Grammatical conjugation

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In linguistics, conjugation is the creation of derived forms of a verb from its principal parts by inflection (regular alteration according to rules of grammar). Conjugation may be affected by person, number, gender, tense, aspect, mood, voice, or other grammatical categories. All the different forms of the same verb constitute a lexeme and the form of the verb that is conventionally used to represent the canonical form of the verb (one as seen in dictionary entries) is a lemma. Inflection of nouns and adjectives is known as declension.

Conjugated forms of a verb are called finite forms. In many languages there are also one or more forms that remain unchanged with all or most of grammatical categories: the non-finite forms, such as the infinitive or the gerund. A table giving all the conjugated variants of a verb in a given language is called a conjugation table or a verb paradigm.

Although conjugation tables are a useful tool for the beginner in a foreign language, they fail in irregular verbs. This limitation is particularly prominent in Latin-derived languages like French and Italian. The availability of high power computers has made possible to replace the conjugation tables with conjugation algorithms, that can handle without difficulty the conjugation and the grammar analysis of any verb. However, these are much less useful in understanding the structure of the conjugation forms of a given language. A couple of well known verbs conjugators freely available on Internet are Le Conjugateur for the French language and DIC_IT: il Verbiario for the Italian language, and many others exist.

A regular verb has a set of conventions for conjugation (paradigm) that derives all forms from a few specific forms or principal parts (maybe only one, such as the infinitive in English), in spelling or pronunciation. A verb that has conjugations deviating from this convention is said to be an irregular verb. Typically the principal parts are the root and/or several modifications of it (stems).

Conjugation is also the traditional name of a group of verbs that share a similar conjugation pattern in a particular language (a verb class). This is the sense in which teachers say that Latin has four conjugations of verbs. This means that any regular Latin verb can be conjugated in any person, number, tense, mood, and voice by knowing which of the four conjugation groups it belongs to, and its principal parts.


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