“Him did it mummy!” my almost 3 year old says to me as he tries to put blame on his younger brother. “He did it, did he?” I say in return. I emphasise the ‘he’ not only to confirm whether he really wants to blame his brother for the wrongdoing, but also to show him the correct pronoun he should have used.
Pronouns can be very confusing for children and is a language skill that continues to develop until around four years of age.
What is a pronoun?
A pronoun is a word that takes the place of a noun. If a noun is a person, place or thing, then is a pronoun a professional person, place or thing (as Hobbes from Calvin & Hobbes suggests)? Not quite, but the effective use of nouns and pronouns can help a writer look like a pro rather than an amateur. We use pronouns in speaking and writing so that we don’t sound repetitive. Pronouns are grouped like this:
- Subjective pronouns – I, you, he, she, it, they, we
- Objective pronouns – me, you, him, her, it, them, us
- Possessive pronouns – mine, yours, his, hers, theirs, ours
- Reflexive pronouns – myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, themselves, ourselves
When do pronouns develop?
- 12-26 months – I, it
- 27-30 months – My, me, mine, you
- 31-34 months – Your, she, he, yours, we
- 35-40 months – They, us, hers, his, them, her
- 41-46 months – Its, our, him, myself, yourself, ours, their, theirs
- 47+ months – Herself, himself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves
Adapted from Haas and Owens (1985); Huxley (1970); Morehead and Ingram (1973); Waterman and Schatz (1982); and Wells (1985), and can be found in Language Development: An Introduction (7th edition) by Robert E. Owens, Jr.
What can you do when your child uses pronouns incorrectly?
- Rephrase what they have said and model the correct pronoun.
It is tempting for us to say “No, it’s not him did it, it’s he did it.” Repeating what they have said and then adding the correct model is confusing for your child because now they have heard the incorrect pronoun twice and the correct pronoun only once! You’ve also interrupted the conversation or play and your child may have lost interest already!
- Are you using pronouns when you speak to your child?
It is not uncommon for parents to speak about themselves in third person e.g.,“Mummy loves you”, “Give mummy the ball.” FYI – dads are just as guilty. If you use pronouns with your child, it will be easier for them to do likewise.
Fun ways to target pronouns
- Sort the laundry together: your shirt, my socks, his pants
- Play games that require turn-taking e.g., board games, pick up sticks, throwing/kicking a ball. You can ask, “Whose turn is it?” (my turn, your turn, her turn, our turn)
- Pretend play/role play games e.g. tea parties, pretend play food (plate for him, plate for me, your knife, my fork)
Don’t underestimate your role in supporting your child’s pronoun use. If you do have concerns regarding your child’s language development, get in touch with a speech pathologist. You can find one in your local area through the Speech Pathology Australia website – http://www.speechpathologyaustralia.org.au
Thanks for hearing our call,
Your Little Birdies