This paper is concerned with the generalization of the finite element method via the use of non-polynomial enrichment functions. Several methods employ this general approach, e.g. the extended finite element method and the generalized finite element method. We review these approaches and interpret them in the more general framework of the partition of unity method. Here we focus on fundamental construction principles, approximation properties and stability of the respective numerical method. To this end, we consider meshbased and meshfree generalizations of the finite element method and the use of smooth, discontinuous, singular and numerical enrichment functions.