Why are word forms important in academic English?

This is the first of three chapters about Word Forms. To complete this reader, read each chapter carefully and then unlock and complete our materials to check your understanding.   

– Introduce the overall concept of word forms and families

– Provide word-form examples to guide the learner

– Discuss three ways in which word-form knowledge is useful

Before you begin reading...

This topic now has an interactive unit: Suffixes and Word Families
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Chapter 1

One aspect of academic English that students often make mistakes in is in correctly forming words within a sentence. Being able to write accurately is undoubtedly an important academic skill, and there are many reasons that a student should work to form the words they use correctly every time. Before moving on to those reasons however, let’s first discuss the overall concept of what a word form is.

You may already know that every word exists within a word family, which is a grouping of words that are identical in meaning and similar in spelling. This word family will contain a headword that’s used to reference (such as locate in a dictionary) that particular grouping as well as many different word forms to represent the many different word classes, such as nouns or adjectives. The table below demonstrates one such word family for the headword ‘perceive’:

Word Forms 1.1 'Perceive' Word Family

What can be seen from this word family is that the adjectival, adverbial, nominal and verbal word forms of the word ‘perceive’ are created through a process of suffixation in which suffixes are added to the end of the word to create new word classes. This process is called derivational affixation. Derivational affixation may be used in the English language to create new words through prefixation or change the word class through suffixation, as is shown below:

Word Forms 1.2 Prefixes and Suffixes

Before we explain in Chapters 2 and 3 precisely how to recognise the different word forms and use them in your own writing, it’s first recommended to understand why having accuracy with this area of morphology is so important in your academic speech and writing. We’ve outlined three reasons below which demonstrate how having a confident knowledge of this topic could help you in the future.


1. Expansion of Vocabulary

The first reason to focus on improving your success with word forms is because, as with all areas of affixation, doing so will improve and expand your vocabulary. Know the headword and how to form its various word classes and you’ll swiftly and accurately be able to create more words from this base knowledge.


2. Clarity of Meaning

While word-form errors don’t impede meaning quite as much as simply selecting the wrong vocabulary, such errors do still affect comprehension and will no doubt negatively impact on the coherence of your writing and therefore your grade. Importantly also is that such mistakes seem very obvious to native speakers, and so if you’d like to improve your English to an almost native-like ability, you’re going to have to make sure your words are correctly formed every time.


3. Editing Skills

Saying that, even native speakers make the odd word-form mistake, although they will usually quickly correct themselves. Your tutors and peers will not expect you to correctly form words every time in a second language, but you will be expected to recognise when you’ve made a word-form error in a written assignment and spend some time fixing these errors. Your tutor will generally consider your essay or dissertation to be well proofread if you’ve corrected all of your word-form mistakes.

1 of 3 Chapters Completed


Once you’ve completed all three chapters about word forms, you might also wish to download our beginner, intermediate and advanced worksheets to test your progress or print for your students. These professional PDF worksheets can be easily accessed for only a few Academic Marks.

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