The Word Family Framework (WFF) places 22,000 words on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).

It shows how words within the same family are placed at different levels and is aimed at teachers who can use it to plan courses, syllabi and lessons. The WFF is the product of an ELT research award and was designed by Richard West.


What is the Word Family Framework (WFF)?

The WFF is a searchable resource for teachers and learners of English that consists of over 22,000 vocabulary items arranged according to six levels aligned to the Common European Framework of Reference.

Start using the Word Family Framework

What can the WFF be used for?

The WFF can be used by institutions, teachers and learners to construct target vocabularies for individual learning, syllabus and lesson planning, materials design and exam preparation. It can be used for two different types of vocabulary selection:

‘Vertical searches’

  • Identifying all the vocabulary items at one CEFR level.
  • Identifying all the vocabulary items at several CEFR levels.

‘Horizontal searches’

  • Identifying the CEFR level of an individual word or group of words.
  • Identifying the CEFR levels of all the members of a word family in order to decide which items may be worth learning.
  • Identifying unknown members of word families in order to extend a learner’s vocabulary.

How can the WFF be searched?

The WFF can be searched in three main ways:

1. For horizontal searches to look for a particular word or item, type the term you are looking for in the search box.

2. For vertical searches to find all the items at one or more CEFR levels, tick () all the CEFR levels you want.

3. To download the complete WFF, click the Download box.

How does the WFF link to the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR)?

The CEFR includes statements about the vocabulary range of a learner at each of six levels, A1 to C2.

 The CEFR’s descriptors make quantitative statements about the learner’s vocabulary repertoire at each level, but stop short of stating how large this repertoire might be at each level, or which vocabulary items would be appropriate for each level. However, the CEFR invites users of the Framework to `consider and where appropriate state:

  • which lexical elements (fixed expressions and single word forms) the learner will need/be equipped/be required to recognise and/or use;
  • how they are selected and ordered.’

It is just this selection and ordering of lexical elements that the WFF offers to users.

How large is the WFF?

The WFF includes more than 22,000 words and vocabulary items. It starts with a list of some 6000 of the most common and useful headwords, arranged alphabetically for easy access. Most headwords provide the starting point for a word family, which includes the cognates, derivatives and compounds which make up the family. All family members are then presented across a number of levels, so that the relative value of each item may be quickly determined. 

How were the words in the WFF chosen?

The vocabulary items presented in the WFF have been chosen from a survey of a large number of published sources and word lists produced in the UK, USA, Germany, Europe and China. These lists vary in size and function, and the items in the lists were selected according to differing criteria. The research that preceded the development of the WFF therefore began by surveying these lists in detail to identify the levels of agreement between these different sources. In this way, the WFF presents a consensus of views about the level of each vocabulary item.

How does the WFF differ from dictionaries and word lists?

Traditionally, dictionaries and word lists present lexical items in alphabetical order. The WFF, however, presents words in word families. Each family may include items that depart from strict alphabetical order. So, for example, the family value includes words such as devalue, evaluate and invaluable, which would be widely separated from value, valuable and valueless in a conventional dictionary or list. They are presented together here because it is widely believed that seeing words as members of a family rather than in isolation promotes effective vocabulary learning:

What is column X and how do I use it?

As can be seen here, in addition to the six levels aligned to the CEFR, the WFF includes a column X. This column includes extra members of word families which are either a) off the A1–C2 scale, or b) not included in the main scale because there is insufficient information in the research data. It presents items of various kinds:

Learners and teachers may select from column X the items which they find useful and easy to learn or teach. In this way, the WFF allows users not only to select vocabulary at a particular level (vertical searching), but also to look across levels at items within the same family (horizontal searching).

What does the WFF not include?

The WFF includes a wide range of over 22,000 items of English vocabulary. It covers both British and American English, with variant spellings (honour/honor) and variant terms (lift/elevator). However, it is a framework of general English and so it does not include vocabulary items from academic, business, scientific or technical English. Neither does it include dialect or obsolete words found outside the common core of British or American English.

Can I adapt the WFF to my own context?

It is recognized that the WFF may not be fully appropriate for all learners or all learning situations. For this reason, the WFF will incorporate an interactive dimension, and users are invited to discuss their views and the ways they use the WFF with the British Council and other users in the WFF discussion forum (click for access). Our intention is that this discussion will lead to the introduction of a facility which will enable users to download and adapt the WWF to their particular local contexts.

The WFF was developed for the British Council by Richard West, who would like to acknowledge the contributions made by Dr Wendy Scarlin and Mrs Judy Hermitte.

Find out more about the practical applications of the Word Family Framework in this article:

West, R. (2015). Keeping it in the family. English Teaching Professional. 97.


abbrev abbreviation

adj adjective

adv adverb

Am American

Aust Australian

Brit British

C countable (noun)

comp comparative

conj conjunction

det determiner

esp especially

exclam exclamation

fig figurative

I intransitive (verb)

n noun

nC countable noun

nCU countable and uncountable noun

npl plural noun

nU uncountable noun

neg negative

opp opposite

pass passive

phr v phrasal verb

pl plural

prep preposition

pron pronoun

Scot Scottish

sing singular

sup superlative

T transitive (verb)

U uncountable (noun)

usu usually

v verb

vI intransitive verb

vIT transitive and intransitive verb

vT transitive verb

To use the Word Family Framework, follow this link: Word Family Framework

Language Level


Submitted by gachamorrom on Thu, 03/14/2024 - 19:09

Longman active study dictionary (5th Ed.) gave me the basis for researching word families and I found what I wanted!

Submitted by Lester Lee on Thu, 11/28/2013 - 01:53

It's practical and efficent for vocab.

Submitted by Jimsvarkey on Sun, 02/03/2013 - 18:00

I was looking for a graded word list for use in my classroom. I enjoyed using WWF and it is much better than using a clumsy thesaurus/dictionary. Thanks! It would have been great if you can publish this list in a spread sheet format too. Since it will easier for us to sort the words.

Submitted by ernacataldosolis on Fri, 07/20/2012 - 19:06

Great material!!!


Submitted by roxaneharrison on Wed, 06/13/2012 - 23:37

The download option (number 3) doesn't work.  Could you fix the link?

Submitted by Sally Trowbridge (not verified) on Fri, 06/15/2012 - 07:09

In reply to by roxaneharrison

Hi Roxanne,

To download the PDF file you need to follow the link at the bottom of the activity ( then click on ‘Download’ in the blue box on the word family framework page.


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