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Inflection is the morphological marking of properties on words. Thus, a word may have more than one word form. For instance, the word boek book has the singular word form boek (with no overt morphological marking) and the plural word form boek-en books consisting of the stem boek and the plural suffix -en.  The verb form lach-te laughed is the past tense singular form of the verb lachen to laugh. These word forms encode morphosyntactic or morphosemantic properties of words which may play a role in syntax. Nouns, adjectives, verbs, and numerals are inflected, while words of other word classes are not (read more on nominal inflection, adjectival inflection and verbal inflection). Numerals are inflected in specific constructions, as in Ze kwamen met z’n drieën They came the three of them, where the numeral drie three is marked with the suffix -en.

If the selection of a word form is a matter of choice by the language user as to what (s)he wants to communicate, we call this inherent inflection. If a specific word form is required by the syntactic context in which the word occurs, we call this contextual inflection (see Booij 1993,1996 for these terms). In the sentence De jongens wachtten op hun vader The boys waited for their father the feature value [plural]  of the noun jongens boys is a case of inherent inflection. The specification of number on nouns is a morphosyntactic property since it may trigger plural marking on verbs, as is the case for the verb wachtten waited. In the verb, the specification [plural] is a case of contextual inflection: the rule of subject-verb agreement requires this marking. The feature value [past tense], on the other hand, is a case of inherent inflection: tense is a morphosemantic feature, the value of which is not determined by syntactic context. A third type of feature is called lexical. Lexical features are specified in the lexicon; they are invariant, they cannot be manipulated for communicative purposes. Dutch has gender as a lexical feature.


In describing the inflectional system of a language, the terms ‘category’ and ‘property’ or ‘feature’ and ‘value’ are used: one can speak of the category Number with the properties Singular and Plural, or the feature Number with the feature values Singular and Plural.

Dutch has the following inflectional categories or features:

Table 1
Word class Features Values
Nouns number singular, plural
gender common, neuter
Pronouns number singular, plural
gender masculine, feminine, common, neuter
person 1st, 2nd, 3rd
case nominative, oblique
Adjectives (attributive) number singular, plural
gender number, gender
Verbs tense present, past
aspect perfective, imperfective
mood indicative, imperative, conjunctive
person 1st, 2nd, 3rd
number singular, plural
Determiners number singular, plural
gender common, neuter
definiteness definite, indefinite
As this table shows, case marking is restricted to pronouns in present-day Dutch. Remnants of a richer case system can be found in idiomatic expressions and specific constructions such as zijns weegs gaan to go one's way with an old genitive on the possessive zijn and on the noun weg.

Gender is a lexical property of nouns that is not marked morphologically on the nouns themselves, but manifests itself solely through agreement.

  • Booij, Geert1993Against split morphologyBooij, Geert & Marle, Jaap van (eds.)Yearbook of Morphology 1993Dordrecht / BostonKluwer27-49
  • Booij, Geert1996Inherent versus contextual inflection and the split morphology hypothesisBooij, Geert & Marle, Jaap van (eds.)Yearbook of Morphology 1995Dordrecht / BostonKluwer1-16