When our toddlers begin to talk, their first words are most likely to be nouns – the labels for people and the important things in their life. Mama, milk, ball, car or bubbles may feature early on.

We want our children’s vocabulary to grow so the temptation is to add more nouns and we start labelling everything in sight, with the intention that our little ones copy and learn those new words. Early nouns refer to something concrete – Daddy or bear, so are easier to learn than other types of words.

Verbs, however, emerge a little later because they are about actions which are transient events – go, fall, hug, break. The action happens in a moment and then it’s gone!

However, children need to learn all kinds of words to be able to communicate, and verbs are necessary to help them to begin to build their first short sentences. Research shows that children who are late to talk have problems learning and remembering verbs. Later on, these children may also struggle with regular and irregular past verb tenses, for example.


So what can we do to help?

  • Help your child to understand the verb first. Children won’t start to use a word unless they understand it. So “Let them see what you say ”. Talk about what you are doing in the moment, “splash, splash, splash” while in the bath; “up, up” as you pick them up; “pop” as you pop a bubble. Make it as playful as possible.
  • Use the things your child loves to help them learn. If they love cars, then talk about push, go, stop and crash when you are playing with them. Love the beach? Then dig, pour and swim may work.
  • Repeat, repeat, repeat. Children need to hear (and see) something again and again in order to begin to use it themselves. Use the verb several times during one activity and then again in a different activity. For example, use pour in the bath when playing, as well as when preparing food in the kitchen; use blow when playing bubbles and when your food is too hot.


Remember the different types of verbs:

  • All-purpose verbs such as look, play, want, have.
  • Feeling verbs such as like, think, know.
  • Activity-specific verbs such as fit (puzzles) or open (boxes, cupboards, bottles).
  • As your child learns and has more and more verbs in their repertoire, add some specific ones. Playing with a ball? Talk about bounce, toss, roll. Playing with kitchen toys? Try bake, fry, mix.


So take action and help your child’s language flourish!