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Brown’s Stages
By Natalie J. Dahl, M.S., CCC-SLP
As a child’s average expressive phrase/sentence increases, so does his or her ability to use new grammatical structures. These structures increase in complexity over time and are separated into stages, known as “Brown’s Stages.” Roger Brown identified these stages to help understand and predict typical expressive language development in children.
Each stage has an age range (in months), an MLU range, structure types, and examples. MLU stands for “Mean Length of Utterance” – this does not always refer to number of words, but to number of morphemes, or units or meaning, in an utterance. For example, “happy” contains only one unit of meaning, so it is one morpheme. However, “unhappy” is still one word, but has two units of meaning (un-happy) and is two morphemes. “Happiest” is one word, but has two units of meaning (happi-est) and is two morphemes. A speech-language pathologist (SLP) will take a sample of a child’s expressive language and analyze it to determine the child’s MLU and will also refer to Brown’s Stages to identify where the child is in his or her language development.
STAGE I
Age MLU Structure Examples
12-26 months 1.0-2.0 50-60 word vocabulary; basic phrases/sentences that show communicative intent more water
no juice
my toys
 
STAGE II
Age MLU Structure Examples
27-30 months 2.0-2.5 present progressive (-ing verbs)
in
on
-s plural (regular plurals)
jumping off
in cup

put on
my toys
 
STAGE III
Age MLU Structure Examples
31-34 months 2.5-3.0 irregular past tense
's possessive
uncontractible copula (main verb;full form of 'to be')
me fell down
mommy's shirt
he was happy
 
STAGE IV
Age MLU Structure Examples
35-40 months 3.0-3.75 article
regular past tense (-ed verbs)
3rd person regular, present tense
in the bucket
I laughed
he swims fast
 
STAGE V
Age MLU Structure Examples
41-46+ months 3.75-4.5 3rd person irregular
uncontractible auxiliary(helping verb; full form of 'to be')
contractible copula (main verb; shortened form of 'to be')
contractible auxiliary (helping verb; shortened form of 'to be')
kitty does tricks
Dad is laughing
it's hot outside
we're coming over
 
You can use this chart to understand the development of a child’s language skills. For further explanation or specific questions or concerns about a child, please contact a speech-language pathologist.
Resources
“Brown’s Stages of Syntactic and Morphological Development,” Speech-Language-Therapy Dot Com, accessed January 10, 2019, https://www.speech-language-therapy.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=33:brown&catid=2:uncategorised&Itemid=117
“Mean Length of Utterance (MLU) Chart,” Ionia County Intermediate School, accessed January 14, 2019, http://ioniaisd.pbworks.com/w/file/fetch/38468819/33MLU%20Chart.pdf
 
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