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When a word has multiple distinct forms, the lemma is the main entry at which the definitions, etymology, inflections and such are placed. All other forms of the word are non-lemma forms, and generally only link to the lemma form. For example, walk is the lemma of an English verb (the "bare infinitive" – "to walk" without the "to"), while walked is a non-lemma form. Lemmas and non-lemma forms are categorized differently: Category:English lemmas for lemma forms and Category:English non-lemma forms for non-lemma forms; likewise for other languages.
Choosing the lemma
For many words across languages, there is only one form, so that form automatically becomes the lemma. When there are multiple forms, the lemma is usually the most basic form, but not necessarily. Different languages have different conventions.
For nouns, the lemma is normally the form that is used as the singular subject of an intransitive verb. For languages with a case system, this is the nominative or absolutive case form.
The following languages use a different form as the noun lemma:
- Old French: objective singular
- Primitive Irish: genitive singular (for most nouns, the only form that's attested)
- Sanskrit: noun stem
- Welsh: usually the singular, but the plural in cases where the singular is a singulative derived from the plural by suffixation (e.g. the lemma is adar (“birds”), not aderyn (“a bird”)).
For adjectives, the lemma is chosen like it is for nouns. If a language has genders, usually the masculine form is chosen. Adjectives may have distinct predicative and attributive forms in some languages; this can be clarified here.
The following languages use a different form as the adjective lemma:
- Dutch: predicative (uninflected) form
- German: predicative (uninflected) form
- Northern Sami: predicative form in nominative singular, if it exists, attributive form otherwise
- Sanskrit: adjective stem
- Xhosa: basic stem
- Zulu: basic stem
For verbs there is more variation among what is chosen as the lemma. For many languages, the infinitive is used as the lemma, but many languages have no infinitive, so another form is chosen. Popular choices include the first-person or third-person singular forms.
The following languages use a form other than the infinitive as the verb lemma, or for which there are multiple infinitives:
- Albanian: first-person singular present indicative
- Ancient Greek: first-person singular present active indicative
- Arabic: third person masculine singular perfective
- Bulgarian: first-person singular present
- Cherokee: root minus prefixes, suffixes, or anything else, for example, -e-, go.
- Estonian: ma-infinitive
- Finnish: first infinitive
- Greek: first-person singular present indicative
- Hebrew: third-person masculine singular past (i.e. perfective in Biblical Hebrew)
- Hungarian: third-person singular indefinite present
- Irish: second-person singular imperative
- Japanese: the non-past tense (verbs have no person, gender, or number)
- This is the conclusive form, known in Japanese as 終止形; also colloquially known as dictionary form (辞書形) by some.
- The canonical form will be the 終止形 (shūshi-kei) which is unique to each verb. Using w:Japanese grammar terminology, it is the terminal form.
- Japanese verbs are often quite different from the humble to neutral to exalted, honorific infinitives, the plain and the polite. Humble form of to eat is itadaku, neutral is taberu, exalted is meshiagaru, each with a different conjugation. There are also the polite forms, such as tabemasu.
- Korean: infinitive (i.e. ending in 다 -da)
- The Korean infinitive is generally (by Martin etc.) considered to be the 하여 (hayeo), 와 (wa), etc. form -- what is sometimes called the "polite stem". IMX the dictionary form is usually just called the "dictionary form", though 기본형 (gibonhyeong "basic form") also has some currency.
- Latin: first-person singular present active indicative (first principal part)
- Lingala: basic stem
- Macedonian: third-person singular present
- Navajo: third-person singular present
- Ojibwe: third-person singular present
- Old Armenian: first-person singular present indicative
- Old Irish (and Middle Irish): third-person singular present absolute/deuterotonic
- Proto-Hellenic: first-person singular present active indicative (as in Ancient Greek)
- Proto-Italic: first-person singular present active indicative (as in Latin)
- Proto-Uralic: basic stem
- Quechua: third-person singular present
- Sanskrit: third-person singular present active indicative
- Sioux: third-person singular present
- Swahili: indicative root form of the verb (e.g. -peleki (to send)).
- Võro: ma-infinitive
- Wauja: third-person singular present
- Welsh (and Middle Welsh): verbal noun
- Xhosa: basic stem
- Yup'ik: third-person singular present
- Zulu: basic stem