Jean Berko Gleason is the mother of the “wug test" whose findings rocked the world of linguistics when they were first published in 1958. The test demonstrated that children as young as three or four can internalize complex grammatical codes no one has necessarily ever tried to teach them — like forming plurals — and apply these rules broadly, even to made-up words (like the adorable “wug” featured below) they’ve never heard before.

Below you'll find the 27 delightful hand-drawn pictures that comprise the original wug test. Try them out with the kids in your life — or even by yourself. And tell us what they said that surprised you. What are they modeling or constructing on their own?

wug test - image 1 - this is a wugThe Wug and Wug Test © Jean Berko Gleason 2006. All rights reserved. For individual and family use only. Commercial use prohibited.

wug test - image 2 - this is a gutchThe Wug and Wug Test © Jean Berko Gleason 2006. All rights reserved. For individual and family use only. Commercial use prohibited.

wug test - image 3 - this is a man who knows how to spowThe Wug and Wug Test © Jean Berko Gleason 2006. All rights reserved. For individual and family use only. Commercial use prohibited.

wug test - image 4 - this is a kazhThe Wug and Wug Test © Jean Berko Gleason 2006. All rights reserved. For individual and family use only. Commercial use prohibited.

wug test - image 5 - this is a man who knows how to rickThe Wug and Wug Test © Jean Berko Gleason 2006. All rights reserved. For individual and family use only. Commercial use prohibited.

wug test - image 6 - this is a tiny wugThe Wug and Wug Test © Jean Berko Gleason 2006. All rights reserved. For individual and family use only. Commercial use prohibited.

wug test - image 7 - this is a torThe Wug and Wug Test © Jean Berko Gleason 2006. All rights reserved. For individual and family use only. Commercial use prohibited.

wug test - image 8 - this is a dog with quirksThe Wug and Wug Test © Jean Berko Gleason 2006. All rights reserved. For individual and family use only. Commercial use prohibited.

wug test - image 9 - this is a lunThe Wug and Wug Test © Jean Berko Gleason 2006. All rights reserved. For individual and family use only. Commercial use prohibited.

wug test - image 10 - this is a nizThe Wug and Wug Test © Jean Berko Gleason 2006. All rights reserved. For individual and family use only. Commercial use prohibited.

Share Your Reflection



I like it too! It's amazing how young children learn to do grammar by osmosis.

Chomsky did much research to show we have ingrained ability to learn grammatical rules and this learning occurs at a largely unconscious basis as we internalize from hearing others, these rules and children whose learning ability for language is quite plastic, when very young, seem to grab these intuitively and quickly. Something is guiding their consciousness and allowing them to jump the gaps. These are really good examples to try with children.

I am doing something with words that is in a way, deeper, in showing that the letters carry meaning and that letters imbedded in words have intrinsic meaning, and also that it is actually possible to jump across seemingly unrelated languages and find within, geodes of meaning using one's knowledge of one's native language and a working familiarity with two others. The aural connects carry meaning and so do the written connects, in a divine kind of plasticity. We all use words so easily, so fluently, so cleverly, so well, but do we ever really wonder why we can do, what we do with this magic clay? This alchemy, called language?

I do. I have asked this question, and I am waiting for others to play ball. There is a deep spirituality of this that does go back to the words, In the Beginning Was the Word. I have been explicating this through letters around the world for a long time, and in a Diary that I say, is so astounding, even I fall down in examining the contents, which are about words, about language, about symbolic connects and all creativity, and about the profound synchronicity that follows my everyday life.

I think we're headed for a profound opening of consciousness.

Ruth, I thoroughly agree with the spiritual reality of all language, word, letter and sound. Is there any way your work can be accessed?

Yes! I want to hear more! Do you have a website? FB? twitter?

Glad you astound yourself. This approach is older than the New World, in fact. Lots already written on this, goes back millennia.
"Spirituality" aside, consider how swear words in the English language, almost always contain those pesky little "I wanna bite someone", plosive consonant sounds (t, d, k, g, p, b).

What do you call a house a Wug lives in?

A Wug-Wam.

Yes, but, a northern Wug lives in a Wugloo.

