The Average Words in an 18 Month Old's Vocabulary

by Renee Miller Google

    In early childhood, vocabulary develops at a rapid pace. By 18 months of age, most toddlers can say several words, and they recognize or understand many more. Children of this age are building the foundations for language, and they acquire new words daily. Between 18 and 24 months, many toddlers also begin to experiment with phrases and sentences.

    According to Northeast Ear, Nose and Throat, toddlers typically have a spoken vocabulary of 5 to 20 words by 18 months of age. Many 18-month-olds tend to over-extend the meanings of words to groups of like things. For example, your toddler may refer to all animals as dogs. The words an 18-month-old can vocalize include mostly nouns, including names, and some verbs, adjectives, pronouns like “he” or “mine,” and location words such as “up” or “in.” At this age, toddlers have difficulty pronouncing most words in their vocabulary, and often only those close to them, such as parents and caregivers, understand most of what they say.

    A toddler’s vocabulary expands rapidly around 18 months, with most toddlers gaining about one or two words per day until the age of 23 months. At 18 months of age, toddlers have a large receptive vocabulary, which refers to words they recognize when heard. According to PBS Parents, 18-month-olds typically recognize 200 or more words, but most toddlers don’t actually say most of these words.

    Speaking or recognizing words is different than understanding them. While an 18-month-old may recognize or say several words, he may only understand a fraction of them. Most 18-month-olds can understand common phrases like, “Time for bed,” or “Do you want more?” They can also understand simple instructions used on a regular basis, such as “Sit down,” or “Stop that.” By this age, toddlers can point to body parts when asked, and will bring familiar objects to you from another room.

    By the time toddlers reach 18 months of age, they begin to combine words to make phrases and short sentences. Often these phrases are missing key parts of speech. Instead of saying “Is Daddy at work?” toddlers usually say something like “Daddy work?” Most toddlers of this age will also vary the intonation of words and phrases as well, using tone to differentiate between a statement and a question. They may also use single words such as “up” or “more” to make their wants known, or they may point to something to show you what they want. You can encourage grammatical development by putting these wants into words for them. If your toddler points to his cup, say “You want your cup,” or “Would you like a drink?” to vocalize what he’s trying to tell you.

    About the Author

    Renee Miller began writing professionally in 2008, contributing to websites and the "Community Press" newspaper. She is co-founder of On Fiction Writing, a website for writers. Miller holds a diploma in social services from Clarke College in Belleville, Ontario.

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