Signing Sentences: When One Sign Isn’t Enough!

There’s no doubt that a single sign—such as MORE, for example—conveys important information. But there’s also no denying that the combination MORE plus COOKIE is even clearer. Babies seem to know this intuitively; that’s why as soon as they can, they begin stringing two words (or signs!) together and sentences are born.

This important intellectual milestone— the ability to put true words together—typically occurs on average around 20 months, with many babies waiting until their third year. Things happen much earlier, however, with signs. Because signs are easier to learn than words, babies can begin putting them together with each other and with single words as early as 12 months! The most useful signs in this regard are MORE which can be combined with lots of other signs or words (e.g., cookie, milk, book, bubbles, etc.) and ALL GONE which is equally combinable (e.g., with water for down the drain, food words or signs, and even animal signs when animals run or fly away).

Many signing babies, however, don’t stop with just two. Here’s a great illustration: Michelle took her 19-month-old twins, Jimmy and Julianna (see photos), for their first trip through the car wash. She thought they might enjoy it; instead, they began crying hysterically, clearly terrified by the onslaught of water, brushes, and noise. That night when Daddy got home, they immediately told him all about it…with signs: CAR + BATH+ SAD/CRY! For weeks afterward, when they would get in the car they would repeat the same “sentence” just to make sure Mom wouldn’t forget and take them there again!

Yup! Sometimes one word (or sign) alone isn’t nearly enough!

Happy Signing! (and don’t forget to look for us on Facebook)


Linda Acredolo, Ph.D.
Co-Founder, the Baby Signs® Program and Professor Emeritus, UC Davis