Functions, Notions, and Grammatical Forms in ELT

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The study and teaching of the English language are multi-faceted, involving various aspects such as vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, and more. Among these dimensions, language functions, notions, and grammatical forms are essential components that promote effective learning. However, these terms may sometimes be confusing for both teachers and students alike. This article aims to bring clarity to these terms by explaining their meanings, purposes, and their distinct roles in English language teaching.


Functions are the roles that language forms play in communication, focusing on the intended purpose of the words and phrases used in a given situation. They explain how people use language to achieve specific goals in personal, social, or professional contexts. For example, functions can include expressing opinions, making requests, apologising, or offering advice.

Understanding and teaching functions in an English language classroom encourages students to develop their communicative competence. Teaching functions helps students understand the practical purposes of the language, going beyond structure and rules, and empowering the learner to use English appropriately in various contexts.


Notions, on the other hand, refer to the conceptual categories or ideas that support language use when expressing context-specific meanings. These involve both abstract (time, quantity, or frequency) and concrete (people, places, or things) aspects of a language and aid in meaningful communication.

In English language teaching, notions are essential as they enable students to relate the language to their existing knowledge and experiences. Examples of notions are willingness, certainty, or frequency. By appreciating notions, students can effectively convey intentions, thoughts, and emotions, depending on the context.

Grammatical Forms

Grammatical forms are the visible structures or building blocks of language, focusing on rules and patterns that dictate the organisation of words, phrases, and sentences. They encompass aspects such as word order, tense, verb conjugation, punctuation, and agreement between different linguistic elements.

Teaching grammatical forms provides the foundation that students require to produce coherent, accurate, and well-organised language. When learners have a solid understanding of grammatical forms, they can manipulate language and communicate with a higher level of precision and clarity.

The Interplay of Functions, Notions, and Grammatical Forms

The teaching and learning of English as a second or foreign language should integrate functions, notions, and grammatical forms as complementary elements. While grammar lays the foundation necessary for structured communication, it is the appropriate use of functions and notions that enables effective communication. For instance:

– When teaching the function of making requests, the language instructor must teach students the grammatical forms associated with requests, such as modals (e.g., “can” and “would”) and question word order in their right contexts.

– Moving beyond grammar, the instructor must explain the notions of politeness, urgency, or formality that determine how requests may vary depending on the context.

– Finally, students practice this integrated knowledge by engaging in situational dialogues and role-plays that challenge them to make requests in various contexts, using suitable grammatical structures and considering the relevant notions.


Understanding the differences between language functions, notions, and grammatical forms is vital for effective English language teaching. By incorporating all three components into lessons, teachers promote a more comprehensive and practical language learning experience that enables students to engage effectively in real-life situations. To foster communicative competence, language instruction should balance students’ grammatical knowledge with the appropriate understanding and application of functions and notions in context.

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