7 Jan 2023


Morphology in English and German Languages: Similarities and Differences

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German and English are West Germanic languages. The English language family, while German comes from a family associated with other languages, such as German (Corston-Oliver & Gamon, 2004). While the two languages are similar in many ways, the evolution of the two languages has led to significant differences between the two. For example, the morphology of the two languages is widely different. Generally, English has been considered as a more progressive language compared to German. However, in terms of inflectional morphology, German language is richer than English. 

The overt priming paradigm depicts significant differences between German and English. In English, word pairs are seen to have priming effects, with a semantic relation and a morphological relation (SUCCESSFUL-success) (Corston-Oliver & Gamon, 2004). In contrast, pairs of words that did not have a semantic relation lacked priming effects. On the other hand, morphological priming effects were identified in the German language only when both pairs appeared to have a semantic relation (AUFATEHEN-stephen, “rise –up “-_ ‘rise’) or without one (VERSTEHEN-stehen, “understand” “-“ “stand”) (Corston-Oliver & Gamon, 2004). These behavioral differences have been taken into account to explain the morphological differences between the two languages. The statistical word alignment in the English and German languages is very different. While the English language and the German languages differ typologically in several ways, the current statistical approaches in the word alignment differ significantly (Mckay, 1987). 

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German depicts a noun-compounding that is pervasive productive, while the English language displays analogous phenomena that are of a noun group, displaying its Germanic roots. Generally, the English language groups of nouns are translated in German as noun-compounds. In contrast, German compound-nouns can wither be translated as simple English nouns, or as adjectival, prepositions, and participial modifiers. The poor alignment of words is especially depicted when models such as Brown et al., (1993), are used. Such models wither allow the use of the one-to-one or the one-to N alignments (Corston-Oliver & Gamon, 2004). 

Clause constituents between English and German also considerably vary. In the first place, long-distance dependencies between English and German, including the relative clause extra positions, appear more commonly in English than in German (Gamon et al., 2002). In contrast, verb-prefixes in German either occur bound in verbs or detached, expressing themselves in long-distance relationships on verbs. At the same time, most of these verbs appear as distinct prefixes, which appear as homographics with prepositions. 

The two languages significantly differ in terms of their variations in terms of inflectional morphologies. Both languages greatly differ in the way that their adverbs and adjectives are structured. English shows only two distinctions in terms of numbers as far as a nominal inflection is concerned (singular vs plural). In contrast, German only has two distinctions (singular and plural). The German-language shows four distinct grammatical cases, including feminine, masculine, and neuter. Both German and English have similar systems in terms of mood, tense and aspect. The distinctions between non-past versus past verbal inflections, including the weak vestiges of the distinction between the indicative and subjunctive mood is widely distinguished. Thus, there are many mood, aspect, and tense complexes formed periphrastically, bringing about widely notable differences in the morphological marking between the two languages. For example, besides the irregular verb be, the English language only distinguished third-person singular versus the non-third person singular. On the other hand, German distinguishes only the first person, second person and the third persons through the inflectional suffixes that are added on the verb. 

Both German and English share words that sound similar. Thus, one can easily guess what some German words mean in English. Some German and English words follow the same meaning, which suggests a similarity in some grammatical rules between the two languages. The best example would be how most verbs change based on their tense. This can be demonstrated through their tenses, such as in verbs like “to drink,” which in German is “trinken.”At the same time, English words change according to the tense. In German, for example, the words, “trinkt,” “trank,” and “getrunken” are used for the three tenses, using the same basic rule. This basic rule also applies to most other verbs too. Because of this reason, English speakers have more ideas of German verb patterns. 

As it has been discussed, there are several morphological differences between German and English. The most noticeable differences can be seen in the inflectional distinctions in verb forms in the two languages. Verbs relating to person and numbers seem to have a constant uniformity in the two languages. The example below shows both German and English verbs expressed in their present tense, and in their indicative and imperative modes: 

renne, rennst, rennt, rennen, renn, rennen Sie 

run, runs 

From the example above, the German verb shows a very explicit person and number markings. In contrst, the English verb shows person and number with an “s” indicated in the present tensed form of the verb. Additionally, the subjunctive, indicative, and imperative forms clearly indicate different marking sin German. However, there is only one form for all the English words in their respective tenses (with the exclusion of some rare exceptions, such as he be [subjunctive], and he is [indicative]) (Mckay, 1987). Generally, we can assume that English verbs have less of the inflectional endings compared to German verbs. This is the same way that the same morphologies in the Old English and the Old German languages have always developed in such a manner as to show that the morphology of most German verbs has almost remained same throughout the same time, whereas the English language has gone through what is known as “syncretism.” Syncretism is defined as the process through which the linguistics mean that fusion of different morphological forms that are originally different. 

Both German and English languages have key differences in their noun phases. Both languages depict the inflectional markings in their noun phrases. In German, The noun phrases are are made distinctive by their case markings, which are varied by adjectives. On the other hand, the English nouns carry obvious number markings determiners indicating gender. The inflection of the noun components includes adjectives that depend on the existence of and the definiteness and the indefiniteness for the determiners (Mckay, 1987) . Comparing the comprehensive case marking sysyems in German and English, the English inflection appears to be more precise and more overt in terms of its distinctions as depicted only in the English pronouns inflections (for example he, his, him – er, ihm, sein, ihn) (Mckay, 1987). 

In conclusion, German has a richer inflectional morphology system than English. The first differences are seen in the contrasts between the level of individual words through the consideration of their morphological structures. The verb and the case marking structures are also contrasted to show the differences and similarities between the two languages. This causes problems in the current word alignment in English. Overall, it is clear that the alignment errors can be reduced by normalizing the inflectional morphology in the English language, which is more limited than German. 


Corston-Oliver, S., & Gamon, M. (2004, September). Normalizing German and English inflectional morphology to improve statistical word alignment. In Conference of the Association for Machine Translation in the Americas (pp. 48-57). Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg. 

Gamon, M., Ringger, E., Zhang, Z., Moore, R. C., & Corston-Oliver, S. (2002). Extraposition: A case study in German sentence realization. In COLING 2002: The 19th International Conference on Computational Linguistics

Mckay, T. (1987). John A. Hawkins, A comparative typology of English and German: unifying the contrasts. London: Croom Helm, 1986. Pp. xiv+ 244. Journal of Linguistics , 23 (1), 236-241. 

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StudyBounty. (2023, September 16). Morphology in English and German Languages: Similarities and Differences.


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