Orthography ~ Free eBook

Most curricula suggest students work through a course in word study sometime around the middle school years. There is a very good reason for this suggestion: By understanding prefixes and suffixes a student has a “step up” on language skills. Orthography by Elmer W. Cavins is a free public domain title that makes word study easy to cover in the seventh and eighth grade years.

Published in 1904, Orthography was part of the Illinois State Course of Study, with the emphasis on word study.

Composite words have a wealth of meaning; each syllable is significant. And, as a rule, only to those who can read this significance does the word yield its full meaning. Accuracy is the mark of a scholar. Accuracy in speech and in the understanding of speech cannot be attained by those whose knowledge of words is vague and general. Pupils should early learn how to interpret what words say, and to discriminate carefully in the use of words, for these are the tools which they are to use in all the various departments for acquiring knowledge.

Word Study Basics

As Ruth Beechick comments in You CAN Teach Your Child Successfully:

May prefixes began life centuries ago as parts of compound words. All children should have enough acquaintance with prefixes to at least be aware of what prefixes do in our language. This helps them unlock meanings of numerous words.

You CAN Teach Your Child Successfully

She goes on to refer to as examples technical language where we might see and use the prefixes micro, macro, and tele.

The first step in learning any subject is to learn the basics or vocabulary of the subject. Those familiar with Latin and Greek roots, for example, will have a head start on many scientific terms.

Learning Plan

Orthography fills this need in a very simple way. The book is laid out with a learning plan for each month seventh through eight grade. Once the student has worked through the book they will have encountered “45 prefixes, 64 roots, and 33 suffixes,—in all 142 elements or component parts of words.”

The author’s directions provides the process of study:


  1. Name its component parts—root, prefix, and suffix—and give the literal meaning of each.
  2. Combine these meanings in a definition, supplying additional words if necessary, to make the sense complete. In exceptional cases, however, the exact literal meanings of the parts cannot be put together in a good definition. One or more of the parts must then be omitted entirely, or represented by words which are not exactly literal.
  3. Give an illustration of the use of the word.

Obviously a notebook will be a valuable tool here. We highly recommend creating a spelling notebook that can be used for all spelling words, word analysis, Latin roots, and more.

As an example, the first month of the first year, the students will learn:

  • a, ab, abs = from, away.
  • ambi, (amphi) = both, on both sides, around.
  • bene = well, good.
  • circum = around.
  • contra, (contro, counter) = against.
  • ann = year.
  • art = skill.
  • aster, (astr) = star.
  • aud = hear.

One way to approach this is to work through a new word two or three times each week. This will allow time for review (or off days).

Other vocabulary and spelling rules are also included. Read more about how we covered spelling.

In the back of the book is an index that can be used to reference roots, prefixes, and suffixes.

For students taking Latin or other languages, a book like this may not be necessary. For the rest of us, Orthography provides an easy way to get the job done. And it is free!

Free eBook

Additional Resources

Merriam-Webster’s Vocabulary Builder
A more modern option for those interested.

New Word Analysis {Free eBook}
Focuses more on word roots.

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