Grammar and the Economy: Inflation

18 May 2023

Inflation worries people around the world – Argentina, Egypt, the United States, and many other places.

But how do English speakers discuss inflation in everyday situations?

In today's Everyday Grammar, we will explore a point of connection between grammar and the economy.

Everyday Grammar
Everyday Grammar


Inflation is a noun. It means an increase in the price of goods and services. Inflation reduces the purchasing power of money that is earned from work or saved.

The Online Etymology Dictionary says inflation's meaning of "enlargement of prices" was first recorded in 1838 in American English.

There also is a verb form: inflate. The Online Etymology Dictionary says the economic meaning of "inflate" dates to 1843. The dictionary adds, the verb "inflate" is a product of back-formation. Back-formation means that a verb is created from an existing noun.

When we use the verb "inflate," we often, but do not always, use it with a direct object.

You might read something like this:

"Economists worry that supply chain issues could inflate prices."

Here, the plural noun "prices" is the object of the verb "inflate."

In some cases, we use inflate without a direct object. For example, you might read something like this:

"Economists worry that prices could inflate."


So, we have inflation, the noun, and inflate, the verb. But if we compare how common they are, we reach a clear finding: inflation is much more commonly used.

Google's Ngram Viewer contains information from English books dating from 1800 to 2019. Using Ngram Viewer, we find that the word "inflation" started becoming more common in the 1920s. That trend has more or less continued to the present time.

So, if you are discussing inflation, you are more likely to hear the noun form than the verb form.

Talking about inflation

When we use inflation in the subject position of the sentence, we often use a few verbs in the predicate.

For example, when inflation goes up, we often use verbs such as increase, rise, or soar. We often, but do not always, add more information after the verb.

So, you might hear a person say:

"Inflation is increasing."


"Inflation is increasing quickly."


"Inflation is rising."

The strongest version would probably involve the verb soar – meaning to go very high.

"Inflation is soaring."

On the other hand, when inflation is going down, we often use verbs such as decrease, drop, or decline.

So, you might hear a person say:

"Inflation is decreasing."

"Inflation is dropping."


"Inflation is declining."

We can also use any of these verbs to ask questions about inflation. So, you might ask, "Why is inflation increasing?" "Why is inflation soaring?" or "Why is inflation dropping?"


Let's take some time to work with these ideas. Use the verb "rise" to ask about the reason for inflation.

Pause the audio to consider your answer.

Here is one possible answer:

"Why is inflation rising?"

Now use the verb "soar" to make a statement about a quick increase in inflation in recent months.

Pause the audio to consider your answer.

Here is one possible answer:

"Inflation has soared in recent months."

Please note that there are other possible answers to these questions.

Closing thoughts

The next time you read or hear about inflation, pay careful attention to the terms and structures that are used. Inflation is a big, difficult subject. But mastering some of the basic terms and ideas related to it can be a big help in everyday discussions - or on English speaking and writing tests.

I'm John Russell.

John Russell wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

trend – n. a general direction of change