Vocabulary

Word Families: What Do They Mean?

Word families have a base word in common, to which prefixes or suffixes have been added. Members of the...

Victoria Mac Callum Written by Victoria Mac Callum · 4 min read >
word families

Word families have a base word in common, to which prefixes or suffixes have been added. Members of the word family based on the headword, base, stem, or root word work include rework, worker, working, workshop, and workmanship, among others.

Benefits of a word family

Word families are important because they help young children recognize word patterns when they are learning to read. In teaching analytic phonics, a teacher uses word families to help children understand these patterns and the fact that certain words have the same letter combinations and sounds.

Let’s take the word family “all” or word family “ing” as an example. This allows students to learn simple spelling words such as “ball” or “calling.” However, this understanding can be built up when you consider how many other words belong to the word family “all” or word family “ing.” Starting with “ball,” students can progress to more difficult words such as install, and squall.

How many word families are there in the English language?

There are about 100,000-word families in the English language. A native English speaker knows between 10,000 (uneducated) and 20,000 (educated) word families, and Professor Paul Nation found that a person must know 8,000 words to 9,000-word families to enjoy reading a book. Learners of traditional languages found that a person with a vocabulary of 2,500 passive and 2,000 active word families can speak a language fluently.

According to the National Council of Teachers of English, there are 37 common word families: ack, ain, ake, ale, all, ame, an, ank, ap, ash, at, ate, aw, ay, eat, ell, est, ice, ick, ide, ight, ill, in, ine, ing, ink, ip, it, ock, oke, op, ore, ot, uck, ug, ump, unk. 

Are word families phonics?

Effective phonics and word recognition instruction builds steadily on children’s understanding and use of both spoken and written language, and includes the following elements:

  • Print Awareness—awareness of the forms and functions of printed language.
  • Alphabetic Knowledge—knowledge of the shapes and names of letters of the alphabet.
  • Phonological and Phonemic Awareness—awareness of and the ability to manipulate the sounds of spoken English words.
  • The Alphabetic Principle—understanding that there is a systematic relationship between the sounds of spoken English and the letters and letter patterns of written English.
  • Decoding—understanding how to read each letter or letter pattern in a word to determine the word’s meaning.
  • Irregular/High-Frequency Words—recognition of words that appear often in printed English, but are not readily decodable in the early stages of reading instruction.
  • Spelling and Writing—understanding how to translate sound-letter relationships and spelling patterns into written communication.
  • Reading Practice with Decodable Texts—application of information about sound-letter relationships to the reading of readily decodable texts.

What are some word family examples?

The common word families listed below are from Wylie and Durrell 1970 plus some additional word families..  Are you ready for phonetics?

-ack= | attack | back | black | crack | hack | Jack | knack | lack | pack | quack | rack | sack | snack | stack | tack | track | whack | Zack

-ad= | ad | bad | brad | cad | clad | dad | doodad | glad | had | lad | mad | pad | sad |

– ain= | brain | chain | complain | explain | gain | grain | main | obtain | pain | plain | rain | slain | Spain | sprain | stain | strain | train | vain |

-ake= | awake | bake | brake | cake | fake | flake | jake | lake | make | quake | rake | sake | shake | snake | stake | take | wake |

-ale= | ale | bale | dale | gale | kale | male | pale | sale | scale | stale | tale | whale |

-all= | all | ball | call | fall | gall | hall | install | mall | small | squall | stable | tall | thrall | wall |

-am= | cam | clam | dam | dram | exam | gram | ham | jam | lam | ma’am | pam | ram | sam | scam | slam | spam | swam | tam| tram | wham | yam |

-ame= | blame | came | fame | flame | frame | game | lame | name | same | shame | tame |

– an= | an | ban | bran | can | clan | dan | fan | flan | Fran | Jan | Japan | man | pan | pecan | plan | ran | scan | span | stan | tan | than | van |

– ank= | bank | blank | crank | thanks | drank | flank | frank | hank | plank | prank | rank | sank | shrank | spank | tank | thanks | yank |

