A sight word is a word whose spelling is not straightforward and, therefore, does not enable a learning reader to determine what spoken word it represents just by sounding it out according to the rules. Learning readers recognize sight words from having memorized them or by drawing their meaning from context.
In more linguistic terms a sight word lacks a complete one-to-one correspondence between its graphemes and phonemes and must be decoded on a discourse level. Sight words occur in a language that has an alphabet yet uses a spelling system (orthography) that deviates from the alphabetic principle to varying degrees, i.e. orthographic depth.
Although a sight word is the smallest unit in word-level-up approaches to teaching reading skills, such as whole language, the concept is also used in sublexical (below word level) methods such as phonics, the basis of which is phonemic awareness and the regular spelling conventions of English.
Reading researcher Diane McGuinness estimates that there are approximately 100 common words in English which fit this description. This number is far less than the 220 sight words listed on the Dolch word list.
See also 
- Most common words in English
- Reading (process)
- Reading comprehension
- Reading education in the United States
- Teaching reading: whole language and phonics
- Writing system
- Dolch 220
- Fry readability formula
- Sight Words Cheat Sheet.
- Sight Words Overview and Activities
- Animated Sight Word Quizzes
- Top 100 English verbs
- Sight Words Apps for Mobile Devices
- McGuinness, Diane. "Early Reading Instruction: What Science Really Tells Us about How To Teach Reading", page 58. MIT Press, 2004.
Further reading 
Durkin, D. (2004). Teaching them to read. [sixth edition] Boston: Pearson of Allyn & Bacon
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