When do kids grow out of “fishes” and “me do it”?

It is super cute when a child says things like “me do it” and “I ated dinner”. Their confidence combined with the grammatical error causes most parents to delight in their child’s communication skills. Let’s explore why kids make such cute grammatical errors and when you should see these errors to be replaced by the correct grammatical form of the word.

Why do kids make grammatical errors when they are young?

Developmental errors are mistakes that children commonly make when first learning language. Language acquisition is an extremely impressive cognitive achievement by humans. In the first few years of life, children already demonstrate general knowledge and understanding of the basic patterns of their language. The majority of words that children first learn are often used correctly. However, estimates indicate that up to one-third of the first fifty words that children learn are occasionally misused. Early in language acquisition, children rarely make naming errors. However, as vocabulary enhances and language growth accelerates, the frequency of error increases. The amount of error decreases again as vocabulary continues to improve. Three prominent errors in early word use are overgeneralisation, overextension and underextension.

You may have seen overextension been spoken about previously in this blog post, ‘My daughter thinks the moon is a ball’ so we won’t go into detail about it again here.

We want to focus on overgeneralization as it is most applicable to grammatical errors.

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What is overgeneralization?

Overgeneralization is applying the principle of a regular change to a word that changes irregularly. Sounds confusing? Here are some examples:

Verb: child says ‘comed’ instead of ‘came’. They have overgeneralized the rule that you add -ed on the end of a word to make it past tense.

Noun: child says ‘tooths’ instead of ‘teeth’. They have overgeneralized the rule that you add -s on the end of a word to make it plural.

The error is usually seen after children have learned language rules because children apply learned rules to irregular words.

Studies have been done to try to understand what is happening in a child’s brain when they are trying to apply, or not apply the rules of English that they have learnt. As it stands now, there continues to be differing views as to why this phenomena occurs. If you are particularly interested in these, you can refer to the Marcus and Maratsos studies at the bottom of the post in the References list.

When should I expect overgeneralization to stop?

Let’s look at what parents want to know, when should you expect your child to use the correct grammar in their language?

We’ve developed this handy visual for you that you can download to post on your fridge, or share with friends.

grammar table 2

We get asked a lot about the development of pronouns (he, she, me, they) as well so you can read all about them on this separate post, ‘Pronouns = professional nouns?’


What can I do to help my child’s grammar?

  • Avoid correcting them – by telling your child ‘No, don’t say me fell down, say I fell down’, you are not only repeating the incorrect way but you are drawing negative attention to their language.
  • Repeat what they have said in the correct way – for example, if the child says “I goed to the store.” You’d say, “Oh, you went to the store.”

If you have ongoing concerns regarding your child’s use of grammatical rules in their speaking, it is best to consult with a speech language pathologist in your local area. You can find one on www.speechpathologyaustralia.org.au.

If you are looking for some fun, easy ways to enrich your child’s language learning, our book boxes are perfect for you. Combine a love of reading with themed activities that focus on your child’s comprehension, vocabulary, sound knowledge, print awareness and narrative skills. Check out our book boxes on the SHOP page now.

References: numbered list

  1. Bowen, C. (1998). Brown’s Stages of Syntactic and Morphological Development. Retrieved from http://www.speech-language-therapy.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=33 on 21.06.2018.
  2. Gershkoff-Stowe, L. (2001). “The Course of Children’s Naming Errors in Early Word Learning”. Journal of Cognition and Development. 2 (2): 131–155.
  3. Maratsos, Michael (2000). “More Overregularizations after All: New Data and Discussion on Marcus, Pinker, Ullman, Hollander, Rosen & Xu”. Journal of Child Language. 24 (1): 183–212.
  4. Marcus, Gary F.; Pinker, Steven; Ullman, Michael; Hollander, Michelle; Rosen, John; Xu, Fei (1992). “Abstract”. Overregularization in Language Acquisition. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development. 57. pp. 5–6.
  5. Parke, Ross D.; Gauvain, Mary (2009). Child Psychology: A Contemporary Viewpoint. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.