Abstract Language and literacy skills were assessed in 83 8 1/2 -year olds whose language development had been impaired at 4 years of age. Provided that language problems had resolved by age 5 1/2 years, literacy development was normal, but many of the children who still had verbal deficits at 5 1/2 years of age did have reading difficulties and persisting oral language impairments later on. In these children, reading comprehension tended to be poor relative to reading accuracy. Syntactic competence in the preschool period accounted for a substantial proportion of the variance in literacy attainments, after allowing for the effects of non-verbal ability. There were only weak links between expressive phonological disorders and later ability to read either meaningful text or non-words.