Morphological Skills and Reading Comprehension

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There is a growing body of evidence showing a strong correlation between a reader’s morphological skills and reading comprehension. Levesque et al.’s (2018) longitudinal study investigated whether morphological awareness, morphological analysis or a combination of both most influenced the development of children’s ability to understand text.

Morphemes are the smallest unit of meaning. Morphological awareness is the awareness of and the ability to manipulate morphemes (e.g., given the word ‘farm’ children could complete the sentence: My uncle is a _____). Morphological analysis is the understanding of morphologically complex words made up of multiple morphemes (e.g., un+help+ful) and in particular to be able to infer meaning of an unfamiliar morphologically complex word based on its morphemes.

The following is an overview of Levesque et al.’s study:


  • 91 boys & 106 girls.
  • Recruited beginning of Grade 3 (average age 8 years 10 months).
  • All scored slightly above average on standardised assessments in phonological awareness, non-verbal ability, word reading, vocabulary and reading comprehension.
  • Students were also measured on morphological awareness and morphological analysis.
  • Students were reassessed at the end of Grade 4.


  • Low correlation between morphological awareness and morphological analysis indicating there was a significant difference between the two skills.
  • Morphological awareness in grade 3 was a predictor of gains in morphological analysis in grade 4.
  • Morphological analysis in grade 3 was a predictor of grains in reading comprehension in grade 4.
  • Morphological awareness in grade 3 was not a predictor of comprehension gains in grade 4.


  • Morphological analysis is an important linguistic skill that bolsters progress in reading comprehension.
  • Texts across the elementary grades contain an increasing number of morphologically complex words, many of which are unlikely to be immediately familiar to children and therefore potentially a barrier to understanding.
  • Morphological analysis is likely to offer a skill that enables children to understand these unfamiliar complex words, leading to increased comprehension of individual words and consequently passages.
  • Morphological awareness (while not contributing directly to increased comprehension) appears to contribute to the development of morphological analysis.

Educational Implications

  • Instructions needs to include not only morphological awareness, but also morphological analysis and how this knowledge can be used to decipher the meaning of complex words.
  • Early instruction in morphological analysis might focus on transparent morphological relations with more advanced instruction focusing on opaque morphological relations (e.g., complex words derived from Latin and Greek roots and affixes).
  • In addition to teaching the meaning of morphemes, students should be explicitly taught the process of identifying morphemes within unfamiliar words and then how to use their existing knowledge of known morphemes to infer the meaning of the word.
  • Similarly, once an affix is taught, students should be encouraged to find the affix in other words and to apply the affix to a range of stems (base/root words).
  • Manyak et al provide an evidenced based list of affixes to teach and recommendations: Morphological Analysis Instruction in the Elementary Grades: Which Morphemes to Teach and How to Teach Them


Levesque, K., Kieffer, M., & Deacon, S. (2018). Inferring meaning from meaningful parts: The contributions of morphological skills to the development of children’s reading comprehension. Reading Research Quarterly,54 (1), 63-80. Doi: 10.1002/rrq.219