Happy #morphememonday everyone!

I have been writing about morphemes every week for over a year now. This week I thought I would write about why morphological awareness is so important and why every reader of English should learn about it.

Before we go further, let’s start off by review a few terms in this post to make sure everybody knows the definitions of the key concepts I am going to be talking about in this post.


  • Vocabulary – is the words someone knows the meaning of

  • Morpheme – the smallest unit of meaning

  • Free Morpheme – base words that can stand alone (example: fly)

  • Bound Morpheme – affixes that cannot stand alone (example: <ing>)

  • Derived Words – words that contain both a free morpheme and at least one bound morpheme (example: flying)

  • Incidental Word Learning – when the reader does not know the meaning of a word and takes cues from the context to create their own meaning for the word

Did you notice what I did just there? I gave you a brief vocabulary lesson or review to make sure that you know what I mean when I use these terms in this post. This would get very redundant if it was done before everything you read and in every conversation you have.

There seems to be an overall consensus amongst researchers that school-age children will typically learn about 3000 new words a year and only about 300 of these words have been explicitly taught to them (e.g. Beck & McKeown, 1991). They are only being taught the meaning of about 10% of the words they are learning, the rest of their vocabulary development comes through incidental word learning.

Adults will also encounter new words on a regular basis and they have to develop strategies for learning the meaning of these new words in context. This means they have to look up this unknown word at a later time, ask someone to define the word for them, or have strategies for figuring out the meaning of the word on their own.

After the third grade, a significant percentage of new words that people come across is derived words (Anglin, 1993). This means the word contains a free morpheme and at least one bound morpheme that affects the words’ meaning and or its grammatical role. There are also words that contain bound morphemes and when these morphemes are put together they create a word.

Teaching readers about morphology and word analysis gives them the information to deconstruct these words in order to help find their meaning. This means when the reader encounters words they can consider the meaning of the parts of the word they know and the context the word is within the passage to create a working definition.

Educators have a responsibility to teach students how to use different skills while reading. They need to take the time to show students how to analyze a word’s morphemic structure to discover a word’s meaning.

The teacher needs to first teach this strategy before they model it with their students when they are reading aloud and then they need to give the student some guided practice using the morphological analysis to find a word’s meaning. The student needs to come to their own realization that this strategy is effective before they will start to use it on their own. Once readers can analyze the words they come across when they are reading, they should be able to grow their vocabulary and improve their reading comprehension.

Anglin, J. M. (1993). Vocabulary development: A morphological analysis. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 58(10, Serial no. 238).
Beck, I. L. & McKeown, M. G. (1991). Conditions of vocabulary acquisition. In R. Barr, M. L. Kamil, P. Mosenthal, & P. D. Pearson (Eds.) , Handbook of reading research (Vol. 2, pp. 789-814). New York: Longman.
Carlisle, J. F. (2007). Fostering Morphological Processing, Vocabulary Development, and Reading Comprehension. In R. K. Wagner, A. E. Muse & K. R. Tannenbaum (Eds.), Vocabulary acquisition: Implications for reading comprehension (pp. 78-103). New York: Guilford Press.
Nagy, W. E. & Scott, J. A. (2000). Vocabulary processes. In M. L. Kamil, P. Mosenthal, P. D. Pearson & R. Barr (Eds.), Handbook of reading research (Vol. 3, pp. 269 -284). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

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