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The inflectional morphology of Romanian

Virginia Hill
Romanian is a Romance language spoken in Romania, by approximately 20, 000, 000
people. The capital of Romania ? Bucharest ? is the central area for the standard spoken and
written dialect. The following site provides a map showing the location of Romania in Europe:
This paper presents an outline of Romanian inflectional morphology, with focus on noun
declension and verb conjugation. Other grammatical categories are discussed as needed. The
following concepts are used as theoretical tools for this outline:
? Morpheme, as the minimal unit of meaning.
? Suffixation, as the operation by which a bound morpheme is added to the end of a
? Morphophonemic stress, as the operation by which change in syllable stress provides
inflectional information.
Nouns are described in terms of number, gender and Case. Verbs are presented according to their
person, number, mood, tense, aspect. The concept of agreement is also used to indicate the
relation between subject nouns and verbs, and between adjectives and nouns.
1. General properties of morphemes
In Romanian, morphemes can be lexemes or grammatical morphemes (Doca 2000). The
lexemes may occur as roots, as free morphemes (e.g., /skris/ ?written?), or may carry bound
morphemes, as word stems (e.g., /r?skris/ ?rewritten?). The grammatical morphemes are
generally bound, mostly as suffixes (e.g., /skris?/ ?written.FEM.SG?).
Affixation is the general morphological process in this language, with suffixation especially
productive in inflectional morphology. Few cases of ablaut also exist, in the verb conjugation, to
alternate indicative and subjunctive roots (e.g., /v?d-/ ?see.INDIC.? versus /v?d-/ ?see.SUBJ?).
2. Noun declension
Romanian nouns are distributed in three classes according to their gender (Agard 1953):
? Feminine: e.g., /mas?/ ?table?
? Masculine: e.g., /k?pak/ ?tree?
? Neuter: e.g., /ow
/ ?egg?
Grammatical gender is unrelated to biological gender. For example, /ulm/ ?poplar? is masculine,
and /salt?
e/ ?willow? is feminine, although both items are ?trees?, which is masculine (see above).
Each gender class can derive the number contrast between singular and plural by means
of suffixation (Danieliuc & Danieliuc 2000). The general rule is that plural suffixes differ
according to gender, as follows:
Table 1: Number morphology in nouns
Feminine Masculine Neuter
Singular /kravat?/ ?tie? /pom/ ?tree? /ow
/ ?egg?
Plural /kravat?/ ?ties? /pomj
/ ?trees? /ow?/ ?eggs?
The Romanian nominal system displays Cases, as follows: Nominative, Accusative,
Genitive, Dative and Vocative (Augerot 1999). Pronouns have morphological marking for these
Cases, except for the Vocative. Nouns have a mixed system, with structural Case
(Nominative/Accusative) and morphological Case (Genitive/Dative; Vocative), the latter
involving suffixation (Case endings). Case endings differ according to the gender and the
number of the noun. Table 2 provides an example for the feminine singular paradigm.
Genitive/Dative marking is obligatory, while the Vocative ending is optional.
Table 2: Case marking in nouns
Examples for feminine singular
Nominative /fata/ Fata merge la magazin.
girl.the walks to shop ?The girls goes to the shop.?
Accusative /fata/ Am invitat-o pe fata aceea.
have.1SG invited-her on girl.the that ?I have invited that girl.?
Genitive /fetej
/ Rochia fetei e verde.
dress.the girl.GEN is green ?The girl?s dress is green.?
Dative /fetej
/ I-am trimis fetei un cadou.
to.her-have.1SG sent girl.DAT a present
?I have sent a present to the girl.?
Vocative /fato/ Fato/fat?, du-te la magazin!
girl.VOC/girl go-REFL to shop ?Girl, go to the shop!?
Romanian nouns have articles, which also differ according to gender and number, and
each of them may take Case endings for Genitive/Dative. Indefinite articles are pre-nominal free
morphemes (e.g., /o fat?/ ?a girl?), but the definite article is a post-nominal bound morpheme
(e.g., /fata/ ?girl.the?).
Adjectives agree with the noun they modify in gender, number and Case. E.g., /stud?nt
int?lid??nt/ = ?intelligent student.MASC.SG.? versus /student? int?lid??nt?/ = ?intelligent
3. Verb conjugation
Most information in this section comes from Cojocaru (2010). Complete paradigms for
verbal inflection can be obtained from the following site:
Romanian verbs are distributed over eleven groups according to the final infinitive stem and
the type of suffix for 1st person singular indicative present. To these groups, we add the irregular
verbs, whose conjugation involves suppletion (e.g., /sunt/ ?I am? versus /e/ ?she is?), or ablaut
(e.g., root /b?-/ versus root /b?-/ in ?drink?: /b?ut/ ?drunk? versus /bej
/ ?you drink?).
The verbs have suffixes for person and number, which attach after the suffix for tense. For
example, in (1) /-a-/ marks the simple past tense, and it is followed by the person/number ending.
The person and number endings display agreement with the nouns or pronouns in the subject
position, but not with those in the object position.
(1) /ew mun?
am/ ? /tu mun?
I worked you worked
The conjugation distinguishes between several grammatical moods and tenses, but has
no marking for aspect. The moods are: indicative, subjunctive, conditional/optative,
presumptive, imperative, infinitive, participle, gerund and supine. The mood markers are either
preverbal or post-verbal, as in (2). The indicative has no mood marker (morpheme zero).
(2) /a pl?ka/ versus /pl?k?nd/
to leave (infinitive) leaving (gerund)
Specific to the mood paradigm of this language is the supine, which rarely occurs in the
grammars of the world. The supine is an invariable past participle, which may have either
passive or active values, and which is used instead of the infinitive in certain contexts. E.g.:
(3) o carte de citit
a book DE read.SUP
?a book to read? or ?a book to be read?
Only the indicative has a complete list of tense forms: present, past (simple past, present
perfect, past perfect) and future (simple future, anterior future). The other moods have only two
tense forms, distinguishing between perfect and non-perfect. There are no tense/aspect
distinctions in participles, gerunds and supines.
4. Conclusion
Romanian noun inflection is relatively rich, but it also shows invariable forms; for example,
there are no morphological marks for Nominative and Accusative Cases. The verb inflection is
also rich, insofar as there is morphological distinction for the various persons and for two
numbers, as well as for a wide range of grammatical moods and tenses. However, there are also
paradigmatic gaps, when we compare this system to other verb systems in the world. For
example, there is no evidential mood in Romanian, nor are there morphological markings for
various aspects, and the tense/aspect distinctions are minimal within the grammatical moods.
Typologically, we can classify Romanian as an inflectional language, while keeping in mind that
it also displays features of the analytical group, especially in the noun paradigm.
Agard, F. 1953. Noun morphology in Romanian. Language 29(2): 134-142.
Augerot, J. E. 1999. Romanian / Limba rom?na: A Course in Modern Romanian. Iasi: Center for
Romanian Studies.
Cojocaru, D. 2010. Romanian grammar. Durham, NC: SEELRC/Duke University.
Daniliuc, L. & Daniliuc, R. 2000. Descriptive Romanian Grammar: An Outline. M?nchen:
Lincom Europa.
Doca, G. 2000. Romanian language. Vol. II: Morpho-Syntactic and Lexical Structures.
Bucharest: Ars Docendi.