What are word families?

What are word families?
Understand more about how children are introduced to word families, made up of words that share a root word modified by different prefixes and suffixes, in our guide for primary-school parents.

What are word families?

Word families are groups of words that have a common feature, pattern or meaning. They usually share a common base or root word, to which different prefixes and suffixes are added.

In KS2 children will learn about root words, prefixes and suffixes.

For example, the root word happy might have a prefix added (unhappy) or might have a suffix added (happiness).

The words happy, unhappy, happiness could be considered to belong to the same word family.

When do children learn about word families?

It is important that children in KS2 understand the concept of root words, prefixes and suffixes, as this will come up in the Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling test they sit in Year 6.

Understanding word families is also very useful when children are learning about correct spelling, as being able to identify the root word will help them spell other words in the same word family.

According to the national curriculum children are introduced to word families in Year 3, when they are shown that common words are related in form and meaning (for example, the words solve, solution, solvent, dissolve and insoluble all belong to the same word family).

In the Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling test children may be asked:

  • to match various prefixes with their correct root words
  • be given several words from the same family and asked to say what the root word means (sign, signature, design; the root word 'sign', from the Latin signum, means to make a mark for the purposes of authorisation)
  • to add a suffix to a noun to turn it into an adjective (for example: adding the suffix -ful to 'beauty' changes the word to make 'beautiful')

You can help your child at home by encouraging them to learn the spelling lists they are given at school. 

It would also be helpful to see if you can find words made up of prefixes / root words / suffixes and discuss with your child what the root word might mean. Can they think of any other prefixes or suffixes they could add to the word?

They may be tested on these in the KS2 SATs Grammar, punctuation and spelling test at the end of Year 6.