AskDefine | Define declension

Dictionary Definition



1 the inflection of nouns and pronouns and adjectives in Indo-European languages
2 process of changing to an inferior state [syn: deterioration, decline in quality, worsening]
3 a downward slope or bend [syn: descent, declivity, fall, decline, declination, downslope] [ant: ascent]
4 a class of nouns or pronouns or adjectives in Indo-European languages having the same (or very similar) inflectional forms; "the first declension in Latin"

User Contributed Dictionary



From declenson, from declinaison (French: déclinaison), from declinatio (gen. declinationis)


  • /dɪˈklen.ʃən/, /dI"klEn.S@n/


  1. : A way of categorizing nouns, pronouns, or adjectives according to the inflections they receive.
    In Latin, 'amicus' belongs to the second declension. Most second-declension nouns end in 'i' in the genitive singular and 'um' in the accusative singular.
  2. : The act of declining a word; the act of listing the inflections of a noun, pronoun or adjective in order.


See also

Extensive Definition

In linguistics, declension (or declination) is the occurrence of inflection in nouns, pronouns and adjectives, indicating such features as number (typically singular vs. plural), case (subject, object, and so on), or gender. Declension occurs in a great many of the world's languages, and features very prominently in many European languages, but is much less prominent in English; English nouns only decline to distinguish singular from plural (e.g. book vs. books), English adjectives do not decline at all, and only a few English pronouns show vestiges of case-triggered declension (e.g. subjective he vs. objective him).


In Modern English, nouns have distinct singular and plural forms; that is, they decline to reflect their grammatical number. (Consider the difference between book and books.) Additionally, a small number of English pronouns have distinct subjective and objective forms; that is, they decline to reflect their relationship to a verb or preposition. (Consider the difference between he and him, as in "He saw it" and "It saw him.") Further, these pronouns and a few others have distinct possessive forms, such as his. (By contrast, nouns do not have distinct possessive forms; rather, the clitic -'s attaches to a noun phrase to indicate that it serves as a possessor.)
Historically, English had a much richer system of declension. First, there were a few more grammatical cases; Modern English's objective case results from a merging of Old English's accusative, dative, and instrumental cases (like a message, him, and post in "I sent a message to him via post", respectively). Second, the distinction between these cases was visible in all nouns, not just certain pronouns. (Indeed, the modern clitic -'s descends from an affix used to mark Old English's genitive case, the ancestor of Modern English's possessive pronoun forms.) Third, adjectives were declined to reflect the number and case of the nouns they modified; this is called agreement, and is analogous to conjugation of verbs in Modern English. (Consider the difference between "I read" and "He reads"; here, read has changed form to agree with its subject.) Fourth, every noun had a gender, either masculine, feminine, or neuter, which was reflected (via agreement) in adjectives that modified it and pronouns that had it as antecedent. (There were some further complications as well; for example, adjectives had both weak declensions and strong declensions. For more information, see Old English morphology.)


An example of a Latin noun declension is given below, using the singular forms of the word homo (man), which belongs to Latin's third declension.
  • (nominative) "[the] man" [as a subject] (e.g. the man is standing there)
  • (genitive) "of [the] man" [as a possessor](e.g. the man's name is Claudius)
  • (dative) "to [the] man" [as an indirect object] (e.g. I gave a present to the man; Man is a wolf to man.)
  • (accusative) "[the] man" [as a direct object] (e.g. toward the man, in the sense of argument directed personally; I saw the man)
  • (ablative) "[the] man" [in various uses not covered by the above] (e.g. I am taller than the man).
There are two further noun declensions in Latin, namely the vocative and the locative. The vocative is widely used in Latin and refers to addressing someone or something (e.g. O Tite, cur servam pugnas? O Titus, why do you fight the slave girl?) The locative case is only rarely used in Latin, but refers to the location of a person or an object.


