morph(eme)s can be distinguished, then there is dominance/dependency order, too. That's what I posit in my work on dependency morphology. Oct 16, 2014 at 17:57
  • "closer to the root" was not in the original question. I hate the way this site lets you change the question after it has already been answered.
    – fdb
    Oct 16, 2014 at 19:08

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