Why does my toddler skip over words like “I,” “the,” or “to”? Don’t worry that something is wrong with your child’s speech. These omissions are very normal and a predictable stage in language development. Toddlers learn to speak at different rates, but they all tend to go through the same stages along the way. When they first begin to link three or more words to form early sentences, they use a telegraphic style of speaking, so called after the telegraph machines famous for their shorthand messages (because users paid by the word).
All babies start out by using single words. At around 18 to 24 months, they begin using two-word pairs: “All gone,” “More cracker,” “Daddy go.” (They can understand the meaning of two-word pairs and complex sentences long before they can speak them.) This big breakthrough typically lasts for several months. Then, wow! There’s an explosion of longer expressions with three, four, or more words strung together.
Sometimes these new sentences include short bits of grammar, like articles (“a,” “the”), pronouns (“I,” “me,” “you”), and prepositions (“of,” “in”), especially if they’re copies of expressions you use. For example, a toddler might mimic, “What in the world?” But more often, your toddler expresses the essence of his thoughts using only the nouns and verbs he’s mastered: “Go see kitty,” “Big plane sky,” “Boy fall down bike.”
Soon your toddler will pick up more and more complex aspects of grammar. He will be able to use plurals pretty well, for example, and he’ll start to use past and present tense accurately. He’ll begin to accurately insert prepositions, articles, and pronouns as time goes on. What’s really amazing is that researchers say these developments occur almost automatically (as long as the toddler is exposed to language) due to the nature of the brain, which seems wired from birth to pick up speech patterns.
Your toddler will still make comical mistakes as he learns the finer points of speech. Older 2- and 3-year-olds often say things like “We goed in the car” or “I beed so mad.” It’s not difficult to see how that happens with so many exceptions to grammar rules in modern languages. But the good thing about language is that you don’t need to sit down and teach your child proper grammar. He will instinctively pick it up the more you talk and read to him.