Over-Regularization

Over-Regularization

Does your preschooler say things like “My foots are cold” or “I wented to Romp n’ Roll today”?  If so, you should know that these grammatical mistakes are actually indications of significant developmental progress.

Remember when you were learning a foreign language in school and they taught you how to conjugate verbs?  They started with past, present, and future tense.  Then they moved on to things like the pluperfect subjunctive.  Pluperfect subjunctive?  You had no idea what the teacher was talking about.  That’s because when you learned your native language, no one sat you down and gave you formal instructions in grammar.  You simply listened to how people put together sentences and figured out the rules all on your own.

The technical term for this is “syntactic bootstrapping.”  And although it is casual and informal, it is obviously highly effective.  But because it is casual and informal, it is not perfect.  Children routinely go through a period of what is called “over-regularization.”  While they are quickly picking up the rules, it takes them a little while longer to realize that there are some exceptions to the rules.  Consequently, for a time they will apply the rules in a blanket fashion.  You want to make something plural?  Add “s”.  One chair, two chairs.  One foot, two foots.  You want to make something past tense?  Add “ed.”  I walked to the park and I wented to Romp n’ Roll.

So whenever your little one makes this sort of error, it is important to provide appropriate correction and guidance.  But it is equally important to recognize and praise the wonderful progress in language development she is making all by herself.


Dr. Mike

Michael K. Meyerhoff, Ed.D. (a.k.a. “Dr. Mike”) is a member of the management team at Romp n’ Roll.  After receiving his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Columbia University, he earned his master’s and doctorate degrees in human development from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he also held a position as a researcher with the Harvard Preschool Project.  He may be contacted via e-mail at drmike@romproll.com.

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