Topic Overview

Speech and language development milestones relate to receptive
language (the ability to understand words and sounds) and expressive language
(the ability to use speech and gestures to communicate meaning).

A child’s speech and language development becomes more advanced
beginning 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
  Receptive language Expressive language


  • 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.
  • Begin correctly using plurals, pronouns,
    and prepositions more consistently.
  • Frequently ask “why” and
  • Often use complete sentences of 3 to 4 words.


  • Know the names of
  • Understand the difference between things that are the same
    and things that are different, such as the difference between children and
  • 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
  • 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


  • Understand relationships between objects,
    such as “the girl who is playing ball” and “the boy who is jumping
  • 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.
  • Can define words such as “spoon” and “cat.”


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Susan C. Kim, MD – Pediatrics
John Pope, MD – Pediatrics
Specialist Medical Reviewer Louis Pellegrino, MD – Developmental Pediatrics

Current as ofMay 4, 2017