Your Developing Child: Speech and Language of a Four-Year-Old

typical language of a 4 year old

At this point of this series, most of you know the drill. 🙂 Read below to find out a bit about speech and language development in four-year-olds. For more information on what you should see in your two and three-year-olds, please check out those posts here and here.


Speech Sound Development

By the age of four, your child will likely have developed the following sounds:

  • p, b, m, n, w, h, k, g, t, d, ng, f,y, r, l, s, ch, sh, z

Between the ages of four and five, your child will possibly develop (or begin to develop) the following:

  • j (as in “jump”), v, voiceless /th/ (as in “think”).

There is a WIDE RANGE OF NORMAL for many of these sounds. Please don’t worry if your four-year-old does not produce the following quite accurately (or even at all yet): r, l, s, ch, sh, z, j, v, voiceless /th/.

One special note I want to make is that it is age appropriate for your child to say /s/ with his/her tongue between the teeth so that there is a slight “lisp”, as many people call it. However, if you notice that more of the sounds comes from the side of your child’s mouth during /s/ (think “Sid the Sloth” from Ice Age), an SLP will want to address this ASAP.

It is expected that your kiddo will be about 75-90% intelligible to all listeners at the age of four. If you find that your friends are always asking you to translate for your kiddo, consider an evaluation.


(Please note that the following lists do not contain the information mentioned in my previous two posts. Check out those lists (links above) in order to see all concepts, etc. your child should understand or grammatical markers he/she should use.)



By the age of four, your child should understand/do the following:

  • comprehend concepts including same/different, in front/behind, around, empty, a lot, next to, between
  • identify colors (and likely label some)
  • match items
  • answer very simple questions regarding a story
  • attend to name when called from another room
  • easily follow two-part and possibly some three-part related directions



By the age of four, your child will likely:

  • have at least 1600 words
  • answer logical questions, such as those involving functions of items or “If…what?” questions (e.g. If you are sick, what do you do?)
  • ask “why” questions, even if only using the single word
  • ask other “wh-” questions such as “when”, “what”, “who”, etc.
  • use the conjunction “and” (e.g. I went outside and got my bike.)
  • use locatives such as “down”
  • use the following pronouns: they, us, hers, his, them, her, its, our, him, myself, yourself, ours, their, theirs
  • use articles like “a” and “the”
  • use regular past tense (-ed) as well as some irregular past tense (e.g. ate, rode, etc.)



By the age of four, your child will likely:

  • “read” stories to self and others
  • recognize common logos (e.g. Target symbol) and some letters, such as first letter in name
  • scribble in ways that look like letters
  • understand that print carries a message
  • recognize if adults skips or changes a story

*Portions of the above lists come from Linguisystems: Guide to Communication Milestones, 2012 Edition.


As children get older, listing a few red flags becomes more difficult. Four-year-olds have SO MUCH they can and should do! However, if you or other listeners have great difficulty understanding your child, he/she has a hard time following directions or understanding various concepts, or you notice that your kiddo cannot do several of the things listed above, please consider seeking the assistance of a speech-language pathologist.

I haven’t yet mentioned stuttering in my other posts in this series. If you notice that your child stutters and it has persisted for over six months, an evaluation is recommended.

I hope that you find this brief information helpful. Four-year-olds are so fun to work with, and I’m sure that you find them a joy to raise!

Lana Criswell is a born and bred Hawkeye fan who has lived in Iowa City for almost ten years! She came for college and never looked back. Lana has been married to her husband, Tom, for two years and is momma to Jessa (3.5 months) and Charlie, the dog. She finished graduate school nearly four years ago in speech-language pathology and works at Children’s Center for Therapy in Iowa City. She is excited to be able to work 80% time now and have some “girl time” with Jessa each week. Lana loves spending time with family and friends, cooking/baking, going to Hawkeye games, going on walks around the neighborhood with the dog, and reading.


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