Declension has been analyzed extensively in Sanskrit, where it is known as karaka. Six varieties are defined by Pāṇini, largely in terms of their semantic roles, but with detailed rules specifying the corresponding morphosyntactic derivations:
  • agent (, often in the subject position, performing independently)
  • patient (, often in object position)
  • means (, instrument)
  • recipient (, similar to dative)
  • source (, similar, but not the same, as ablative)
  • locus (, location or goal)
For example, consider the following sentence: Here leaf is the agent, tree is the source, and ground is the locus, the corresponding declensions are reflected in the morphemes and respectively.
Languages with rich nominal inflection typically have a number of identifiable declension classes, or groups of nouns that share a similar pattern of declension. While Sanskrit has six classes, Latin is traditionally said to have 5 declension classes (see article on Latin declension). Such languages often exhibit free word order, since thematic roles are not dependent on position.
Though English pronouns can have subject and object forms (he/him, she/her), nouns show only a singular/plural and a possessive/non-possessive distinction (e.g., chair, chairs, chair's, chairs'). Note that chair does not change form between "the chair is here" (subject) and "I saw the chair" (direct object). The n-declension is restricted to a few words like ox-oxen, brother-brethren, and child-children, though in Medieval English the s-declension and the n-declension were in stronger competition.

External links

declension in Bosnian: Padež
declension in Catalan: Declinació gramatical
declension in Czech: Skloňování
declension in Danish: Deklination (grammatik)
declension in German: Deklination (Grammatik)
declension in Modern Greek (1453-): Κλίση των ουσιαστικών
declension in Spanish: Declinación (gramática)
declension in Esperanto: Deklinacio (gramatiko)
declension in French: Déclinaison (grammaire)
declension in Scottish Gaelic: Tuiseal
declension in Croatian: Sklonidba
declension in Italian: Declinazione (grammatica)
declension in Georgian: ბრუნება
declension in Latin: Declinatio (grammatica)
declension in Macedonian: Падеж
declension in Japanese: ディクレンション
declension in Dutch: Declinatie (taalkunde)
declension in Polish: Deklinacja (językoznawstwo)
declension in Portuguese: Declinação (gramática)
declension in Russian: Склонение (лингвистика)
declension in Slovak: Skloňovanie
declension in Serbian: Падеж
declension in Swedish: Deklination (lingvistik)
declension in Ukrainian: Відміна
declension in Chinese: 变格

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

IC analysis, abnegation, accidence, affix, affixation, allomorph, bound morpheme, cascade, catabasis, cataract, chute, collapse, comedown, conjugation, contradiction, crash, cutting, debacle, debasement, decadence, decadency, deceleration, declination, declinature, decline, decline and fall, declining, decrescendo, defluxion, deformation, degeneracy, degenerateness, degeneration, degradation, demotion, denial, depravation, depravedness, depreciation, deprivation, derivation, derogation, descending, descension, descent, deterioration, devolution, difference of form, dilapidation, diminuendo, disagreement, disallowance, disclaimer, disclamation, disobedience, dissent, dive, down, downbend, downcome, downcurve, downfall, downflow, downgrade, downpour, downrush, downtrend, downturn, downward mobility, downward trend, drop, dropping, dwindling, dying, ebb, effeteness, enclitic, fading, failing, fall, falling, falling-off, formative, free form, gravitation, holding back, immediate constituent analysis, inclination, infix, infixation, inflection, involution, lapse, loss of tone, morph, morpheme, morphemic analysis, morphemics, morphology, morphophonemics, nay, negation, negative, negative answer, nix, no, nonacceptance, noncompliance, nonconsent, nonobservance, paradigm, plummeting, plunge, pounce, prefix, prefixation, proclitic, radical, rapids, recantation, refusal, regression, rejection, remission, repudiation, retention, retreat, retrocession, retrogradation, retrogression, root, ruination, slippage, slowdown, slump, stem, stoop, subsidence, suffix, suffixation, swoop, theme, thumbs-down, turndown, unwillingness, wane, waterfall, withholding, word-formation
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