• Carmen Milligan

Wednesday Word: Notional



  1. existing only in theory or as a suggestion or idea. "notional budgets for hospital and community health services" synonyms: not practical · conceptual · abstract · pure

  • existing only in the imagination. "Lizzie seemed to vanish into thin air, as if her presence were merely notional"

  1. linguistics denoting or relating to an approach to grammar that is dependent on the definition of terminology (e.g., “a verb is an action word”) as opposed to identification of structures and processes.

  2. (in language teaching) denoting or relating to a syllabus that aims to develop communicative competence.


late Middle English (in the Latin sense): from obsolete French, or from medieval Latin notionalis ‘relating to an idea’, from notio(n-) ‘idea’ (see notion).

I was asked to clarify the purpose of a meeting, and part of the answer was "to review the notional use case." "Notional"? Color me intrigued. I can see that the usage here would be the "conceptual" meaning, from the list above.

Sidenote: It was suggested that I didn't know this word because I am from the South. What a churlish notion and comment.

This is not a word that I use, nor does it seem to be one that would readily and easily fit into everyday conversation. It seems too obvious that it is a form of "notion", indicating that it would be confined to the mind. And yet, it does seem to mean "of an idea".

Add to this the fact that there is another intriguing use of this term as it relates specifically to the study of linguistics. There is a style of syllabus based on the belief that there is an inherent difference in "input" and "intake". The "Notional-Functional" syllabus strives to balance those two aspects of instruction by presenting material to students from the perspective of notion (what it's meant to do) and function (what it actually does), as well as what the student is taught versus what the student learns. WOW!

And while this is very interesting to me, I can see your eyes glazing. If you want to know more, I encourage a little research. Meanwhile, let me know if you use this word. And if you think region of birth has any bearing on whether or not you do.

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