Authors: Ruth Görgen, Elisabetta De Simone, Gerd Schulte-Körne, Kristina Moll.

Article: Predictors of reading and spelling skills in German: the role of morphological awareness.

Publication: Journal of Research in Reading (Wiley). 44: 210– 227 2021 | DOI: 10.1111/1467-9817.12343

[Full Text]



The role of morphological awareness for literacy development is non-controversial, but it is likely to depend on the characteristics of a specific orthography. Previous studies analysing the role of morphological awareness are mainly based on English samples; thus, it is unclear how generalisable these results are. In the current study, we evaluated the predictive pattern of morphological awareness on reading and spelling in German, which is characterised by high consistency between morphology and orthography. While many words cannot be spelled correctly by relying on phoneme–grapheme mappings, morphological awareness can be reliably used to infer the correct spelling for many words. In contrast, morphological awareness seems less important for reading in German given the high consistency of grapheme–phoneme mappings. Therefore, we hypothesised that the predictive pattern of morphological awareness for spelling is higher than for reading due to the structure of German orthography. In addition, we examined whether the association between morphological awareness and spelling reflects specific awareness about morphemic units or rather general knowledge about frequent and permissible letter sequences in words.


We developed web-based tasks that allowed us to assess morphological awareness using pseudowords. Based on the data of 3,122 third and fourth graders, we analysed the predictive pattern of morphological awareness on reading and spelling after controlling for non-verbal cognitive abilities, age/grade, phoneme awareness and sublexical orthographic sensitivity.


We found that morphological awareness accounted for significant amounts of unique variance over and above sublexical orthographic sensitivity in both literacy measures but was a better predictor for spelling than for reading.


The role of morphological awareness depends on the structure of a given orthography. In German, this is reflected by differences in the predictive pattern between reading and spelling skills. Furthermore, results support the specific role of morphological awareness for spelling in the German orthography.



What is already known about this topic

  • Words are linguistic signs made up of smaller units, such as letters, syllables and morphemes.
  • Morphological awareness is recognised as an important predictor of reading, spelling and reading comprehension.
What this paper adds

  • Novel, web-based measures can be used to assess literacy as well as related cognitive skills, such as phonological and morphological awareness, and sublexical orthographic sensitivity.
  • In German, morphological awareness is a better predictor for spelling than for reading (fluency). The relative importance of morphological awareness might differ according to the orthographic structure of the language.
  • Morphological awareness predicts literacy and does not simply reflect general sublexical skills.
Implications for theory, policy or practice

  • Morphological awareness is a specific predictor of literacy skills in a consistent orthography like German. Inclusion in diagnostic batteries might therefore be considered.
  • Training of morphological awareness and highlighting the morphemic units in words might be especially useful for spelling intervention programmes.

Tagged as: German, morphological awareness training, morphological processing, and spelling


Görgen, R., De Simone, E., Schulte-Körne, G., and Moll, K. (2021) Predictors of reading and spelling skills in German: the role of morphological awareness. Journal of Research in Reading, 44: 210–227. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9817.12343.

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