Why do preschoolers revert to improper past tense?

My husband asked me a great question the other night "why has our almost 4 year old all of a sudden reverted back to poor past-tense usage?"  I had noticed as well that our son, who has extremely good verbal skills for a boy his age, had started using odd word choices for past tense, such as: "like-ed" "good-ed", etc. 
The reason I have found after years of working with children as a Reading Specialist, is that at this age children tend to start analyzing the oral language and their usage of it.  Beforehand, they were merely recreating the speech patterns they heard around them, but now (around 3.5 or later depending upon the child) they are starting to think about the words they say and the patterns in which they say them.  It is very common at this age that they begin to say the "ed" sound at the end of words, or pause to rethink words with improper past tense, such as: flew (for fly), and went (for go). 
I find that when my son started to do this I was not concerned, but ecstatic!  It means that his brain is moving one step closer to understanding the complex English oral language, and in turn one step closer to beginning to understand that words on paper are connected just like the words we speak.


  1. Interesting answer! I posted a link to it on Twitter. Hope to catch the attention of moms.

  2. So crazy that I'm reading this right now on my phone because during the past few weeks I have noticed my 4 year doing exactly this. Should I correct her or just say the sentence she says again but correctly or should I not say anything?

  3. Siena,
    What I usually do with my kids is repeat the word or sentence correctly. I don't often point out the correction unless it is an on-going problem. I find that the repetition of them hearing it correctly usually is effective without making them feel that you are constantly correcting them.
    -MyReadingSpecialist :)

  4. Well my daughter is doing this to. I asked her why and she at first said that she was doing it to 'drive you nuts'. Hmmm?? used the correct tense there but when asked if she ate all her dinner a few minutes later she said 'Yes I eateded it all'. I try to stay patient and correct her, but she pays no attention and is frustrated with me correcting her. She gets upset and tells me that she cant and does not want to say it right. What do I do????

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  6. I find that when kids do this they are not usually aware that they are. I have yet to see a student who did not outgrow it. The best thing to do is be patient, and correct them by rephrasing what they said rather than outright correcting. I know it is very frustrating;however, you should be happy that her brain is progressing just as it should.


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