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Common First Words

With their first words, babies are trying to satisfy a need. That's why "more," "up," and, of course, "Mama" are among the first to be uttered, says Paul. First words are also used to label objects such as "dog" or "book," to be social with a "hi" or "bye," and to express discontent with an all-too-quickly learned "no." At this stage, there is a disconnect between the number of words a child understands and the number he can utter. "By the time they say their first word, they may understand 25," says Michelle Macias, MD, director of developmental-behavioral pediatrics at the Medical University of South Carolina, in Charleston. "By the time they're a year and a half, they understand 50 words but may use only 8 to 10."

By age 2, children are combining action and subject to create two-word phrases such as "want juice," "no more," and "Mommy shoe." But parents will still need to do some deciphering. For example, "Mommy shoe" could mean "That's Mommy's shoe" or "Mommy, get my shoe."

By 3, kids should be using three-word combinations that typically include a subject, a verb, and a location. At this point, though, words like "the" and pronouns are beyond them. For example, your child might say "baby sit car" instead of "I am sitting in the car," says Paul. At this age, children also learn the difference between contrasting words such as "tall" and "short" and start adding adjectives as they describe a "big" ball or "blue" shirt.

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