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Comprehension by 3rd, 6th, and 9th Graders of Words Having Multiple Grammatical Functions, Final Report

Carroll, John B.
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Bulletin
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
National Center for Educational Research and Development, Office of Education, Ambiguity, Comprehension, Elementary School Students, Grammar, Language Research, Secondary School Students, Word Recognition


To determine children's knowledge of the less frequent grammatical usages of words that may occur in more than one part of speech, lists of such words were developed. The grammatical functions of 1,220 common words from two word counts were examined: about 50 percent were found to be grammatically ambiguous. Data were collected from about 1,500 children in grades 3, 6, and 9 to learn in what parts of speech 240 grammatically ambiguous words would be used when the children wrote sentences illustrating their uses. About 55 percent of these words were used "infrequently" in one or more of their possible parts of speech. An intensive study was made of the comprehension, by 2,000 third, sixth, and ninth graders, of 63 words with infrequently used grammatical functions. Findings showed that for about 90 percent of these words, children had significantly more difficulty in comprehending the infrequent grammatical functions than the more usual grammatical ones. It was concluded that acquisition of lexicogrammatical information about grammatically ambiguous words is a slow process, far from complete at grade 9. Development of this knowledge is moderately well correlated with general vocabulary knowledge. It is recommended that English curriculums pay greater attention to the explicit teaching of the less frequent grammatical functions of ambiguous words. (Author/JMC)

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