On Wednesday afternoon Mum and I had a long conversation about whether or not cup of tea can be treated as a single noun for the purposes of adjective placement. For example, hot cup of tea or cup of hot tea? Mum was none too taken with my suggestion that in this instance 'cup of tea' is treated as a single noun and I am not simply offering a hot cup with tea in it. She pulled an english language reference book off the shelf but the section on nouns did not deal with this specific issue. However, when I woke this morning my first thought (sadly, I am speaking literally and not figuratively) was 'compound noun', two words that had escaped me when chatting with mum. A little bit of reading later (oh how I love the internet) and I came across this:

"An interesting property of most compounds is that they are headed. This means that one of the words that make up the compound is syntactically dominant. In English the head is normally the item on the right hand of the compound. The syntactic properties of the head are passed on to the entire compound. Thus, . . . if we have a compound like easychair which is made up of the adjective easy and the noun chair, syntactically the entire word is a noun."
(Francis Katamba, English Words: Structure, History, Usage, 2nd ed. Routledge, 2005)

Which made me think that cup of tea probably can be treated as a compound noun. I was a little concerned about the pluralisation (cup of teas is definitely wrong) but a little further reading reassured me that the plural appears within the compound, and not always at the end, of other accepted compound words (sisters-in-law, for example) so I am happy to state it as fact and hang my hat on it.

As you can probably guess that from the previous few paragraphs, I haven't been getting out as much as I like to recently but Sweetie and I changed that yesterday with a lovely long walk before picking up the big kids from school. The first 20 mins were just a stroll as Sweetie insisted on walking by himself,

stopping to smell the flowers and jump in puddles

but once his feet were wet he was happy to sit and enjoy the rest of the walk from the comfort of his stroller. It certainly did me good to raise my heart rate, breathe deeply and strain my muscles. It was just an hour but it was wonderful. I need to get back to my early morning exercise routine. I had forgotten how lovely the rewards are - well worth the price of getting out of bed while it is still cool and dark.
Sweetie is also a keen user of adjectives and has taken to describing the dinners I cook as 'very reasonable'. It certainly isn't glowing praise but, given my cooking skills, probably a fair assessment.


Julie said…
I'm with you, it should be treated as a compound noun. Desiring a 'cup of hot tea' is something different from desiring a 'hot cup of tea' isn't it? The first specifies that a hot, rather than iced tea is required. The second suggests the entire ritual and symbolism surrounding the cuppa (and 'cuppa' can definitely be pluraised to 'cuppas' - not 'cupsa').
Attorneys-general and governers-general are other examples of the plural within the compound.
Nice hat on Sweetie too.
The Coffee Lady said…
A compound noun is far preferable to the shorthand 'would you like a tea?' which doesn't mention a cup at all. I don't like this. Also 'a coffee'. A coffee what?
Suse said…
Oh, Sweetie.

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