Increasing Sentence Length

Increasing Sentence Length

“Communication is a skill that you can learn. It’s like riding a bicycle or typing. 
If you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of very part 
of your life.”- Brian Tracy


What is morphology and MLU?

Morphology is the study and description of how words are formed in language. MLU (Mean Length of  Utterance)  refers to the average length of a sentence. MLU is typically measured in morphemes.  A morpheme is the smallest unit of language that holds meaning. For example the word ‘frog’ is one morpheme. You know this because if you break down the word to “fr-“ and “-og” each separate component does have any meaning in isolation. However, if you break up the word “frogs,” now you have two morphemes…. Frog (‘ribbit ribbit’)  and “s” (meaning more than one).

This is a crucial component when calculating a child’s MLU.  Overall the more complex the sentence is, the higher the MLU! A child’s MLU varies according to age. Below is an MLU age appropriate chart based on Roger Brown’s stages of language development:

Roger Brown’s Stages of Language Development:

Age (in months) MLU (Mean Length Utterance)
12-26 months ~1.0-2.0
27-30 months ~2.0-2.5
31-34 months ~2.5-3.0
35-40 months ~3.0-3.75
41-46 months ~3.75-4.5
47 months + 4.5+


How can I increase my child’s sentence length?

It’s important to remember that every child is unique.  When increasing /improving sentences, start by making note of what is missing from your child’s speech. The ultimate goal is for the child to form a sentence using subject, verb, and object. For example, “The boy is playing with his toys.”

  1. Increase vocabulary– Simple ways to increase a child’s vocabulary is to talk out loud. Tell your child what you are doing. You can incorporate this into your daily routine. Point out different places, animals, or things in your environment. Another way to increase vocabulary is through play! Play with your child and make learning fun. You can also buy flash cards/picture cards or use your iPad.
  2. Improve grammar – Grammatical markers play a major role when calculating MLU. A child that says “me hungry” is only getting credit for 2 morphemes, whereas a child that says “I want more food” will get credit for 4 morphemes. Therefore, model grammatically appropriate sentence for your child at home! Reading books together is another great way to facilitate and improve grammar.
  3. Expand! Expand your child’s sentences. For instance if the child says, “Purple flower” you can say “Wow, the purple flower is very pretty!” This technique can be facilitated in every day conversation and/or in play.

Pamela Leibowitz MA CF-SLP TSSLD 🙂


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