Expressive Language

A Guide to Expressive Language

What is expressive language? Are you concerned that your child is not verbally communicating effectively? If so, your child may be having difficulty with expressive language.  You might be able to guess that expressive language is the language that we verbally produce (sounds, words, sentences, etc.); however, it also includes the components of phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics. Expressive language is important because it is the primary way that people communicate their wants, needs, thoughts, and ideas.

5 components of expressive language:Expressive Language

Phonology is the sound system of our language and the rules for combining sounds in words. For example, phonology governs that ‘ng’ does not come at the beginning of words but may be found in the middle or end of words like ‘finger’ and ‘wing’.

Morphology refers to the rules for creating words and word forms. This includes morphemes and linguistic units of language such as suffixes, prefixes, and roots. A morpheme is the smallest meaningful unit of speech and may include whole words or grammatical markers. For example, the word ‘cat’ is one morpheme but the word ‘cats’ has two morphemes. The ‘s’ morpheme results in ‘cats’ (plural) having a different meaning than the word ‘cat’ (singular).

Syntax refers to the rules of grammar and sentence structure. It is what governs the word order of sentences and structures within sentences. For example, it is because of syntax that we state “I see a big, brown dog” rather than “A big, brown dog I see”.

Semantics refers to the content of our language, or the meaning. Another term for this is vocabulary. In regards to expressive language, semantics is the variety of words one produces.

Pragmatics refers to the social and functional use of language. It is the difference between stating “Give me that pencil!” and “Can I please have that pencil?” Pragmatics is the ability to use the language components (phonology, morphology, syntax, and semantics) in a socially appropriate manner.

An expressive language delay or disorder may involve deficits in one or more of the components of language. You can help improve your child’s expressive language by providing clear, simple, and grammatically accurate models of language throughout daily activities.

North Shore Pediatric Therapy offers Speech and Language consultations at the Glenview, Highland Park, Bucktown, and Evanston locations.




American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (1993). Definitions of communication disorders and variations [Relevant Paper]. Available from www.asha.org/policy.

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