+ Word Morphology: Spelling Terms

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Here are useful definitions as you use a morphological approach to spelling.


  • Indivisible word or word part that carries meaning
  • Bases, prefixes and suffixes are morphemes: e.g. <undiscovered> has 4 morphemes <un>, <dis>, <cover>, and <ed>
  • Students call it “the bits between the plus signs in a (fully analyzed) word sum” – see below
  • For example,    un+dis+cover+ed = undiscovered    is a “word sum”


  • Can stand on its own as a word, or have affixes or other bases attached to it to form “complex words”
  • Carries the meaning of any word it builds: e.g. the words <undiscovered>, <recover>, and <covering> are built on the free base <cover>
  • Free base: base that is free to stand on its own as a word (e.g. <cover>, <love>, <jump>, <cement>)
  • Bound base: base that carries the main meaning of a word but is not used on its own as a word and must be “bound” to at least one other element to form a word
  • Twin bases: a base that has two forms that build a single word family — e.g. the twin base <cept/ceive> (meaning ‘catch, hold’) builds a morphological family of words that includes <deception>, <deceive>, <reception> and <receive>. Note: these words are usually of Latin origin.


  • Word part that is fixed to the front of a base or another prefix
  • Affects word meaning; cannot stand on its own as a word, never causes changes in the spelling of words


  • Word part that is fixed to the end of a base, another suffix or a connecting vowel letter
  • Affects word meaning; also cannot stand on its own as a word and can cause spelling changes at morphological joins
  • Vowel suffixes: begin with a vowel and can cause changes to the final letters of bases or stems to which they are added (e.g. dropping silent <e>, doubling final single consonants)
  • Consonant suffixes: begin with a consonant and do not change the last letters of bases or stems to which they are added – except that (like vowel suffixes) they can change <y> to <i>


  • Term for prefixes, suffixes and connecting vowel letters: e.g. in <behavioural> the prefix <be>, the connecting vowel letter <i>, and both the suffixes <our> and <al>

“connecting vowel”:

  • Word part consisting of the single vowel letter <i>, <u>, or <e> (if Latin origin) or <e>, or <a> (if Greek origin)
  • Fixed between a base and a suffix or another base and NEVER in final position
  • Replaces single silent <e>s, like a vowel suffix, but does not force doubling

Source: Peter Bowers, “Teaching How the Written word Works,” which can be found at www.WordWorksKingston.com, or ordered from www.vcedconsulting.com .  This book offers morphological problem-solving activities to develop students’ language skills and engagement with the written word.  Activities involve word sums, word matrices and word webs and much much more!

Orton-Gillingham tutoring in Columbus OH:  Adrienne Edwards  614-579-6021 or email aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com


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