Throwback (2015): All about affixes, and why they matter for reading comprehension

We talk a lot about phonological awareness, but what about morphological awareness? Is it just as important for literacy? As it turns out, Apel & Henbest found that morphological awareness, specifically affix meaning knowledge, contributes directly to development of reading skills.


 Morphological awareness skills are used to decompose words into their component parts and then assign meaning to each component. In this study, researchers tested children’s ability to understand morphemes using nonsense words and common affixes. So, if the word “bim” means “bend,” then which word would mean “able to be bent”—bimly or bimable? First through third graders completed an affix meaning task with items similar to this.

Second and third graders had significantly better affix knowledge compared to first graders, suggesting morpheme knowledge may develop significantly between first and second grade. Even more interestingly, student’s affix knowledge was uniquely correlated to a variety of reading outcomes, including word reading, reading comprehension, phonological awareness, and receptive vocabulary.   

Although this study did not look at direct therapy to support affix knowledge, the authors noted that elementary curricula often do not contain explicit affix instruction. It might follow that students with language disorders could benefit from direct affix instruction to further boost their reading comprehension and literacy skills.


Abel, K., Henbest, V.S. (2015). Affix meaning knowledge in first through third grade students. Language, Speech, and Hearing Sciences in Schools, 47, 148–156.