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The 10 Most Important Functional Words

Dr. Judy Montgomery

January 12, 2004



What do you consider to be the most important 10 or 12 functional words for an English speaking preschool child?


Actually, 10-12 words is a very, very small number for a preschooler. Typical preschoolers use about 4,000 words, and understand another 1500 that they are preparing to express within a short time. This is a period of very rapid vocabulary growth. Researchers talk about the importance of the ''first 400 words'' as the point when grammar and syntax emerge. This is around 24-30 months of age.

However, if you are wondering about 10-12 functional words in English at this age, you are likely working with a child with significant delays and/or disabilities. Naming is very important in English, so likely 9 or 10 of the first 12 words would be nouns. The other two are likely to be action verbs. A critical word for preschoolers is ''no'', so they can have some control over the things going on around them. If you are considering how to assemble a picture AAC device for a child, the most functional 10-12 words would be items that are meaningful for the child- family names, favorite food, favorite toys or activities, places, and of course ''NO!'' Children using such a few number of words are not able to combine them yet, so the words need to have broad meanings and clear picture representations.

Judy K. Montgomery

Bio sketch:
Dr. Judy K. Montgomery, CCC-SLP, is professor of literacy and special education in the School of Education, Chapman University, Orange, CA. She holds ASHA Board Recognition in Child Language.

dr judy montgomery

Dr. Judy Montgomery

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