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What Counts As “A Word”?

Does “dah”, “baba”, or even “oo-ah” count as a word? How do you answer the question "how many words does your kid have?" if your little one can’t pronounce words correctly but they seem to be talking quite a lot! What truly "counts" as a word?

Generally speaking, any sound combination that consistently means a specific object/action/person counts as a spoken word. For example:

  • If your kid always leaves off the end sounds and uses words like “bah” for ball, “uh” for up, “dah” for dog, those all count as words as long if your child uses them consistently. This is actually very, very common for new talkers!

  • If your child uses cute names or nicknames for things, like “baba” for bottle”, “duhduh” for dump truck, “ow-ow” for cat, those count as words.

Mom with brown hair is talking on phone while smiling at toddler with blonde hair who is playing with a pretend phone.
"Hello?" can be an early word for kiddos!

If a kid is overgeneralizing a sound combination or hasn’t said it on their own just yet, we would not count those right now. For example:

  • If your kid says “dah” and points to just about anything, that sound doesn’t mean a specific concept just yet and therefore we wouldn’t count this as a word currently.

  • If your kid can imitate words like “truck” and “car”, but they need you to say it first or you haven’t heard them say in on their own yet, this doesn’t count just yet. But know that your kid is on the right track! Imitating is a good thing and is how kids learn to talk.

In my opinion, language development is so wonderful to watch develop and I hope this will help you easily track your little one's first words.


If you have concerns about your child’s speech development, don’t hesitate to start the early intervention process today. You do not need a doctor's referral to request an evaluation.

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