Why is the term ‘tricky words’ tricky?

The term ‘tricky words’ is used for some common high-frequency words that a beginner reader may encounter.   For example words like ‘the’ or ‘said’.  These words have complex spellings (graphemes) that the child may not yet have learned.  Because these words are so common,  there is need in the early stages of reading to provide children with help in decoding them.  This is done by offering support with the graphemes they do not yet know.  So why is this term ‘tricky’?

The term ‘tricky’ is tricky as these words soon become untricky.  For fluent readers none of these words are tricky.   New or long multi-syllabic words may be ‘tricky’ but the common ones will have, by now, been committed to memory.

So what term should we use for those words?  ‘Common high-frequency words’?  That won’t do because common high-frequency words include completely decodable words with no tricky bits in them at all, like ‘dad’ or ‘got’.

Maybe they should be called – ‘High-frequency words with complex spellings (graphemes)?’  What a mouthful!  Tricky that!

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