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Developmental Milestones – Three to Four Years
By Natalie J. Dahl, M.S., CCC-SLP
In a child’s fourth year of life, speech and language skills are continuing to grow at a rapid rate. The child understands colors, shapes, pronouns, family members, and negation. He or she also begins rhyming, asking more questions, using appropriate grammatical structures, and is understood 70-80% of the time. Social skills are continuing to develop as the child interacts more with peers and adults.
The following list shows behaviors that a child will probably exhibit throughout his or her fourth year of life. Every child is unique, and this list should be used as a general guide. If a child is not meeting the developmental milestones below, consider consulting with a speech-language pathologist to determine further action.
Three to Four Years – Receptive Language (Hearing/Understanding)
  • Understands approximately 1,200 words
  • Responds when you call his or her name from another room
  • Understands words for colors, such as green, blue, and red
  • Understands words for some shapes, such as square and circle
  • Understands positional words, such as in front, behind, up, down, top, bottom
  • Understands words for family members, such as sister, uncle, and grandma
  • Understands pronouns, such as his/her, he/she, we/they
  • Understands negation (i.e. “Which one isn’t on the table?”)
  • Follows a simple plot in a children’s storybook
Three to Four Years – Expressive Speech and Language (Speaking)
  • Uses approximately 800 words
  • Speech is understood approximately 70-80% of the time
  • Puts 4 words together; may make some mistakes (i.e. “I runned to the park.”)
  • Uses about 4 sentences at a time
  • Talks about what happened during the day
  • Uses pronouns, such as I, you, me, we, and they
  • Asks many questions, sometimes the same question several times within a few minutes
  • Begins to ask questions that start with is
  • Says rhyming words, like hat-cat
  • Starts to use /s/ on present tense verbs (i.e. “He walks.”)
  • Uses contractions won’t and can’t
  • Uses and
  • Uses plural words (i.e. cars, dolls)
  • Uses are, or contracted form, with plural nouns (i.e. “Kids’re playing outside.”)
  • Can look at pictures in a book and tell you a story in a simple way
  • “Stutters” less frequently
  • Pronounces the beginning, middle, and ending sounds in words
  • (except for consonant blends, such as “bl,” “fr,” “cr”)
  • Uses /k/ and /g/ sounds correctly, but /s/ may still sound “lispy”
  • /r/ and /l/ may be distorted
  • /v/, “sh,” “ch,” “j,” and “th” may still not be used correctly
Three to Four Years – Social Language
  • Uses eye contact more consistently during conversations
  • Initiates conversations
  • Makes comments or observations to specific people
  • Sits and attends to an activity for 10-15 minutes
  • Engages most often in motor-based play and building (i.e. going down the slide, building towers), but also will participate and copy what other kids are doing
Hamaguchi, Patricia McAleer. 2010. Childhood Speech, Language & Listening Problems – 3rd Edition. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. “What should my child be able to do?” accessed November 12, 2019,
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