What are sight words?

There is some confusion regarding “sight words,” as this term can generally mean two different things.

  • A sight word can be any word that is read by “sight”–that is, it is not sounded out but recognized and read as a whole word.


  • A sight word is a word that is irregular in that it does not follow the typical pronunciation of letter sounds and thus can’t be sounded out. These kind of words are read by “sight” as well.

Most good spelling lists have the majority of the words following a spelling pattern (such as CVC) and then add a few high frequency sight words. These words can fall under either definition–some can be sounded out and some can’t. But all are so common so as to be beneficial to read by sight. Knowing sight words improves reading fluency.