Toddlers have quite an impressive and expressive vocabulary of 150- 300 words in their lexicon, or personal dictionary. The early word combinations children use at around age 2 are already following predictable word-order patterns. Even though they are only saying a couple words at a time, they will typically be in the subject-verb-object order that the English language employs.
By the time children are preschool age, there are dramatic changes in syntax. Their MLU increases (average length of utterances) and there is an increase in the complexity of sentences they communicate. Children start using interrogative and imperative sentences, and are able to use several bound morphemes. This is the point in a child’s life when they ask so many questions. “Why mommy?” over and over again.
Syntax is sentence structure which contributes greatly to the meaning of sentences. There are 3 main functions syntax performs:
- Creates basic structures for sentences
- Combines simple sentences to form complex ones
- Moves/ reorders elements of sentences
It is not until about age 6 that they start to master the use of complex sentence structure. They will now start to use and comprehend figurative language — such as idioms, metaphors, and similies—to represent abstract concepts. Between the ages of 6 and 12 is also when children start to understand poetry. They now have the cognitive abilities needed to sort through these abstract and sometimes out of order syntactic structures found in poetry. Poets change this subject-verb-object order to place emphasis on specific words or ideas. It causes the reader to slow down because the word order is not what we are used to seeing.