In our particular cast, our three year old son has developed a habit of responding "uh-huh" instead of "yes", and "uh-uh" instead of "no".

This makes it really hard to understand which he's saying at times, since they sound so very similar.

I would suspect that the strategies and answers to this issue might be more widely applicable, though, so I'd like to include slang or other grammar issues.

What is the best strategy to correct this and encourage clear, grammaticaly correct speech?

  • Make them post to SE and let the grammar police show them the Light and the Right Way <g>. On a serious note, it's not a overall battle I would recommend fighting except by personal example (in specific case of uhhuh, just explain you can't tell the difference).
    – user3143
    Commented May 21, 2014 at 16:49
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    Sometimes slang is useful. Teaching children to say "ta!" Is much easier than teaching them to say "Thank you!" Letting them know that you thank people is useful and you can move onto 'thank you' a bit later.
    – DanBeale
    Commented May 21, 2014 at 20:25
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    @DanBeale that's a valid point, but my son is developmentally well past needing linguistic shortcuts like that. At this point, he is very ready to learn proper pronounciation, and I think it is important to start that as early as possible. It is easier to teach the right methods at the outset than correct idiosyncricies after they've been in use for a couple of years.
    – user420
    Commented May 21, 2014 at 20:30
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    I had a bit of a giggle on this question when I read your spelling of grammatically... hehe. Commented May 22, 2014 at 3:51
  • @JeremyMiller Doh! I do pronounce it with 2 l's, though!
    – user420
    Commented May 22, 2014 at 10:30

3 Answers 3


I agree with @jeremy but with a slight adaptation. As @jeremy suggested, start the first few times with "I'm sorry, I didn't understand you." This is good to let them know that slang or poor articulation isn't adequate to communicate. However, at some point you have to transition your child to prompting themselves less you get stuck in a cycle of prompting them every time. So the next step is to simply pause until they realize that you're waiting for them to use "yes" or "no". This can be difficult and at first because your child will be confused why you're staring at them and not responding. If that is a difficult step then try shortening the phrase to "I'm sorry?". Then transition to acting like you didn't hear their response and wait for a proper response.

I use a form of this approach in therapy with children; I'm a Speech Therapist and have found the method effective with my own children.

With our 3 year old the problem was slightly different. We couldn't get her to ask for things using "please" and "thank you". So when she would ask for something we would initially pause and occasionally we would throw in "How do we ask nicely?" then we would just politely ignore her question and sure enough, after a brief pause, she would realize we weren't listening and she would ask with "please" and follow up with "thank you".

Good luck!


The approach we took with our child was and is to just ask for clarification, or casually correct the word. she responds to something with "uh-huh" and I reply either "I can't understand you, can you please say yes or no?" or if I was sure of her reply, "How about yes?"

I have found that making a huge big deal out of it is not especially productive.

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    I agree with this. A calm, quiet, consistant "I'm sorry, I don't understand what you are saying. Do you mean 'yes' or do you mean 'no'?" Usually gets results, especially if used over time.
    – DanBeale
    Commented May 21, 2014 at 20:24

Peers count for a lot. You can expect them to talk like their peers. Ref. In Raising Bebe, the author had a funny story about her toddler learning to cuss (with French toddler cuss words) from her peers at pre-school.

Modeling counts, while you can not expect them to understand immediately which contexts to use whqt, they will eventually use the right register (level of formality, mix of formal and slang) in the right situation. If you accidentally speak in an informal register, (even once!) you can expect to be copied.

And finally, kids talk to communicate. They pick strategies that result in them getting what they want-- they are too young to be language purists or to think that an informal register is easier or whatever. If you act obtuse as if you don't understand uh-huh and uh-uh, they will get the message quick and stop doing it around you. No need to scold or praise, just act the way you do with any other utterance that you can't make sense of.

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