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Understanding Language - Part 2

Updated: Sep 7, 2020

Last time, we explained the difference between phonemes and phonics – concepts related to sounds and letters (or letter combinations) and what they represent. Today we are talking about not just the sounds and written symbols but the meaning of the words.


Morphology is the study of the forms of things and in our case, it’s the study of the forms of words. Even those of us that never formally studied language usually understand some simple morphology.

Morphemes are the smallest unit of meaning within a word.

Prefixes and suffixes are morphemes that many of us know without realizing it. The most basic example is that the suffix “-s” means more than one. If you see an s at the end of the word, it likely implies more than one. Similarly, the prefix “pre-” means before. A preview is when you see something before everyone else. A prefix is at the beginning of the word.

These basic building blocks of meaning help us to understand and create words.

Example: “re-“ means again or back.

Rethink: to think about again.

Return: to come/turn back.

Many English words are derived from other languages such as Anglo-Saxon/Germanic, Latin, or Greek. Anglo-Saxon words tend to be short, common everyday base words in English. Latin words tend to have more prefixes and suffixes with roots (example: re-flect-ion) and Greek words are often science and math words (example: diameter).

Developing an understand of the different morphemes and what they mean can help with reading, composing, and spelling of English words. Many explicit, Orton-Gillingham based or structured literacy reading and writing programs include instruction in morphology and so students learn common morphemes.

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