Hi I'm working on a software project for work that inflects english words into their various derived forms. e.g. work (verb) -> works, working, worked. My main problem at the moment is that I need to standardize some naming conventions or categories for each inflection type in my program, and then funnel scraped data from across the internet into these categories.

For nouns it was fairly easy since there is just plural and possessive (correct me at any point if there is an error).

For adjectives I have base form, superlative, and comparative.

For verbs the situation is more complicated. I have a mood -> tense -> person -> number hierarchy currently that was brought over from the Italian language system. I want to be clear that I do not need a category for every possible combination, and I do not need separate categories for conjugations that use auxiliary verbs, only those which inflect the verb's form. I want a minimum set of categories that will fully describe all possible flexed regular & irregular verb forms. For instance from what I can tell https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/be#Conjugation "be" is the most irregular verb and has 8 different forms, so ideally I'd like to have at most 8 categories.

At the moment, when I say "category" I mean a single combination of multiple "aspects". Sorry if I am using jargon loosely or improperly, I'm learning things as I do research for this project.

So far I have the following jumble of aspects:

Moods: indicative, imperative, subjunctive, infinitive, participle

Tenses: present, past, preterite

Persons: first person, second person, third person

Number: singular, plural

An example of a category might be indicative, present, third person, singular for work -> works.

I do not need to keep this hierarchy, I can use any flat or nested structure necessary. However, I need to know how a standard conjugation table (from wiktionary for example) might map onto it.

Currently I'm most worried about moods and tenses. For instance is the preterite identical to the past form? I understand that it's used to describe a different tense but it seems like the base inflection is the same. Can I get rid of one, and if so which?

The moods were mostly just copied and pasted from Italian. Can I get rid of the imperative? Does it have the same inflection pattern (i.e. none at all) as the infinitive?

Thanks for any replies

  • Possible duplicate: english.stackexchange.com/q/106629/24489. I disagree with Cascabel: with all verbs the imperative and infinitive forms are the same (to is just a 'marker' employed in some circumstances but not a piece of the form). The 'subjunctive' does not involve any additional forms; rather, it restricts the use of other forms. BE is anomalous, the only verb with an infinitive/imperative/'subjunctive' distinct from the base form and a distinct 1st person singular present form; and modal verbs are 'defective', with no participle or infinitive/imperative/'subjunctive' forms. Mar 17, 2017 at 18:39
  • 1
    You don't need past and preterite, just the latter will do. Re moods: Imperative and subjunctive are types of clause construction, not mood. Few talk of indicative nowadays, the term does no work and is not needed. Infinitive and participle are types of non-finite verb, not moods.
    – BillJ
    Mar 17, 2017 at 18:47
  • @Cascabel Yes I'm trying to narrow down a complicated subject I know little about into something I can work with. Broadly speaking I need categories for verb inflections, and I need to be sure these categories capture all possible flexed forms for all verbs.
    – Milo
    Mar 17, 2017 at 18:47
  • @StoneyB that link is useful. There it seems they use present, past, infinitive, past participle, and present participle. I could restructure the hierarchy to have [Present/Past -> Person -> Number], [Infinitive], [Past Participle], and [Present Participle] and combine moods and tenses into 1 aspect
    – Milo
    Mar 17, 2017 at 18:56
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    @William Or nowhere.
    – deadrat
    Mar 17, 2017 at 20:34

1 Answer 1


I'm also a programmer that works in computation linguistics and have worked on this problem before.

Verbs in English only inflect for the following parameters:

non-finite forms: bare infinitive (base form), present participle, past participle

Person: first, second and third

Number: singular, plural

Tense: present, past

Mood: indicative, subjunctive, imperative

The bare infinitive and the participles are not moods but non-finite forms, that is to say, they do not function as verbs at all but belong to different word classes. This is an important distinction to pay close attention to - words also inflect to become different classes of words with different grammatical functions.

Other parameters, such as grammatical Aspect, Voice, and the future tense are constructed with auxiliaries.

  • Probably you can do without mood, too. Imperative constructions are specific, and so are the two minor complement variations that are called "subjunctive" in traditional grammars. Irrealis or hypothesis is also mostly constructed with auxiliaries like modals. Mar 17, 2017 at 19:40
  • @JohnLawler English has a morphological subjunctive and an imperative that are distinct from the indicative. The forms are mostly the same as the infinitive in regular verbs, but they differ enough that the parameter "Mood" is necessary.
    – William
    Mar 17, 2017 at 19:45
  • It may be necessary for some, depending on how their model is coded. Mar 17, 2017 at 19:50
  • @ John Lawler If you ignore Mood just because the forms are mostly the same, you'll create thousands of exceptions in all of the situations where they are distinct.
    – William
    Mar 17, 2017 at 20:52
  • Again, that depends on how many other presuppositions you want to keep in your model. Mar 17, 2017 at 20:56

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