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Early Sentences: A Big Step in Language Development

Updated: Oct 11, 2022

Early sentences are a big step in your child’s language development. This big step allows children to express more than one idea at a time, and it suddenly becomes easier to figure out what they’re trying to tell us.

Early Sentence Development

It’s a major milestone in language development when children start to combine words, like “big bus”, “I want cookie”, or “come Mommy.”

You might wonder how and when this happens, and how you can help your child build early sentences, especially if he or she has an identified language delay. Whether your child is typically developing or delayed in his or her language development, here are some answers to questions you may have about sentence development in young children.

When do children usually start using sentences?

During their third year of life, children learn a lot about the rules of their language, and this allows them to start building sentences. A few things need to be in place in order for this to happen.

Remember, child reach language milestones at different rates, and this is completely normal. On average, babies say their first words between 7-12 months of age and start combing words to form early sentences by 2-3 years of age.

Before child can start forming sentences, a few things need to be in place. Children need to have quite a few words in their expressive vocabulary and they need to be using a variety of different types of words. When children are learning to talk, they typically learn names for their favorite people and objects (i.e., "mama," "dada," "car," "ball," etc.).

Imagine you only know how to say the following words: "ball," "more," "mama," "dada," "no," "car," and "baby." There are only so many ways you can combine these words making it difficult to express your wants and needs. This is why it's important that your child learn to use FUNCTIONAL words - such as "go," "want," "come," "help," "mine," "up," "eat," and "play." With a vocabulary consisting of a variety of different word types (including verbs, adjectives, pronouns, etc.) your child will have access to so many more combinations and ways to communicate with you!

Before you can expect your child to start using early sentences, he needs to...

Use about 50+ words – you can’t build a sentence if you only know a handful of words. Most 24 month olds can say at least 100 words, and the average 2 year old can say almost 300 words.

Use at least a few verbs – verbs are action words, like “sit”, “come”, and “go”, and they are one of the key building blocks for making sentences. Most 24 month olds can say at least a few verbs, and the average child at this age can say about 40 verbs.

By 24 months, children begin combining two words together to form simple phrases, such as "me go," "want apple," "more juice." While these word combinations aren’t quite sentences yet, they show us that children have figured out that they can string two ideas together with their words. As your child gets closer to three years of age she should begin using sentences that are more "adult like" and include more grammatical structure.

When should I be concerned about my child's sentence development?

Sentence development begins with having a big enough vocabulary with enough variety of words tp begin combining them together. This process begins at around age 24 months, although it may happen later for a child with a language delay. Children are at risk for a potential language delay if they are:

24 months old and using less than 100 words

24 months old and using less than 2 verbs

24 months old and not combining two words

By 24 months, children should be combining two words together, like "want cookie," "more juice," or "daddy home." If you are concerned about your child’s sentence development, talk to your child's pediatrician or contact a speech language pathologist.

Check out What You Needs To Know: Early Sentence Development for ideas for how to help your child learn to use early sentences!


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