Building Morphological Awareness: Prefixes and Suffixes

Did you know that morphological awareness is a stronger predictor of reading success for children ages 10 and older than phonological awareness? That’s right! There is a shift that occurs during your child’s reading journey where they move away from sounding out unfamiliar words to looking for their most meaningful parts.

Building morphological awareness prefixes and suffixes

There is no question whether or not phonemic and phonological awareness skills are essential to advancing your child’s early literacy skills. The question is: where do we go from here?

Let me first clarify in saying that phonemic and phonological awareness are not the only factors that play in the role of reading acquisition. Children must remain consistent readers so they can build their reading fluency skills, vocabulary, and content knowledge. They must receive healthy doses of word exposure through read-alouds and independent reading; phonemic awareness aside!

Throughout this series, I hope to provide you with all you’ll need to know about morphology as it relates to teaching your child(ren) how to read! So, let’s get right to it!

What Phonemes are to Phonology; Morphemes are to Morphology 

Morphemes are the smallest unit of a word that holds meaning. Prefixes, suffixes, and roots (or base words) are all considered morphemes and are found under the morphological umbrella. They play a massive role in the construction of the English language!

Morphology reflects the convergence of phonological (sound), orthographic (spelling), and semantic (meaning) components of words and connects them with syntax (grammar and structure). Think of it has the next step in building decodable skills to build a more advanced vocabulary!

Let me fill you in on some linguistic vocabulary before we get into prefixes and suffixes.

Inflectional and Derivational Morphology

Inflectional morphology includes affixes that modify the root word but does not change the word’s meaning or word class (i.e. a noun stays a noun… dog, dog-s). Inflectional morphemes are used to assign words to their proper grammatical category. Irregular plural noun modifications (i.e. child to children, goose to geese) are also included under inflectional morphology.

Derivational morphology includes affixes that modify the root word and changes the word class it belongs to. Therefore, we end up with a word with an entirely new definition.

Morphology Terminology: Prefixes and Suffixes

As you may already know, prefixes are morphemes that attach to the beginning of a word stem (root).  When a prefix is attached to a root, a new meaning is formed.  This means that all prefixes are derivational.

Suffixes are morphemes that attach to the ending of a word stem or root. They can be derivational or inflectional. They are derivational when the suffix creates a new word with a new meaning or moves the root word to a new word class (i.e. noun to verb, verb to adverb).

Side note: How do you know if it has a new meaning? Ask yourself: “Does this word have its own definition in the dictionary?” If it does, you’ve got yourself a new word!

Inflectional suffixes merely modify words to assign them to their appropriate grammatical category. Below is a chart of the inflectional suffixes we use:

Inflectional Suffixes with meaning and examples for morphological awareness

The list for derivational suffixes is a lot more extensive! I will write a blog post on these in the future. For now, Google may help.

Word structure tree for the word independently showing morpheme breakdown

Why is Morphological Awareness so Important for Children?

Researchers have found that morphological awareness directly contributes to reading comprehension. Moreover, morphological awareness contributes to vocabulary development (Carlisle, 2010). When a child gains the skills to break apart and analyze words, their vocabulary will explode!

Morphological Awareness → increased vocabulary → higher reading comprehension skills

“If morphological instruction were introduced early in literacy learning, morphological knowledge would have time to become consolidated and have more opportunities to contribute to literacy learning”

(Bowers, Kirby & Deacon, 2010)

Are we missing out on opportunities to harness the power of morphology?

Samantha signature with magic wand

What’s more to come in this series of Morphology

  • Best Practices for Teaching Morphology
  • Word Formations
  • More on Affixes and Roots
  • Activities to build Morphological Awareness
  • How Morphology connects to the world of literacy