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Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust

Vocabulary – Early Years

Vocabulary refers to the words a child is able to understand (receptive vocabulary) or express (expressive vocabulary). Development of a good vocabulary is important. If a child has a limited vocabulary they may have difficulties in understanding what is being said to them or difficulties in expressing themselves.

Young children will learn vocabulary directly relevant to their life experience and environment. To begin this will be social greetings e.g. ‘bye-bye’ and mostly nouns i.e. labels for items or significant people in their life. Gradually they will learn labels for actions [verbs] or events and begin to understand and use describing words [adjectives] linked to the way they are feeling e.g ‘tired’ ‘hungry’ ‘thirsty’. In addition young children will learn vocabulary has a grammatical role to play in a sentence i.e. how to use prepositions or pronouns.


Last updated: 17 April, 2018

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