Many of our learning-disabled kids struggle to communicate. The causes vary, from expressive or receptive language disorder to hyperlexia, processing, or even dyslexia.

If you are not learning disabled, we often take some skills for granted. Once we learn a grammar rule, we can apply it universally. And exclude it when there are exceptions. Inflectional endings or inflected endings is one such grammar rule.

Child trying to learn inflectional endings

If a child has awkward grammar when speaking or cannot structure grammatically correct sentences, it may indicate a larger issue. For example, Gestalt language processors chunk their words rather than look at individual words.

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You can teach a child how to add inflected endings, but they need to apply it to their language. If they cannot do this, it may not be because they do not understand inflectional endings but because their brain does not process it as a universal rule.

Some studies show students with dyslexia will have a harder time decoding and encoding words with inflectional endings. 

What are Inflectional Endings?

An inflectional ending is a word part added to the end of a base word that changes the number or tense of a base word. A base word can stand alone and has meaning.

Is an inflectional ending a suffix? Inflected endings are considered a subcategory of suffixes.

Inflectional endings change the meaning of the base word to some extent. For example, cat vs cats. Sure a cat is a cat. But it changed the meaning from singular to plural.

Inflected endings change the tense when added to a verb.

Inflectional endings and inflected endings are the same. This is not to be confused with Inflection. One definition of inflection is: a manner of speaking in which the loudness or pitch or tone of the voice is modified.

Inflection, when speaking, can indicate a person’s mood, demeanor, or intent. Take the sentence, “Ugh, I hate this!” Reading it online, what tone of voice (or inflection?) did you use? We need more context for some sentences, and voice inflection is one of the cues.

Just the setting that the person is in when they say it and the tone of their voice can tell you if they really hate something, are angry, are frustrated….or just kidding!

Comprehension is an important sub-skill of reading. Being able to decode is not enough.

Using Inflectional Endings

To understand inflectional endings, first, we must ensure that our students can identify a root word. A root word is a word without a prefix or a suffix added to it. This can be a noun, verb, or adjective.

If the root word is a noun, the inflectional ending shows that there is more than one or plural (s, es).

When it is a verb, it illustrates past or present tense(d, ed, ing). When it comes to adjectives, it compares items using er or the superlative est.   

An inflectional ending falls under the suffix category and changes the root word’s tense or number. Sometimes, a suffix and an inflectional ending are not one and the same.

For example, ly is a suffix but not an inflectional ending. This suffix ly changes the verb to an adverb. Inflectional endings give the word a different meaning by changing its tense or number. 

This skill is done step by step using simple words first and then moving to words that require different rules for changing their form.

A student also needs to know how to add these inflectional endings, as in some cases, a vowel may need to be dropped, or a consonant added. (cry, cried; hop, hopping)There are also cases where changing the tense or number requires using an irregular word. 

What grade do you teach inflectional endings?

So at what age can these young ones begin to learn this skill? As early as first grade, students can begin to manipulate root words with inflectional endings.

First, a  teacher can start with a list of root words and go over them with the class, decoding them and giving them meaning.

Second, tell them that adding letters to the end will change when something happens or the number of them. 

Third, show them which are considered inflectional endings. It might be a good idea to start in the present tense, so ing might be a good place to start. Be sure to give examples; root word drink, present tense drinking; I am drinking water.

Continue this process taking time with each inflectional ending. This is a great cross-curricular skill that can also be reinforced in their other content reading.

1st Grade Inflectional Endings Chart

Here is a helpful chart for beginning first graders:



Once this skill is cemented, it is recommended to move on to when it will be necessary to add es.


VERBS (these lessons will begin to scaffold when to add the double consonant and also when to add d as in file~ filed)


ADJECTIVES (starting with simple root words and then teaching when to drop the y)


Teachers are encouraged to use explicit instruction each step of the way with this lesson. Students should already have a good grasp on short and long vowels, consonant blends, and r-controlled vowels before moving on to inflectional endings.

Some students may struggle with this skill. Students with a Speech and Language Impairment, most specifically issue with syntax, could present with difficulty with inflectional endings.

Another group of students who may struggle with inflectional endings is those with dyslexia. A young student with dyslexia may have trouble with morphological awareness. 

A morpheme is the smallest part of a word.

For our special education students, some sample IEP goals would be:

  • GOAL: When the student is given sentences stating past or present, the student will use the correct inflectional ending (ed, ing) in 8 out of 10 trials. 
  • GOAL: When the student is shown some items, the student will use the correct inflectional ending (s, es) in 8 out of 10 trials.
  • GOAL: When the student is shown pictures showing more to most, the student will use the correct inflectional ending (er, est) in 8 out of 10 trials.

Again, it is important to note that inflectional endings should be taught when other skills have been mastered and with explicit, direct instruction. With the extensive use of technology, evidence-based instructional materials can serve as excellent supplemental material to cement these concepts.

A crucial note to end is the use of evidence or research-based multisensory reading program, which focuses on all these important skill sets.

We are publishing an ongoing set of articles to help parents better understand subsets of reading and literacy skills. Don’t miss the article on temporal words.

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Linda Gilmartin is a high school special education teacher, an adjunct college professor for future teachers, and the Administrator of the social media group Transitioning Teens/Adults with Special Needs Life After High School, and Author of Transitioning Special Needs Teenagers and Adults. 

Here is that free inflectional endings worksheet we promised you! I found it online and am not sure of its origin.

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