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Morphemes Are Marvelous. CONNBIDA Conference October 21, 2011 Susan Santora, M.S., F/AOGPE Director, Learning House. What is a Morpheme?. A morpheme is a smallest meaningful unit in a language. It relates meaning and ideas.

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morphemes are marvelous

Morphemes Are Marvelous

CONNBIDA Conference

October 21, 2011

Susan Santora, M.S., F/AOGPE

Director, Learning House

what is a morpheme
What is a Morpheme?

A morpheme is a smallest meaningful unit in a language. It relates meaning and ideas.

Identify how many and what are the morphemes in the words below? How do they relate meaning?

  • cats
  • example
  • transportation
  • brown
  • browning
  • hypodermic
  • nephew
  • melodiously


  • example
  • transportation
  • brown
  • browning
  • hypodermic
  • nephew
  • melodiously
  • 2 cat s
  • 2 ex ample
  • 3 trans port tion
  • 1 brown
  • 2 brown ing
  • 3 hypo dermic
  • 1 nephew
  • 3 melodiously
base and root
Base and Root

The Difference between Base and Root:

  • Base refers to the morphological base of a word stripped of its affixes. For example: spell from misspell or spelling 
  • Base word can also refer to a complete English word, such as cough
  • Root refers to a word part from an original language, such as Latin or Greek. For example, plex(complex) therm (thermos)
why teach morphology
Why Teach Morphology?
  • Morphology builds word reading, aids spelling, and develops vocabulary and comprehension  
  • Between the third and seventh grade, most students learn from 2,800 to 26,000 words and most new words are encountered through reading
  • Words with affixes (prefix, suffix, root) outnumber single-morpheme words by a ratio of four to one in written text
  • Derived words (Ex: spect: (look, watch) inspect, spectator, suspect) with affixes are somewhat more numerous among words of lower frequency and must be deciphered from repeated reading in text as well as learning word structure and word derivation.  
  • When students learn word structure and word origins:
    • they increase their word structure knowledge
    • gain metacognitive skills by discussing, reflecting upon, and monitoring their decoding and spelling
    • increase the strategies available for decoding and spelling and
    • Improve their reading and spelling performance.  
  • More than 80% of derived words mean what their part suggests if multiple meanings of parts are taken into account. 
  • Latin & Greek derived words account for 60% of the content words in textbooks.
origin of english words
Origin of English Words

English words originate from 3 time periods:

  • Old English 449 – 1066 CE
  • Middle English 1066 - 1500
  • Present Era 1500 – Present

The most common influence was from

Anglo-Saxon, Latin, and Greeklanguages.


Old English - The Angles, Saxons, and Jute tribes arrive in England and the Anglo – Saxon language becomes prominent. The language of the Vikings, Old Norse, and the Latin language are other influences

Middle English – The Norman-French invade England and Latin becomes a strong influence on English, along with French

Modern English – Exploration and colonization brought new words from many different languages and the Greek influence was strong

anglo saxon influence
Anglo Saxon influence:

The most common words in printed text are:

  • of Anglo Saxon origin
  • learned first for reading and spelling as sight words
  • the least likely to be affixed, except for inflected suffixes: s/es, ed, ing, er, est
  • about 20-25% of words in Modern English

Examples: the, and, one, of, he, this, red, cow, play, come, chest, does, pick, hook, knife, gnat, thimble

latin influence
Latin influence:
  • The Romans ruled most of the countries in Europe and the Latin language established the foundation for many of the languages. About 60% of modern English comes from Latin.
  • Most words of religion, legal system, and government, come from Latin

religion: angel, savior, trinity, monastery

legal system: defendant, citation, parliament

government: constitution, parliament, president

greek influence
Greek influence:
  • About 10% of English words are of Greek origin
  • The Greeks introduced many scientific and scholarly words
  • They are referred to as Greek combining forms: bio sphere, phonology, hydro gen
  • Greek words can be identified by characteristic letter and letter combinations, such as:

ph (graph), chas /k/ (chorus), th (athlete), medial y (cycle), silent p (psychology)

