il fogliame autunnale

Today’s Parola del Giorno is the noun il fogliame autunnale, which means fall foliage. As November winds down, the fall foliage is just about over in my part of the world outside Boston, but one can still find a few trees displaying the colors of autumn that signal the end of summer and winters approach!

Just as in English, the Italian noun is always in the singular and is considered un nome difettivo del plurale or defective noun, meaning that it is missing the plural (see our note below):

Il fogliame autunnale è molto distinto: tutte le foglie degli alberi cambiano i propri colori. Che bello vedere i rossi e i galli che si diffondono ovunque, soprattutto in campagna.

The Fall foliage is very distinct: all the leaves on the trees change their colors. How beautiful it is to see the reds and yellows that spread everywhere, most of all in the countryside.

[audio:|titles=il fogliame autunnale]

Grammar Corner: Defective Nouns

In Italian, there are two types of defective nouns (i nomi difettivi): difettivi del plurale (that lack a plural and are used in the singular) and difettivi del singolare (which lack a singular and are used in the plural). Today we’ll look at the first type: nouns that are only used in the singular (note that our list is not exhaustive, but I included those nouns that would more likely be encountered):

  1. Abstract nouns are generally used in the singular: la pazienza (patience), il coraggio (courage), l’amore (love)
  2. Diseases: il tifo (typhus), la malaria (malaria), il vaiolo (smallpox), l’Aids (AIDS), il morbillo (measles – note how it is plural in English).
  3. Some foods: il cioccolato (chocolate), il pane (bread), il miele (honey), il riso (rice; for example: to refer to one piece of rice, you would say un chicco di riso or a grain of rice)
  4. Some collective nouns: la gente (people), la roba (stuff), il fogliame (foliage)
  5. Chemical elements from the periodic table and metal: l’idrogeno (hydrogen), l’ossigeno (oxygen), il ferro (iron), l’ottone (brass)
  6. Months of the year: gennaio, febbraio, etc.

Some singular nouns can be used in the plural when they are modified to make the item less generic. For example, gli amori (loves) can be used in the plural when they refer to something specific: gli amori di Don Giovanni (Don Juan’s lovers). When food items are used in the plural, they often refer to a specific brand or type of food: i mieli di Turchia (honeys of Turkey). Some metals, too, when modified and refer to a specific use can also be used in the plural: gli ottoni della London Symphony Orchestra.