What exciting speech and language accomplishments will your child make in the third year?  From 24–36 months, vocabulary explodes from an average of 200 spoken words at 24 months to an average of 900–1,000 spoken words at 36 months. Throughout the third year, your little one is likely to become quite the conversationalist as he or she gets better at asking and answering questions, taking turns, talking about past events, and understanding more complicated language.

The clarity of your child’s speech should also improve significantly during this time. Although your child may sometimes simplify speech (e.g., say “nana” for “banana”), by age 3, speech should be understood by you and others at least 75 percent of the time. The following milestones are general guidelines for speech and language development during the third year.


  • Able to use a wide variety of words (nouns, verbs, adjectives, pronouns, prepositions) to talk about most things in his or her environment
  • Describes and requests using at least 2-3 words
  • Able to use the sounds k, g, t, d, f, n
  • Familiar listeners can understand what child is saying most of the time
  • Able to name objects to request them or direct another’s attention to them


  • Recognizes that different words have different meanings (e.g. opposites such as “big / little” and prepositions such as “in / on / under”)
  • Can answer who, what, where, and yes/no questions
  • Able to follow 2-step directions (e.g. “Pick up your shoes and put them in the basket.”)
  • Able to pay attention to more complex stories for an increasingly longer period of time

If by 36 months your child shows any of the following speech and language red flags, a visit to a speech-language pathologist is in order:

  • Unable to understand basic directions
  • Unable to answer simple yes/no or wh- questions
  • Does not use simple 3-4 word sentences to communicate
  • Does not show interest in playing with other children or toys
  • Does not demonstrate pretend play
  • Speech is very hard to understand (clear less than 75% of the time) or drools frequently
  • Leaves off beginning or ending sounds of many words
  • Loses previously learned skills


  • Your child’s vocabulary should expand dramatically in the third year.
  • Your child should also be increasingly comfortable with complex speech.
  • A typical 24- to 36-month-old may still say some words wrong.
  • If your child is missing any major milestones or showing red flags, you should visit a speech-language pathologist.


  1. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. How Does Your Child Hear and Talk?
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Important Milestones: Your Child at Two Years.
  3. American Academy of Pediatrics. Language Development: 2 Years Old.


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