number of words
Number of Words
  • English – 1 million words
    • English has the largest vocabulary mostly due to historical invasions and intermarriage of tribes and countries within English territory over time
    • William Shakespeare added over 1700 words to the English language.
  • German – 184,000 words
  • French/Russian – 100,000 words
what language of origin did shakespeare use
What Language of Origin did Shakespeare Use?
  • amazement
  • bet
  • beached
  • invulnerable
  • metamorphize
  • gnarled
  • discontent
  • olympian
what language of origin did shakespeare use1
What Language of Origin did Shakespeare Use?
  • amazement
  • bet
  • beached
  • invulnerable
  • metamorphize
  • gnarled
  • discontent
  • olympian
  • Latin
  • Anglo-Saxon
  • Anglo-Saxon
  • Latin
  • Greek
  • Anglo-Saxon
  • Latin
  • Greek
knowledge of morphemes informs instruction
Knowledge of Morphemes Informs Instruction
  • Anglo-Saxon words are taught in the early grades - Kindergarten –Grade 3
  • Latin words become very important once science and history are formally taught - Grade 4
  • Greek combining forms, provide deeper levels of science and social studies topics – Grade 8
  • French - College
reading instruction
Reading Instruction

We divide words by morpheme

mis] cell/an/e [ous

hemi] [sphere

dys] lex/ i/a

tact] ful [ness

un] super] vis [ed

frater] ni/za [tion

techno] [cracy

free and bound morphemes
Free and Bound Morphemes

Free Morphemes

Base words that stand alone

cat desk people house

Compound words have two free morphemes

afternoon flashlight

Bound Morphemes

Prefixes, roots, suffixes and combining forms

precipitation centimeter

Bound morphemes cannot stand alone; they must combine with other morphemes to make a word.


We teach vocabulary with morphemes

wordrootkey wordmeaning

spectacle:spect spectator view, watch

a spectacle is something watched

juxtapose:juxta next next to

pose pose position

to juxtapose, something is placed close to something else


Use index cards

front back


preview before


we increase vocabulary with morpheme derivatives
We increase vocabulary with morpheme derivatives

port = carry

















morphemes improve reading comprehension
Morphemes improve reading comprehension

…there were successive movements in France for remodeling of spelling on etymological lines. A simple example is pauvr, which was written for earlierpovre an imitation of Latin pauper. Such spellings were particularly favored in legal language, because lawyers’ clerks were paid for writing by the inch and superfluous letters provided a useful source of income.

A History of English Spelling, D.G. Scragg,(2011)

spelling instruction
Spelling Instruction

Latin and Greek morphemes are typically easier to spell than Anglo-Saxon words

  • Anglo-Saxon words are usually 1 syllable , yet have difficult spellings, such as: vowel teams (ai, ea, oo, ow), silent letters (kn, gn, wr) and varied consonant spellings (final /k/, /d/, /ch)
  • Latin has fewer “clues” for spelling, such as:

-ct, pt, soft c, -tion/-sion, tas/ch/, das /j/

    • learning rules to add Latin suffixes facilitates spelling
  • Greek words have even fewer spelling clues, such as: ph, ch as /k/, long words with k, medial y
spelling instruction1
Spelling Instruction

We spell by morphemes

discussion - /shun/ is spelled –sion because it is added to a root ending with –s or –ss

accredit – assimilated prefix accounts for the double c’s

ac = ad (to) credit: to give credit

difficult words to read and spell
Difficult Words to Read and Spell

The most difficult words to read and spell are words with derivational suffixes that make a change in the base word spelling and pronunciation. - J. Carlisle

  • Spelling change: slipped, sensible, happiest, occurrence
  • Phonological change: resignation, electricity, autumnal
  • Both spelling and phonological: sanity, sublimation, finality, injurious
what makes morphemes so marvelous
What makes morphemes so marvelous?
  • They’re fun!
  • They expand vocabulary enormously!
  • They assist reading comprehension!
  • They’re easier to spell than Anglo-Saxon words!
  • They can be taught systematically and from easy to more difficult!
  • They empower students!!
morphology study
Morphology Study

Knowledge of Morphologically Complex Words: A Developmental Study of Older Children and Young Adolescents

by Marilyn A. Nippold, Lei Sun,

University of Oregon, Eugene

Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools:Vol 39, 365-373, American Speech-Language Hearing Association

  • Concrete nouns (piano, strawberries, plate) are easier to learn than abstract (conclusion, invention, tactfulness) nouns.
  • Derived nouns (-ship, -ment, -ness) are more difficult than derived adjectives (-less, -ful, -ic, able)
  • Students benefit from explicit instruction of morphemes, their meaning, and influence on parts of speech
  • Word Detective, Suzanne Carreker, Neuhaus Education Center
  • Advanced Language Toolkit, Paula Rome and Jean
  • Essential Roots, T. Elli Cross,

  • Unlocking Literacy: Effective Decoding and Spelling Instruction, Marcia Henry
  • Louisa Cook Moats – various publications