English for parents – brush your teeth

The phrases that strikes fear into toddlers and parents alike: Brush your teeth.

We say brush your teeth, open up*, don’t forget the back ones, a bit more, finished!

Many books, songs and videos cover this very important learning point. My absolute favourite is Elmo’s Brushy Brush song. If you can understand the words the first time you’re a great English speaker! (I couldn’t!)

Turn on the subtitles for some help, and sing along.

So, why do we say brush your teeth (using teeth plural), but use a toothbrush and toothpaste using tooth (singular)?

Compare these words: bookcase, shoe box,  pencil case, toy box, car park, strawberry field. A bookcase holds more than one book, a shoe box always has two shoes, a pencil case carries more than one pencil, a toy box has a lot of toys, a car park should have more than one car and a strawberry field with just one strawberry is a very sad sight.

So the rule is, when join two nouns together to make a new word like toothpaste, the first noun must be singular.

*By the way open up and shut up are not opposites. More on that next time…

What’s your favourite teeth brushing book or song? Let me know below.




Published by Abbie

English teacher, coach and writer. Helping English learners and teachers get more confident in their skills.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: