Form-Meaning-Use Framework










How is the vocabulary unit, functional expression, or grammar structure formed?


What meaning does the vocabulary, functional expression or grammar structure have in the (specific) context?



When or why is the vocabulary, functional expression or grammar structure used?



How is a unit of language formed?

What does the unit of language mean?

When and why is the unit of language used?

Form refers to the visible and audible parts of vocabulary, functional expressions and grammar units:  the spelling, phonemes, syllable stress, words in a phrase, prefixes or suffixes, syntax (word order), choice of noun or verb, etc for a particular place in a sentence, and/or punctuation. 

For example: the present perfect is formed with have been plus the past participle of the main verb;  tired of is followed by Ving/gerund not an to V/infinitive, in my opinion and not on my opinion; the word is spelled c-o-n-t-e-n-t and the second syllable is stressed

There are two aspects of meaning.  First, what is literal or ‘essential’ meaning of the word, phrase, functional expression or grammar structure?  Second, what does it mean in the context it’s being used in?

For example:  She’s wearing a red skirt.  The literal or essential meaning of the word has to do with naming a particular color. 

She’s red from sitting in the sun.  Her skin has turned a particular shade of pink indicating sunburn.

He was a well-known red. Red indicates the person’s political beliefs and affiliation.


The words, functional expressions, grammar structures we choose to use are determined by the situation we are in and/or what we want to communicate to our listener(s).  Use is interconnected with meaning.

For example:  Please note: Mail will not be delivered on Thursdays until further notice. The passive voice is used appropriately here because it is more formal and objective; because listeners know generally that postmen deliver the mail and that this decision was made by a nameless government or postal official; and because the what is crucial to communicate is the fact that there will be no postal delivery on the specified day for the foreseeable future.

For example:  Good morning! is a greeting we use with friends, family, our boss, etc. when we see them before noon.  If we say Good morning! to a family morning as s/he gets up in the afternoon (because they were out late the night before), we are being ironic and perhaps indicating disapproval.  We would probably not say this to our boss when s/he came in late.