Speech and Language Milestones, Ages 3 to 5 Years

Overview

Speech and language development milestones relate to two areas:

  • Receptive language. This is the ability to understand words and sounds.
  • Expressive language. This is the ability to use speech and gestures to communicate meaning.

A child's speech and language development becomes more advanced starting around age 3 through age 5. Receptive language skills during this period become more sophisticated. A child learns to make subtle distinctions between objects and relationships. Also, the child can understand multi-step requests. Most children also gradually speak more fluently and use proper grammar more consistently.

Speech and language milestones

Age

Receptive language

Expressive language

3-year-olds:

  • Follow two-part requests, such as "put your pajamas in the hamper and your slippers in the closet."
  • Learn new words quickly; know most common object names.
  • Understand the concept of "two."
  • Understand gender differences.
  • Know their own full name.
  • Start to correctly use plurals, pronouns, and prepositions more consistently.
  • Often ask "why" and "what."
  • Often use complete sentences of 3 to 4 words.

4-year-olds:

  • Know the names of colors.
  • Understand the difference between things that are the same and things that are different, such as the difference between children and grown-ups.
  • Can follow three-step instructions, such as "Go to the sink, wash your hands, and dry them on the towel."
  • Use the past tense of words.
  • Use sentences of 5 to 6 words.
  • Can describe something that has happened to them or tell a short story.
  • Can speak clearly enough to be intelligible to strangers almost all of the time.

5-year-olds:

  • Understand relationships between objects, such as "the girl who is playing ball" and "the boy who is jumping rope."
  • Usually can carry on a conversation with another person.
  • Often call people (or objects) by their relationship to others, such as "Bobby's mom" instead of "Mrs. Smith."
  • Can define words such as "spoon" and "cat."

Credits

Current as of: September 20, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Susan C. Kim MD - Pediatrics
John Pope MD - Pediatrics
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Louis Pellegrino MD - Developmental Pediatrics