Reading Comprehension – Phonological, Syntactic, and Semantic

Phonological, Syntactic, and SemanticLanguage can be one of the most complex systems to understand and yet children as young as 3 or 4 years of age already begin to hold conversations in their daily lives. In learning a language, there are different cueing systems: Phonological, Syntactic, and Semantic. Each cueing systems have different terms that signify the structure of that particular cueing system. 

  1. Phonological cueing system is based upon sounds. 
  2. Syntactic cueing system, or Syntax, is about grammatical organization. 
  3. The Semantic system conveys meaning of words.


Phonological cueing system is based upon sounds.  In this system, children learn to how the pronounce the sounds while simultaneously learning how to talk, eventually learning that these sounds are associated with letters when they learn to read and write.  “There are approximately 44 speech sounds in English.  Sounds are called phonemes, and they are represented in print with diagonal lines to differentiate them from graphemes, or letter combinations.  Thus, the first letter in mother is written m, while the phoneme is written /m/; the phoneme in soaprepresented by the grapheme oa is written /¯o/” (Reading and Language Arts, 2002).

Syntactic cueing system, or Syntax, is about grammatical organization.  It teaches the proper order of sentences. One main component in the syntactic system is grammar.  Grammar is the rules of combining words to sentences. “This system is the grammar that regulates how words are combined into sentences. The word grammar here means the rules governing how words are combined in sentences, not the grammar of English textbooks or the conventional etiquette of language. Children use the syntactic system as they combine words to form sentences” (Reading and Language Arts, 2002).  Knowing grammar can help improve reading and decoding abilities. Word forms are another component at work in syntax.  According to Reading and Language Arts (2002), morphemes are the smallest meaningful units in language. Meaningful unit refers to the word conveying meaning without any additional units.  There are different ways to change the morpheme to add different meaning.  For example, adding –s at the end of a word makes it plural, which is why it is called a plural marker.  A past-tense marker –ed can be added onto the end of a word to make it occur in the past.  Free morphemes, such as dog and play are called such because they convey a meaning and purpose without adding on morphemes.

The Semantic system conveys meaning of words.  According to Reading and Language Arts (2002), vocabulary is a key component in this system.  The importance of this system is that children can learn the meaning of words when they learn to talk from preschool through elementary grades in order to use them in proper syntax and in phonics.  Meaning through text is also learned through semantics.  Often, children learn that some words hold more than one meaning based on the surrounding words.  “At the same time that children are learning new words, they are also learning that many words have more than one meaning. Meaning is usually based on the context, or the surrounding words” (Reading and Language Arts, 2002).

According to Reading and Language Arts (2002), “As children learn to talk, they develop an implicit understanding of the systems, and they apply their knowledge of the four systems whenever they use words—whether for listening or talking, reading or writing, or viewing or visually representing. Students integrate information simultaneously from these four language systems in order to communicate. No one system is more important than any other one”.


University of Phoenix (Ed.). (2002). Reading and language arts. [University of Phoenix Custom Edition e-

text]. Boston, MA: Pearson Custom Publishing.

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