Specific effects of word decoding, vocabulary and listening comprehension abilities on the development of reading comprehension were longitudinally examined for a representative sample of 2143 Dutch children throughout the elementary school period. An attempt was made to test two theoretical frameworks for the prediction of the development of reading comprehension: the lexical quality hypothesis in which word decoding and vocabulary are assumed to be critical determinants of reading comprehension and the simple reading view in which reading comprehension is assumed to be the product of word decoding and listening comprehension. The results showed significant progress across grades on all of the predictor and criterion measures. The stability of the measures was also high across time, which shows the individual differences between students to remain across grades. Word decoding exerted a substantial effect on early reading comprehension and a small effect on later sixth grade reading comprehension. The data provide empirical support for the lexical quality hypothesis as they show knowledge of word forms and word meanings (i.e. vocabulary) to predict the development of reading comprehension. Support for the simple reading view was also found in that word decoding and listening comprehension significantly predicted reading comprehension as well. A combined structural model with word decoding, vocabulary and listening comprehension as predictors of reading comprehension showed a substantial impact of the three predictors on reading comprehension at first grade. In subsequent grades, vocabulary is still predicting reading comprehension directly whereas listening comprehension shows a reciprocal relationship with vocabulary. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.