The present research investigated whether children's referential choices for verb arguments are motivated by pragmatic features of discourse referents across different developmental stages, not only for children learning null argument languages but also for those learning overt argument languages. In Study 1, the form (null, pronominal, or lexical) and referential status (given or new) of verb arguments were systematically analysed in six English-speaking and six Japanese-speaking children and their mothers when the children were at 1;9 and 3;0. In Study 2, non-linguistic pragmatic correlates (pointing, reaching, moving, making a head motion, or purposeful gaze direction toward a referent) were analysed in addition to the form and referential status of arguments at each of four linguistic periods between MLU 1·00 and 4·00 in two English-speaking and two Japanese-speaking children and their mothers. The results revealed that, when both linguistic and non-linguistic referential behaviours were considered, the English-speaking children showed patterns consistent with language-universal as well as language-specific discourse-pragmatic principles by 2;0 (between MLU 2·00 and 2·99), whereas the Japanese-speaking children did not show these patterns even as late as 3;0 (MLU 4·00 and above). Results also indicated that the children who were exposed to more consistent discourse-pragmatic referential patterns from their input tended to show these patterns earlier than those exposed to inconsistent patterns. Together these findings suggest that both the referential status of discourse referents as well as parental input predict children's referential choices across typologically different languages.