Resources for Investigating Words

Click this resource to find:

  • Video:  Pete Bowers talks about what Structured Word Inquiry is in under 3 minutes!
  • Articles:  links to articles about morphology, SWI, etc.
  • Links to learning opportunities through recorded webinars on Insight Words, Irregular Words, and SWI
  • More TED-Ed videos highlighting the etymology of words and their connectedness


Use these resources to investigate words and their affixes: 

Etymology Online — by Douglas Harper –learn about the history and origin of words

Dictionaries — of the many, here are 2 free ones: Learner’s Dictionary and

Word Searcher — by Neil Ramsden  — search for additional words that follow a spelling pattern

Mini-Matrix Maker — by Neil Ramsden — enter word sums to make your own matrices

Latdic — search definitions in a Latin dictionary


To learn more about orthography yourself, visit these resources:

Real Spelling  — Understanding the English Spelling System

WordWorks Literacy Centre with Pete Bowers:  Spelling it like it is!  Nothing motivates learning like understanding!

Real Spellers  — Forums, blogs, resources and more


Common Terms to know:

SWI = Structured Word Inquiry:   —Is a way to describe the use of scientific inquiry to guide understanding of how our writing system works in classroom or tutoring situations. Teachers using structured word inquiry investigate the interrelation of morphology, etymology and phonology to understand the structures that link families of related words through a scientific process of developing and testing hypotheses with linguistic tools for analysis like the matrix and the word sum as well as grapheme-phoneme charts and etymological references.

Morpheme = word or word part that is indivisible that has meaning (could be a base word or a suffix such as <-ed> which indicates past tense)

Base  = can stand alond as a word or have affixes or other bases attached to it to form complex words; it carries the meaning of any word it builds.                                                                                 Origin of the word base: Latin meaning foundation; Greek meaning pedestal

  • Free Base =   a base word that can stand alone with its meaning (e.g., <please>  )
  • Bound Base =  a base word that carries the main meaning of a word, but needs to be “bound” to at least one other element to form a word (e.g.  <struct>:   structure, instruction, construction)
  • Twin Base = base that has 2 forms that build a single word family (usually of Latin origin) (e.g.: <prehend/prehens>:  comprehend; comprehension)

Affixes = the term for prefixes, suffixes and connecting vowel letters — they are morphemes that can be added to words to alter or enhance their meanings [words may have zero to several]

  • Prefix:  morpheme added before the base (may have more than one prefix)
  • Suffix:  morpheme added after the base (may have more than one suffix)
  • Connecting Vowel Letter:  a single letter used to combine 2 bases of Greek or Latin origin
  • Compound Word:  2 base words joined together, such as:  cupboard, online, baseball…; (may also have affixes).

Phoneme = smallest unit of speech sound that carries meaning, specific to a language

Phone =  smallest unit of a speech sound,  not specific to a language

IPA = International Phonetic Association — a symbol system that represents phonetic production of phones.  Not specific to a language.  Not connected or associated with phonemes.

Grapheme = unit of the writing system that represents a phoneme (e.g., letter; letter string)

–Digraph = a group of 2 letters that form a phoneme (e.g., <ch>   <ph>    <oa>   <ee>)

–Trigraph = a group of 3 letters that form a phoneme (e.g., <igh>, <tch> )



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