– ap= | cap | clap | flap | gap | lap | map | nap | rap | sap | scrap | slap | snap | strap | tap | trap | wrap | yap | zap |

-ar= | afar | bar | car | czar | far | gar | guitar | jar | mar | par | scar | spar | star | tar | tsar |

-eat= | beat | cheat | cleat | eat | feat | greet | heat | meat | neat | peat | pleat | seat | treat | wheat |

-eel=| eel | feel | heel | keel | kneel | peel | reel | steel | wheel |

– eep= | beep | creep | deep | jeep | keep | peep | seep | sheep | sleep | steep | sweep | weep |

-eet= | beet | feet | fleet | greet | meet | sheet | sleet | street | sweet | tweet |

– ell= | bell | cell | dell | dwell | farewell | fell | hell | sell | shell | smell | spell | swell | tell | well | yell |

-en= | amen | Ben | children | den | glen | hen | men | open | pen | then | ten | when | wren |

– ent= | bent | cent | dent | event | gent | lent | rent | scent | sent | spent | tent | vent | went |

-est= | best | chest | crest | jest | nest | pest | quest | rest | test | unrest | vest | west |

-ice= | dice | ice | mice | nice | price | rice | slice | spice | splice | thrice | twice | vice |

– ill= | bill | chill | dill | drill | fill | frill | gill | grill | hill | ill | kill | mill | pill | quill | shrill | sill | skill | spill | still | swill | thrill | will |

– in= | bin | chin | din | fin | gin | grin | in | kin | pin | shin | skin | sin | spin | thin | tin | twin | win | within |

– ine= | brine | decline | define | dine | fine | line | mine | nine | pine | shine | shrine | sine | spine | swine | tine | twine | vine | whine | wine |

– ing= | bring | cling | fling | king | ping | ring | sing | sling | spring | sting | string | swing | thing | wing | wring | zing |

– ink= | blink | brink | drink | fink | ink | link | mink | pink | rink | shrink | sink | stink | think | wink |

– ip= | blip | chip | dip | drip | flip | grip | hip | lip | nip | quip | rip | ship | sip | skip | slip | snip | strip | tip | trip |zip |

– it= | admit | bit | fit | flit | grit | hit | it | kit | knit | lit | pit | quit | sit | skit | slit | snit | spit | split | twit | wit

-oat =| boat | coat | float | gloat | goat | oat throat |

-oof= | hoof | woof |

-ook= | book | brook | cook | crook | hook | look | nook | rook | shook | took |

– oom= | bloom | boom | broom | doom | gloom | groom | loom | room | zoom |

-ool =| cool | drool | fool | pool | spool | stool | tool |

– oon =| balloon | goon | loon | moon | noon | soon | spoon | swoon |

-oop= | coop | droop | hoop | loop | scoop | snoop | stoop | troop |

– oot= | (long oo) | boot | hoot | scoot | shoot | -oot | (short oo) | foot | soot |

– ore= | bore | chore | core | gore | more | ore | pore | score | shore | sore | spore | store | swore | tore | wore |

-orn= | born | corn | forlorn | horn | morn | scorn | shorn | shorn | thorn | torn | worn |

-own =| brown | crown | down | drown | frown | gown | town

-uck= | buck | chuck | cluck | duck | luck | muck | puck | pluck | stuck | struck | truck | tuck |

-ug =| bug | dug | hug | jug | lug | mug | plug | pug | rug | shrug | smug | snug | snug | thug | tug |

– ump= | bump | clump | dump | grump | hump | jump | lump | plump | pump | rump | slump | stump | thump |

-unk= | bunk | dunk | junk | sunk

As they hear and participate in the reading of the simple stories found in predictable and patterned books, children become familiar with how print looks on a page. They develop book awareness and book-handling skills, and begin to become aware of print features such as capital letters, punctuationrks, word boundaries and differences in word lengths.

Written by Victoria Mac Callum
Victoria honed up her English language skills in the Media Industry working at a campus radio station in 2014. Since then, she has upgraded to more demanding roles of English teacher on Preply and course creator. She's also a radio presenter, news anchor, voice-over artist, writer and editor. Profile