Depending on the size of the building, it would be either a wuggery or a wugarium

My daughter (4 years old next week) and I just had a great time trying these out. Pretty adorable--can Prof Berko Gleason please illustrate a children's book? :D

More than one wug makes two wugs, and the same with the others. What surprised me is that a "tiny wug" is still a "wug" for her, and the house in which it lives is still simply a "house"--even on the second run-through. This strikes me as a really honest first response for a native English speaker. As an adult, and slightly more fluent (!), I could come up with an answer like wuggie, or wugette, and wughouse, but it feels different...these answers come less readily than the plurals ("wugs") or verbs (he "ricked"). I wonder if this differs for, say, German speakers? Would they answer "Wuglein/Wueglein" more quickly, because maybe the diminutive is more commonly used?

Or maybe it's just a peculiarity of our family--did we say "doggie" and "birdie" less than other families?!

Great food-for-thought for a weekend morning. THANKS.

Some what Grman response I had for tiny W
wug was Wuegchen

Although i am a native English speaker, i am fluent in  German... a little wug for me is a Wugchen!

My son and I just had a nearly identical experience. We do not use "cutsie" words in our house, like you, and his answer to a tiny wug was "wug" as well. I actually had to think about it to interpret what was expected with that one.

It has always amazed me how quickly he learns a new language skill. In the past month, we began calling attention to the hard "c" and "g" sounds, which he was not pronouncing, and he concentrated on making those sounds and within a month is using them approximately 90% of the time. His ability to learn new words is astonishing - he has to hear most only once. He learned the word "hate" and started saying "I hate (mushrooms, for example)". I taught him "detest" and "loath" and he'll substitute them willingly.

My 3 year old son said it was a baby wug. ;) It took me a long pause to realize what they wanted.

Hypocorisms are not always "cutsie" words. English has a handful that are acceptable: puppy, kitty, etc. But often, they do tend to be cutsie. ;)

Kate, my almost 5yo son also called a tiny wug just plain "wug", while the house it would live in was a tree. Ha!

Amazing!  I did this with my 3 year old daughter and she got all but one. 

Jean's WUG test reminded me of a language lesson I learned from my my 2 1/2 year old (many years ago!)

My husband's native language is Maltese, and although he has mastered American English (puns, jokes, and emotive story-telling), he has never converted his "TH's" from hard "T's. Consequently, three is still "tree" and third is still 'turd", there is still "dare". One day my daughter asked for "tree" of something. She had begun saying it more often, as she was becoming more fluent in Mom's Talk and Dad's Talk. I panicked that she was heading down a dark and slippery slope toward incorrect pronunciation, so I took swift action. "Honey," I said, "where Daddy comes from they don't say "TH" in their words; only "T". So its hard for Daddy to make his tongue make the "TH" that we use in the United States. He's very smart and very funny, but not all his words are quite the right way to say them here." I didn't want to imply that he was wrong or language-lazy. I analyzed what I said to her from every angle, and concluded that, at her age, it was too heavy-handed, over-kill and that it probably didn't mean anything to her and that there was no father-daughter harm done, anyway. I had assauged any guilt and finally fell asleep.
 We had pancakes for breakfast the next morning. She climbed into her booster chair, surveyed the table and asked for the maple syrup and buh-ther! All hard "t"s were deleted from her language. Hmmm, my rule on the English langage was a bit too broad, and my daughter was aparently quite literal. So I said the only thing I could think of, throwing my beloved Husband under the bus, "Just... say words... the way I do." To this day, she speaks to me as I speak. And she and my husband speak and text(!)in their Maltese-English: se-VEN-tees = 70's, haTRAK = hat-trick in Hockey, and Hatchback of Notra Dame = their favorit Disney movie, "Hunchback of Notra Dame"! I am the occassional interperter of the impossible words: russian-ing is rationing, co-noylial is Colonial and manerating is marinating, but I am not the final word on HOW it should be said.

How totally fun hearing your wonder-full journey, you and your daughter together. And what she did/does. Fascinating. I still have a tear running down my cheek from the laughter in response to it all. Cassandra

Obviously the wug lives in a wugwam....

Ha ha! That's my thoughts exactly, Charlotte! :D

Yes, the wuglet lives in the wugwam, I agree.

This is great. My 4 year old daughter loved this "listening game"! I never really thought about how much she knows. Great story. This has really opened up a lot of ideas for me. I was a primarily a Japanese speaker until preschool when school administrators convinced my parents that NOT learning Japanese was in my best interest. I had difficulty learning English since I was placed in a gifted class that just happened to meet the same day as our classes regular English lessons. In college I began studying Japanese again and was perplexed by all the different parts of grammar. This is when I realized I really didn't know English grammar very well (by the book anyway.) Anyways great story!

