Happy #MorphemeMonday everyone! Thanks for joining the quest in expanding our students’ decoding skills beyond the basics of sound-symbol relationships to the higher level of morphological awareness. Just as a reminder, morphemes are the smallest unit of meaning in speech and they can be called prefixes, roots, suffixes and a few other terms.


A prefix is a morpheme found at the beginning of a word or root, and it changes the word’s meaning.


A root, also referred to as a base, is a morpheme basis for the word. Originally, many of the roots could not stand alone, but as the English language evolves, some have become accepted short forms of longer words. For example, the root ‘dorm’is now a commonly used term for referring to a dormitory.


A suffix is a morpheme that is added to the end of a root or a word, and can change the word’s form. For example, it can take a noun, like the word ghost, and by adding this week’s suffix -ly it changes into the adjective ghostly.


An allomorph is a morpheme that has different spellings depending on what it is attached to. For example, this week’s root <bi> has an allomorph <bin> that is used in cases where it is combined to a root word that begins with a vowel.


Teaching morphological awareness is one skill that can benefit students in three different ways:

  1. It helps students decode words. If they recognize a morpheme, they already know what it says so they can say the morpheme instead of sounding it out one letter at a time.
  2. It helps students with spelling words. Once students are familiar with a morpheme and the spelling rules associated with it, they can use this knowledge to spell out part of the word. For example, if you already know the morphemes bio- and -ology, you can very quickly spell biology without having to sound it out one letter at a time.
  3. It helps students hypothesize or guess the meanings of words they have not come across before.

These three skills alone can save students some of the frustration associated with reading, spelling and understanding words they do not know.


Without further ado, let’s get onto this week’s morphemes.

Origin: Latin

Definition: two, twice, once in every two

Examples: binocular, bisection, bipartisan, biceps, binomial, bipedal

<bi> + <cycle> = bicycle

<bi> + <month> + <ly> = bimonthly

<bi> + <culture> + <al> = bicultural

<bin> + <ocul> + <ar> = binocular

<bi> + <colour> + <ed> = bicoloured

<bi> + <valve> + <s> = bivalves

  • The prefix <bi> is pronounced with a long vowel sound, but when it has the form of <bin> (it’s allomorph), it can be pronounced with either a long or a short vowel sound.
  • When joined to a root that begins with a vowel, <bin> is used instead of <bi>
  • This prefix is an intermediate level prefix. It should be taught in the intermediate grades when students are starting to come across words that contain it.
  • The prefix <bi>/<bin> is a prefix that could be taught during content classes when vocabulary such as binary, binomial and bimodal are taught.

Origin: Latin

Definition: do, go, move

Examples: action, active, activity, agency, agenda, agility

<de> + <act> + <ive> + <ate> = deactivate

<over> + <re> + <act> + <ion> = overreaction

<ag> + <ile> = agile

<trans> + <act> + <ion> = transaction

<act> + <or> = actor

<retro> + <act> + <ive> = retroactive

  • Both forms of this root are pronounced with a short vowel sound
  • These are advanced roots and should be taught once a student has a strong foundation in morphemes.

Origin: Old English

Definition: like, in the manner of

Examples: completely, immediately, coarsely, positively, beautifully, ghostly

<most> + <ly> = mostly

<happy> + <ly> = happily

<part> + <ly> = partly

<liter> +<al> + <ly> = literally

<true> + <ly> = truly

  • This suffix has a consistent pronunciation
  • The suffix <ly> can be adverb-forming or adjective forming when it is added to a word
  • This suffix is a great one to use when introducing students to the concept of morphemes in the early grades because there are many of words where you can simply add the suffix <ly>
  • The following spelling rules should be taught to students when there is a discussion of spelling. Please note, this would not be appropriate if you are teaching this suffix to children in the beginning grades.
    • If the word already ends in the letter -y, change the -y to an -i and add <ly>
      Example: <crazy> + <ly> = crazily
    • If the final syllable in the word is a consonant le syllable, drop the -le and add <ly>
      Example: <terrible> + <ly> = terribly; <simple> + <ly> = simply
    • If the word already ends in a -ll, then just add a y
      Example: <dull> + <ly> = dully; <full> + <ly> = fully
    • If the word ends in a consonant-y, change the -y to -i and add <ly>
      Example: <busy> + <ly> = busily; <happy> + <ly> = happily
      Exceptions: <shy> + <ly> = shyly; <sly> + <ly> = slyly
    • If the word ends in a vowel-y, simply add <ly>
      Example: <coy> + <ly> = coyly; <gray> + <ly> = grayly
      Exception: <gay> + <ly> = gaily
    • If the word ends in -ue, drop the -e before adding <ly>
      Example: <due> + <ly> = duly; <true> + <ly> = truly


Be sure to check out more graphics for these morphemes on our Facebook, InstagramPinterest, and Twitter pages.

If there is anything we can do or post to help you learn more about the importance of morphological awareness (or any other topic for that matter) please send an email to blog@garfortheducation.com

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Last week, July 15, 2019, the prefix <re>, the root <dorm>, and the suffix <ed> were the morphemes that were covered.


Next week, July 29, 2019, the morphemes we will be focusing on are <sub>, <mini>, and <s>/<es>.