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The Reason We Spell Affixes







What do all of these words have in common? You may be tempted to say they all have a "re" (ree) in them. Hmm. Let's look at these:







What would you say the common affix is in those words? I'm betting you didn't say "ed," as in Mr. Ed, the talking horse. I'd wager you actually said they all have an "E-D" suffix. Why? Why did you spell out ED for these words but say "ree" for the former? Well, one reason may be because the <-ed>s in those words are pronounced differently from one another. But let's go back to the words above that all contain an <re-> prefix. The <re->s in those words are pronounced differently, too. And, in fact, you may not actually pronounce any of those prefixes as "ree" when you're saying them in the context of a sentence. 

I recalled the other day when I took a tumble off the ladder.

Did you? Maybe you did, and maybe you didn't. There are a lot of different Englishes out there, which brings us to why it's helpful to spell out morphological elements.

One of the reasons we spell elements out is because affixes and even many bases don't represent pronunciations yet. Affixes really aren't pronounced at all until they're in words that are in sentences. 

Spelling out morphological elements does two really helpful things for students. The first is that it eliminates confusion for students when they go to read a word. If a student is told the word they're struggling with is a "ree" word, they're liable to try to read it with that particular pronunciation, and that doesn't serve them well. The second thing spelling out does for students is help them pay attention to the structure of the word on the page. If I'm spelling out the structure of a word to a student who is struggling to read the word, and I spell it “RE — V-O-L-V-E," that immediately signals to the student that the word is made up of a prefix and a base. They may then connect "revolve" to "revolution" or to "evolve," even before we study those words. 

So before we're tempted to ask a kiddo to sound out a word or to call their attention to spoken elements or syllables in a word, let's give them an understanding of the structure of that word. Spelling out the structure of one word can lead them to the discovery of a whole word family and of connections they may have missed had they been focusing on the phonology. This empowers them to create a deeper sense and meaning of words.

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