minush cat minushat cats
niminushim my cat
minushiss little cat
uminushima her/his cat
akushu s/he is sick akushipan s/he was sick
tshitakushin you are sick
iakushini when you are sick
apu akushian I am not sick
akushińua that one is sick
uapameu s/he sees her/him uapameu s/he sees her/him
nuapamau I see her/him
tshuapamin you see me
tshuapamitin I see you

Minush, akushu and uapameu are variable words. In Innu, variable words are words that take grammatical markings, or inflections. A variable word is made up of two parts: a part that is stable, or that doesn’t usually change, which we call the stem, and a part that changes (the inflections that are added). ni- and -im in the word niminushim are inflections, and minush is the noun stem. n- and -au are the inflections of the verb with the stem uapam-.  Nouns, pronouns, demonstratives, and verbs are variable.


Each word is made up of a stable part (the core of the word, which either never changes or changes very little) and the variable parts that can be added to it, which are called morphemes. It’s the core that gives the meaning of the word, for example minush in niminushim or akush- in tshitakushin, uapam- in uapameu, and so on, while the morphemes that are added give additional types of information, mostly grammatical.

Roots and stems serve similar purposes. They both form the base of a word and carry the meaning of the word, and grammatical morphemes can be added to both. A stem can even be a root. So, how can they be distinguished from one another? If the base form of the word cannot be broken down into smaller pieces and still carries meaning, it is a root. If the base form of the word has been formed from a base to which non-grammatical morphemes have been added, and if this “enhanced” root is now a base that can take grammatical markings, it is a stem:

[root + morpheme] + grammatical markings = stem + grammatical markings
([UAPA]root+mmorphème)stem+eu = uapameu s/he sees her/him
([UAPA]root+tmorphème)stem+amu = uapatamu s/he sees it
([MIKU]root+amorphème)stem+u = mikuau it is red
([MIKU]root+shimorphème)stem+u = mikushiu s/he is red
More information…

The root of a word, which carries the meaning, is lexical, while inflections are grammatical.

Starting with a root, we can form a stem by adding derivational material. We call morphemes that serve to create new words derivational morphemes, as in the following examples:

[atusse-] + -pań- = [atusssepań]u s/he works quickly
[atusse-] + -ssin = [atusseussin] work boot
[ueńut-] + -ishi- = [ueńutishi]u s/he is rich
[ueńut-] + -apat- = [ueńutapat]amu s/he sees more of them than s/he can use
  • In atusseussin, the u that is underlined is the u of word formation used in the formation of certain words.
  • For verbs, an inflection must always be added, here: -u (3rd person singular of AI), -amu (3rd person singular of TI)

As for grammatical morphemes used to mark, among other things, number, person, gender, mode, tense, etc., we call these inflectional morphemes or simply inflections. For verbs, inflectional morphemes can also be called endings. However, as in Innu, inflections can also precede roots and stems (for example, personal prefixes) so the term inflection is probably more accurate. Words that take inflections are called inflected forms. The following words are inflected

minushat cats
niminushim my cat
atusseu s/he works
nitatussen I work


When the core of a word cannot be broken down any further and still carry meaning, it is called a root, as with miku- and auass in the following examples:

miku- red mikuau it’s red
mikushiu s/he, it (anim) is red
mikuekan it (sheetlike) is red
mikuieu s/he dyes something red
mikukasheu s/he has red nails
miku-ashini brick
auass child, youth auassiu s/he is young
auassikashu s/he acts cuddly
auassiunakuan it has a young appearance
auass-pimi baby oil
utauassimu s/he has a child or children

Words with the same core, or root, belong to the same family of words. For instance, mikuau, mikushiu, mikuekan are all in the same family, as are auass, auassiu and utauassimu.

However, in innu, roots are not always easy to identify. This is because there is often variation in their form, that is, in the ending of the root. These variations are historical and are the result of phonological causes (linked to pronunciation). For example, many roots ending in -t alternate with forms ending in -tsh, like ueńut- or ueńutsh-; similarly, roots ending with -shk alternate with -ss, like atushk- ou atuss-. These changes are often the result of contact between the end of the root and the beginning of what’s added to the root, for example the vowels i and e that modify the k.

ueńut- / ueńutsh- rich, plentiful ueńutan it is plentiful
ueńutishiu s/he is rich
ueńutishiun wealth, riches, abundance
ueńutshieu s/he is rich in something
ueńutshi-mitshishu s/he has plenty of food
ueńutshitau s/he has plenty of something
atushk- / atuss- work atushkan work, job
atushkanan-tshishiku weekday
atushkatamu s/he works at something
atushkueu s/he works for someone
atusseu s/he works
atusseshtamu s/he works at something
atusseun work, job, tool
atusseu-miush toolbox
atusseutshuap workshop

Words that can’t be broken down into smaller parts (for example, nipi water, piku powder, ush canoe, etc.) are at the same time both words and roots (that is, root words). Root words can be nouns, pronouns, demonstratives or invariable words: mitshuap house, kun snow, auen who, ne that one, ute here. On the other hand, verbs are always formed with a core to which other mophemes must be added.

The central part of the base of a word, to which other morphemes are attached. This core cannot be broken down into smaller meaningful units and is called the root. Words that share a common root are therefore related to each other and make up a family of words.


Verbs illustrate well how a stem is formed from a root, since it’s easy to find several verbs with the same root:

pashteu it’s dry pashu it (anim) is dry
pashamu s/he dries something pashueu s/he dries something (anim)
uapatamu s/he sees something uapameu s/he sees someone
mikuau it’s red mikushiu s/he, it (anim) is red

The material added to a root to form a stem can be broken down into several parts or morphemes, but we won’t discuss this here.

A stem is made up of a root to which morphemes have been added to form a base that can take grammatical inflections. For example, to conjugate a verb, inflections are added to the verb stem to indicate person, number, mode, tense, etc.
Sometimes, a stem can be used to form new words, which can in turn become new stems that can be inflected.

The concept of the stem is important in order to understand the conjugation of verbs, because for each conjugation there will be a base stem. This topic is also discussed in verb stems. See also verb classes.


Inflections are morphemes that provide grammatical, rather than lexical, information. For example, in minushat cats, -at is an inflection or grammatical morpheme that does not give the meaning of the word, but rather indicates that the word is plural.

In innu, a noun can take a certain number of different inflections, which indicate gender, number, possession, obviation, the locative, etc. Verbs take some of the same inflections as nouns, but have a much larger inventory of verb inflections.

Inflections are grammatical markers that are added to words or stems. They provide grammatical information such as gender, number, person, possession, obviation, tense, mode, order, etc. Inflections can be either prefixes or suffixes or even a change to the vowel in the first syllable (changed forms).
A prefix is an inflection that comes before the stem or root: niminushim my cat, tshiminushim your cat, uminushima her/his cat; nitatussen I work, tshitatussen you work.
A suffix is an inflection that follows the stem or root. Several suffixes can be added one after the other: tshitatusse+t+akupan = tshitatussetakupan you should have worked; atusse+u+at = atusseuat they work.

More information about Personal prefixes can be found in the sections on possessed nouns and on personal prefixes on verbs.