Most Frequent Linguistic Errors in Children Aged 3 to 6

Most Frequent Linguistic Errors in Children Aged 3 to 6

Last update: 31 July, 2018

When children begin to talk, they make a series of linguistic errors. These are a result of their learning process. Sometimes you become alarmed when you hear your child saying three-word sentences or barely talking. However, this is not necessarily a problem. It’s important to know when to worry. You should also know when to see those errors as part of a phase in your child’s development.

You should also keep in mind that some of these linguistic errors are frequently made by adults too. These are the famous “slips of the tongue”. They are involuntary errors that you make when you want to say a word. Instead, you may pronounce an unintended word or interchange ideas involuntarily.

This is due to the fact that your thoughts sometimes don’t appear in a grammatically correct form in your mind. As such, you have to go through a selection process to find the most appropriate word. Let’s take a look at the most common linguistic errors in children between 3 and 6 years old in terms of category.

“We think through words. These thoughts come to our mind in a grammatical form of subject, verb, objects, and compliments without us knowing how we produced the sentence.”

-Lashley, 1958-

Semantic errors (lexical and meaning)

At the semantic level, between 2 and 3 years of age, children make a lot of progress in categorizing and conceptualizing. They begin to produce and understand a very high number of meanings. Nevertheless, these do not reach the level of older children or adults. In fact, between 2 and 6 years of age, children tend to learn 5 words a day. Consider how many that comes out at!

“Learning implies making mistakes and learning from them.”

linguistic errors and learning

When children begin to use a new word, they don’t know its true meaning. Little by little, they start to learn and reduce the semantic difference thanks to their errors (attempt-error) and environment. That is to say, they begin to refine the meaning of the concepts. Even so, in this learning process, two types of linguistic errors may be produced:

  • Imbalance errors: These are those errors in which the child refers to something by another name. For example, they may call a stuffed animal a “ball” or a dog a “car”. Although these are not common, they are a result of imbalance between the meaning and the signifier.
  • Overlap errors: These are more frequent than the previous category. They are made when there is partial overlap between the meaning the child gives to a word and the real or adult meaning. These are of two types:
    • Over-extensions: These are the most common at this age. They arise when the child extends the meaning of a concept to things, places, or people who have some features of it. For example, when they call every woman they have an interaction with “mom”. Another example is calling all animals with paws “dogs”.
    • Infra-extensions are the opposite. They are restrictions on the semantic field of the word. These arise when the child gives the name of “chair” only to the chairs in the kitchen of his house and not to other chairs.

Phonological Errors (sounds)

Phonological errors are linguistic errors produced in the phonemes. Phonemes are the smallest units of language. Sometimes, these faults affect the whole word. Otherwise, they can affect syllables of a word or just some phonemes. Children with these problems sometimes don’t produce unstressed syllables. They may “swallow” some letters or not pronounce final consonants in words.

These may be of various types:

  • Anticipation (I suddenly get > I suddenle get)
  • Perseveration (the stool is here : the stool is hoor)
  • Phoneme-exchange (robber > borrer; absolutely > absolvedly)

There are children who pronounce a very limited number of phonemes but so do very well. More intrepid children choose to try to pronounce words outside of the limit of their abilities. In general, every child has his own preferences for pronunciation.

“We learn language through innumerable experiments”.


Morphosyntactic errors

Morphology and syntax are two basic components of language. Children, in the development of the morphosyntactic component, tend to use certain acquisition mechanisms.

Children are like parrots! They repeat everything they hear, even what they shouldn’t. That is why, when their parents use catchphrases, sayings, or linguistic formulas, they try to copy them. But they remember them in bunches as a whole. They don’t remember them word-for-word.

Because of that, when they try to imitate and reproduce them out loud, they can only use them in the context in which they learned them. They are not even aware of how they had been constructed. For example, if a child hears his mother say “how handsome you look today!” to her husband, the child will repeat that phrase in that context. They do not generalize the formula.

At the same time, when they are learning three-year olds don’t know how the language system is structured. They don’t know the rules of grammar. They don’t know that words are constructed on the basis of some criteria. Because of that, they learn syntactic forms independently of each other.

As time goes on, they come to realize that there are rules and they have to submit to them. At that point, they take them to extremes. This is known as hyper-regulation. Examples of this are “I broked” > “I broke” and “I knowed” > “I knew”

linguistic errors and children talking

When to worry about linguistic errors

There are certain type of linguistic behaviors that can be inadequate for the developmental age of the child. These can indicate some sort of delay in the acquisition and development of language. Some of these are:

  • Incorrect pronunciation of the majority of sounds
  • Use of isolated or very poor phrases. Use of sentences made only of three words or less (which is normal up until 36 months of age)
  • Systematic omission of verbs, prepositions, pronouns, or articles in sentences.
  • The great majority of their oral output is unintelligible or nearly unintelligible.
  • Excessive use of gestures to get their meaning across.
  • Poor vocabulary. Not showing signs of acquiring words progressively

Nevertheless, the child’s linguistic errors are not symptoms of a delay in development or in their linguistic abilities. The opposite is true. These are signs that the child is progressing and beginning to learn the system of the language (Borregón, 2008).


Arias, O., Fidalgo, R., Franco, N. y García, J. N. (2007). Evaluation and intervention in disorders of expressive language (pp. 133-142). Madrid: Pirámide.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.