Build A Word 

Robert Harris
Version Date: April 27, 2013


Build  A Word is a word game where players make new words by adding letters to a starting word. The starting word is called the base word.

For example, if the base word is BID, the letter E can be added to make BIDE. Then the next player might add the letter A in front to make ABIDE. Or the first player might add both letters to make ABIDE. The more letters added, the higher the score. (See Scoring, below.)

How to Play

The game starts by selecting a base word. The easiest way to do this is to use the Build a Word database in the Excel spreadsheet, available free. The database contains more than 200 three-letter base words, presented randomly. Instructions are in the  Excel file.
Player One then adds a letter or letters to make a new word.
Player Two then adds a letter or letters to Player One's word to make a different new word.
Player One then makes a new word from the word made by player two.
Play continues on this base word formation until neither player can make another new word. Then a new base word is put into play. Base word choice alternates between players.
The first player to get 100 points wins the game.

Playing Hints
Players should take care to make the most extensive form of a new word possible. For example, with the base word RID, a player should think about  RIDE, but also BRIDE or better BRIDGE, and then ABRIDGEMENT.

Words can be extended by making them plural (adding S or ES), actors (R, ER, OR), or past tense (D or ED). Thus, a player can take PIP and make not just PIPE but PIPER, or better still PIPERS.

Prefixes and Suffixes.
When groups of mixed age play, prefixes and suffixes (other than those mentioned above) can be prohibited by agreement. Otherwise, they are available for play. Examples: PIP>>REPIPER, SON>>PERSONALIZATION.

Look for those huge Greek and Latin prefixes and suffixes, which can extend your words substantially. Note how the addition of TRANS extends ACTION made from the base word ACT to form TRANSACTION, and then the suffix AL forms TRANSACTIONAL. To learn more about prefixes and suffixes, see Word Roots and Prefixes, right here on VirtualSalt.

Build a Word is a great way to teach the use and meaning of common prefixes and suffixes. If younger contestants are mixed with older ones, giving the younger ones a crib sheet listing these common word components will help them develop a better vocabulary.


  1. Adding one letter to the front or back: one point.  Examples: BAN >> BANE,  PIN>>PINE or OPEN
  2. Adding one letter to both front and back: four points. Examples: PIN>>OPINE, LEA>>FLEAS, RIP>>TRIPE Adding more than one letter to either front or back: one point per added letter. Examples: POT>>POTATO (3 points), ACT>>IMPACT (3 points)
  3. Adding more than one letter to both front and back, two points per added letter: ANT>>TARANTULA (12 points).
  4. After the first player has worked on the base, the next player can attempt to add letters to front, back, or both of the NEW word. If another word is made, the second player gets all the points from the previous word plus points for the new letter or letters added. For example: CAR, player one >> SCARE (six points), player two >> SCARECROW (10 points--the six for the first word and four for adding four one-point letters to one end)

Hasty Scoring

For those who make lots of words or who don't like the burden of calculating scores, Hasty Scoring simply counts one point per letter in each new word formed.


Double Down

A player can take a base word and double down by forming two different words from the base. Example: BAR>>BARES double down BAR>>BARNS. Points are added normally and then a two point bonus is given for the doubling. The score for this  example would be 2 plus 2 plus the bonus 2 = 6 points.

Start Over

Each player can work on the base word independently, in turn. For example, Player One might take the base word HIP and make SHIP. Then Player Two might take HIP and make CHIP. Player One then can either make SHIPPING from SHIP or CHIPPED from CHIP. Play continues on this base word until neither player can score.


Multiplex is the free-for-all version, where each player can make as many different words from the same base word as possible, usually within a specified time frame, such as two minutes. Hasty Scoring (see above) might be preferable when playing Multiplex.

For example, base word ARE might yield RARE, BARELY, CAREFULLY, PARES, COMPARED, and so on. Note that in Multiplex mode, every different form of the new word counts as a word. For example, base word LIT could yield SLIT, SLITS, LITTER, LITTERS, LITTERER, LITTERED. 

More fun games:
DoDotHot Word Game | Extractor Word Game
Creative Ways to Learn Vocabulary | Claim a Word Game
Build a Word Word Game  |  WordCarom Word Game
 Double Up Word Game
  Axe-a-Word Word Game

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About the author:
Robert Harris is a writer and educator with more than 25 years of teaching experience at the college and university level. RHarris at