How to teach my toddler to talk in sentences?

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teach my toddler to talk

My toddler isn’t talking in sentences

Teaching a toddler to talk in sentences can be difficult for many parents. It’s especially problematic for those toddlers who are late to talk and/or have a limited expressive vocabulary.

When should a toddler be talking in sentences or short phrases?

A child 18-24 months of age should begin to talk in “two-word” combinations. Early “two-word” combinations could be phrases that express one idea (e.g. all gone, bye-bye, alright and what’s that). A child 24 months of age should start to talk in phrases that express two ideas. For example; “go car, see bird, get teddy, dad gone, look dog”. A child should talk in “two-word” combinations very frequently by 24-30 months.

My toddler only talks in single words and/or has a limited vocabulary?

Toddlers should have an expressive vocabulary of about 100 words, that includes a variety of nouns, verbs, pronouns and prepositions. A toddler with a vocabulary of fewer than 50 words usually indicates a lack of word types. In particular, they lack the understanding and use of functional words and need to develop these before combining words into phrases.

Most toddlers that are stuck at the “single word” level, usually know and use many nouns (object, place, thing, person). However, they lack functional-general-all-purpose verbs (GAP verbs) in their vocabulary.
A child cannot say phrases with only nouns! They need general-all-purpose verbs in order to combine words into meaningful phrases!

What are general all-purpose verbs (GAP verbs)?

Verbs are units of meaning that refer to ‘actions’. They are very important because children cannot form a sentence without them. The verb is usually the most important word of a sentence because it tells us the most information. For example; “the car fell off the table” means more than “car table”.

There are two types of verbs

  1. GAP verb (e.g. go, get, look, make)
  2. Specific verb (run, walk, drink).

The first verbs to develop are GAP verbs because they apply to most situations. When a child has delayed expressive language, it is important to focus on GAP verbs. This is because GAP verbs can be used all day and every day in many situations. While, specific verbs such as drink, draw & run can only be used in specific contexts!

In other words, you can get “more bang for buck” if you teach GAP verbs because your child can use 1 GAP verb to create multiple phrases (e.g. “Go” > car go, daddy go, go mum, go up, go down, truck go).

What words should I focus on?

To teach your toddler to talk in sentences, ensure to target GAP verbs first. If your toddler has 50 words or more, and they are using one GAP verb quite consistently in a variety of contexts, then you can begin to model a short phrase using that GAP verb. See below:

First, focus on modelling the early developing GAP verbs including:

  • Want
  • Go
  • Do
  • Look
  • Got
  • Open
  • Play
  • That’s a
  • Work
  • Come

Second, focus on modelling a short phrase with their learnt GAP verb.

Your child has learnt the GAP verb well when they start using it independently within many contexts. For example, they say ‘go’ when on the swing, when pushing a toy car and when you let go of a balloon. Some examples of short phrases include:

  • Want: want more, I want, teddy want
  • Go: go car, mum go, go doggie, go again
  • Do: do again, daddy do, mummy do
  • Look: look a cat, look a plane, look again
  • Got: I got it, got wet, got cold, got hurt
  • Open: open box, open bubbles, mum open
  • Play: play again, play ball, play outside, daddy play
  • ‘That’s a _____’
  • Work: Do work, mum work
  • Come: come to mum, come home, come under here

What toys or activities are good for teaching my toddler to talk and learn GAP verbs?


To find out what toys are most used by speech pathologists for encouraging a toddler to talk, download this free resource here.

Top 5 toys to teach your toddler to talk

Also, make sure to follow me on Instagram @onlinespeechie for more information and short videos of how to help your toddler to talk!

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