Written verb use and diversity in children with Developmental Language Disorder: stepping stones to academic writing


Verb use and the production of verb argument structure in the written texts of children in elementary school is a key stepping stone towards academic writing success that has remained relatively unexplored and is a notable gap in our understanding of writing development. To evaluate the role of verbs in the written narrative texts of children, we compared verb use in 10 year old children that had specific weaknesses in oral language, those with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD), and samples of children of the same age (CA) and the same raw scores on an oral language task (language ability or LAb). Standardised measures of oral language, reading fluency, and spelling were completed. Participants then completed a standardised writing task and the texts were examined for verb argument structure, verb production and verb diversity. No between-group differences were found in the written narrative texts in relation to the production of verb argument structures. By contrast, the number of verbs produced, and the number of different verbs used differed significantly. The total number of verbs and number of different verbs produced by the children with DLD was commensurate with their LAb peers but not their CA matched peers. All children relied on a small group of high frequency verbs in their writing, although there was evidence of greater verb diversity in the older typically developing children. Verbs produced and their diversity in narrative writing was predicted by both an oral language formulated sentences task and reading fluency, thus demonstrating the close links between expressive oral language, reading, and writing production in all children.

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This research was supported in part by a Grant from the Leverhulme Trust (F/00 382/I) and the UK Economic and Social Science Research Council (RES-189-25-0316) to Vincent Connelly and Julie E. Dockrell. Thanks to Sarah Critten and Kirsty Walter for their data collection efforts.

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Stuart, N.J., Connelly, V. & Dockrell, J.E. Written verb use and diversity in children with Developmental Language Disorder: stepping stones to academic writing. Read Writ 33, 67–96 (2020).

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  • Verbs
  • Writing
  • Developmental Language Disorder