Parent Blogs

The adjective effect

March 24, 2016

Adjective effect image smallestMy partner Nick had his hair cut the other day. When he arrived home sporting his new ‘do’ I said he looked ‘handsome’. The word just jumped out of my mouth.

Now, before I had my daughter Evelyn, ‘handsome’ is not a word I would have ever used. ‘Hot’ or ‘nice’ maybe but never ‘handsome’. You see it’s the adjective effect.

I also dropped a squeezy bottle of mayonnaise on Tuesday (while my 5.5 month old watched on from her highchair in amusement). I said “Evie, mummy dropped the mayo and it splattered all over the floor”.

Splattered, just like that. The verb effect got me that day.

You see ‘splatter’ is a word in Janeen Brian and Ann James’ I’m a Dirty Dinosaur, which apart from the title is actually a clean children’s book and also happens to be one of Evie’s favourites at the moment.

“I’m a dirty dinosaur with a dirty tum. I splatter it with mud and I tap it like a drum.”

You see, ‘splatter’.

Then I got to thinking – handsome, splatter. I of course knew what these words meant but wouldn’t have ever used them in day to day language often before I had Evie.

Then it dawned on me. By Nick or myself reading these wonderful stories to Evie once a day we weren’t just introducing her to the English language, we were reinvigorating our own vocabularies.

So I looked into it and in a study of 42 families by Betty Hart and Todd Risley (University of Kansas) they found 86% to 98% of the words used by each child by the age of three came from their parents vocabularies. That’s nearly every word.

How often do we all get home from work, or a day at home with bub and talk to our partners in one word or short responses.

“How was your day?”


“Did you want steak for dinner?”


“How does this outfit look?”


Whether it’s out of familiarity with our partners, or the relieved pressure of not having to be ‘on’ at home like at work, the number of words we use to converse at night in front of our youngsters can be minimal.

So this is where the adjective effect is incredibly important. Reading books to your children not only exposes them to words that you wouldn’t normally use in your conversations it actually improves your own conversations.

Simply by introducing reading to our daughter, our entire family has benefitted and a testament to this is when I asked Nick how his day was on Thursday he replied; “It was exhilarating,” and went on to discuss in detail what happened all in front of our daughter who was listening with delight to her dad.

Jessica, Mother of Evelyn aged 6 months


Source: Hart, B. & Risley, T.R. “The Early Catastrophe: The 30 Million Word Gap by Age 3” (2003, spring). American Educator, pp.4-9.