This was fun. I wish I'd had a very young child here to guide me. To compensate, I set my adult self aside and reverted to three. Oh, my, no wonder kids have such fun with words. As a 3 year old (who grew up speaking a mountain dialect of American English until starting school), I found myself sticking for the most part to basic rules. Would I have come up with wughouse at that age? I don't know, but that is what seemed obvious to me. After all, all my relatives had chicken houses, rabbit houses, pig pens, sometimes dog houses, etc. So I think I probably would have. My family were well-read and creative with language, and we have always liked wordplay. That may be why wughouse sounded natural to me.

My son had a hard time accepting the quirky names and then about half way through, he made up one for one of the charcters. I didn't learn much about his grammar though as he didn't always respond, he is four and has challenges with grammar.

My nearly 5yo son thought that the plural of Gutch, Kazh and Niz remained the same as the singlular. A tiny "wuz" was still a wuz, and the house it would live in was a tree. Ha! To me the most interesting was that a dog covered in quirks was, simply, a dog. He was not categorized or labeled by appearance. Subtext there? Who's to say...

I thought exactly the same thing, aside from the tree and the dog.

Many of the "grammar rules" adopted by young children through their daily exposure to the language spoken by the adults around them persist well into their own adult years. As a junior and senior high school English teacher, I had many experiences introducing students to verbs that did not form the past tense with an added "ed" and helping them retrain their inner "ear" to recognize the correct form for many irregular verbs ("I saw" rather than "I seen," for example). It would seem the very young make discernible choices in their application of grammatical rules, and they then apply those rules uniformly in a language that contains many irregularities and exceptions. I am fascinated with the ideas posited by Ruth in her comments, as I do believe our human experience with the "the word," no matter which language we use, assures us of our humanity and provides us with profound opportunities for interaction with others.

I fear that perhaps I am loosing my child-self? A house that a Wug lives in is a HOME!

I enjoyed testing my language skills.

can a swiss wug live in a wuglet?

I had my 11 year old son take the test and it was funny on how he pronounced some of the words. When he came to the word lun he pronounced it loons. It was interesting.

I did the test with a 7 year old and I think she did very well she was able to make them all plural.

I had my step brother do this and he was actually saying some pretty good things. I asked about the house and he said its a birds nest duh. :)

Hello! I believed I might send a fast remark considering that I've spent the better part of the previous 30 minutes scanning through your blog posts. I truly like your post and I do hope you keep on writing more great articles. Properly that is nearly all I have to say! Many thanks! Ruth

As a Deaf individual with good command of English, I was able to answer the test as predicted. It's obviously I have internalized the grammatical codes. I believe that Deaf people with limited English skills will not be able to do the test. Young children who are hearing are exposed daily to English grammar through verbal conversations. Hence, they internalize the grammatical rules and are able to apply them to unfamiliar vocabularies and sentences. Providing we have a similar test in ASL, my hypothesis is Deaf children who have internalized ASL rules will be able to show plurals through sign production.

This is perfect for my ELL students to have a chance to be creative, and for us as teachers to be able to assess where they are with grammar rules. Can't wait to use this in my classroom!

This test was very enlightening because it helped me understand how grammatical rules transfer. This test can provide valuable information to educators to pinpoint the gaps that children might have in understanding formal grammatical rules. However, I am wondering how well it works when the pattern of the language is different. For example, in Spanish the adjectives always come after the noun; whereas, in English the adjectives come before the nouns. I am wondering what effect, if any, such variation in patterns creates in language transfer.

I will use for my bilingual students , in order to reinforce plurals, distinct way to introduce plurals.

This is so important for teachers to understand...versus correction mode all the time...

That said... Can we use this for a Spanish monolingual k3,4 classes?

Simply, wugderful!

My son is 10 and has Down syndrome. For the first 3, he added appropriate suffixes (s, es, ed) but Kazh and Rick and Niz all stayed the same. A tiny Wug is a bug. The house a wug lives in is a nest. Tor stayed the same. A dog covered with Quirks is a "bad" dog! LOL!

I tried this on my 3 year old niece she called a wug house wugahut. She was very consistent with added an s or ed to make wugs or ricked.

as a second language learner, this test gave me an idea of how children learn English. I think this is why is difficult for an adult to learn a second language because he/she does not have this base to learn the language.

I had taken a course which is called as "Language Acquisition", before. We had been busy with this test. I was surprised to see that it really worked with young children. I think it proves that Universal Grammar works, as well.