‘A few of my favourite nouns’

raindrops – whiskers – kettles – mittens – packages – things
ponies – strudels – doorbells – bells – schnitzel – geese
girls – snowflakes – winters – dog – bee

My favourite things’ (see also here and here) are all, grammatically, nouns. English nouns start with ‘people, places and things’, but there are many more (and other and better ways to define nouns). Most of the nouns above end in ‘s’, which is the standard way to make a countable plural noun in English. The four exceptions are ‘schnitzel’, ‘geese’, ‘dog’ and ‘bee’. ‘Dog’ and ‘bee’ are countable singular and need a determiner (eg, ‘a’ or ‘the’ or one of many others) and sure enough in the song we have ‘the dog’ and ‘the bee’. ‘Schnitzel’ here is treated as a uncountable, which Google Ngram Viewer shows is the general usage. You can order ‘a schnitzel’, ‘schnitzels’ or ‘schnitzel’, just as you can order ‘a pizza’, ‘pizzas’ or ‘pizza’. (‘Strudel’ also works the same way, but here Hammerstein has chosen to use ‘strudels’, if only to rhyme with ‘noodles’.) ‘Geese’, despite the lack of an ‘s’, is also countable plural; English has a set of ‘irregular plurals’, most of which change the vowel in the middle from something lowish and backish to something highish and frontish.

Once we have a ‘head noun’, we can add words before and/or after it, giving information answering such questions as ‘how many’, ‘which one(s)’ and ‘what does it/do they look like?’:
(-) raindrops (on roses)
(-) whiskers (on kittens)
(bright copper) kettles (-)
(warm woolen) mittens (-)
(brown paper) packages (tied up with strings)
(a few of my favourite) things (-)
(cream coloured) ponies (-)
(crisp apple) strudels (-)
(-) doorbells (-)
(sleigh) bells (-)
(-) schnitzel (with noodles)
(wild) geese (that fly with the moon on their wings)
(-) girls (in white dresses with blue satin sashes)
(-) snowflakes (that stay on my nose and eyelashes)
(silver white) winters (that melt into springs)
the dog
the bee
(my favorite) things

before the head noun we have:
(-) (the ‘zero article’, which can only occur before countable plural or uncountable nouns)
‘the’ (the definite article, one of the most basic determiners, before the two countable singular nouns)
‘my’ (a possessive determiner, also called a possessive pronoun)
‘a few’ (a quantifier, another category of determiner)
‘bright’, ‘warm woolen’, ‘brown’, ‘favourite’, ‘cream coloured’, ‘crisp’, ‘wild’, ‘silver white’ (adjectives)
‘copper’, ‘paper’, ‘apple’, ‘sleigh’ (noun modifiers)

after the head noun we have:
(-) (we don’t have to add any information after a noun)
‘on roses’, ‘on kittens’,  ‘with noodles’, ‘in white dresses with blue satin sashes’ (prepositional phrases)
‘tied up with strings’ (a V-pp phrase)
‘that fly with the moon on their wings’, ‘that stay on my nose and eyelashes’, ‘that melt into springs’ (integrated relative clauses, also called restrictive relative clauses)

Note that all of these elements have, in turn a head noun (or more) (‘roses’, ‘kittens’, ‘noodles’, ‘dresses’, ‘sashes’, ‘strings’, ‘(the) moon’, ‘(their) wings’, ‘(my) nose and eyelashes’, ‘springs’), some of which have determiners (‘the’, ‘their’, ‘my’), and/or are modified by adjectives (‘white’, ‘blue’) or nouns (‘satin’).

Three words have recognised spelling variants: favorite/favourite, colored/coloured and woolen/woollen. The first each time is regarded as the ‘American’ spelling, and the second the ‘British’ spelling, though the usage is more mixed than that. I use a mixture – ‘favourite’ and ‘coloured’ but ‘woolen’. (I thought about using Hammerstein’s original spelling, but in the end force of habit won out.) The spell-check on Pages for Mac recognises ‘favourite’ and ‘coloured’ but not ‘woollen’, but the one on WordPress red-underlines all three. Pages and WordPress both red-line ‘recognises/d’.

(PS In the video of the song, just before she starts singing, Maria says ‘daffodils, green meadows, skies full of stars’. ‘Full’ is an adjective which is in turn modified by a prepositional phrase. These usually go after the head noun – ‘full skies’ is acceptable, but ‘full of stars skies’  is at best deliberately playful and at worst plain wrong.)


3 thoughts on “‘A few of my favourite nouns’

  1. Pingback: 500th post | Never Pure and Rarely Simple

  2. Pingback: 1000th post – a few stats | Never Pure and Rarely Simple

  3. In fact, the use of “the dog” and “the bee” is quite esoteric. These are not references to previously mentioned dogs or bees. Normally one might say “when a dog bites” or “when a bee stings.” The “the” in this usage is more apt for a scientific or philosophical classification, like “The mouse is a creature of great personal valor” (Britten/Smart).


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