Why is nonsense important?

The nonsensical forms in his books "create a rhythmic feel and sound," and this can create a unique experience for a young reader. 1 Nonsense Word Fluency (NFW) is thought to be a key becoming a proficient reader. 2 Alphabetic principals allow children to link sounds and words. Kids who are better at picking up nonsense words will be better readers.

Selecting Nonsense

As the text was marked up, some words looked like nonsense were actual words. To avoid miscoding words, all text coded for nonsense was searched for via a dictionary or Googled. If the word was unique to Seuss, it was tagged as nonsense.

Names that are typical were not tagged as nonsense, but those sounding made-up were. The names needed to be unique to the corpus of Dr. Seuss.


Our corpus consists of 24 works by Theodor Seuss Geisel, commonly known as Dr. Seuss. The texts were found online to minimize transcription. The text files were reviewed for accuracy against the actual books, PDFs or ePub files. His children’s books spanned the time period from 1931 to 1990.

The works selected represent 44% of his entire corpus of 54 works. For collections or stories, such as The Sneetches and Other Stories, were broken up into individual works. A list of our corpus is below:

Title Year
And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street 1937
The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins 1938
Horton Hatches the Egg 1940
Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose 1948
Bartholomew and the Oobleck 1949
Horton Hears a Who! 1954
On Beyond Zebra! 1955
How the Grinch Stole Christmas! 1957
The Cat in the Hat 1957
The Cat in the Hat Comes Back 1958
Yertle the Turtle 1958
One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish 1960
Green Eggs and Ham 1960
Too Many Daves 1961
What Was I Scared Of? 1961
Dr. Seuss's ABC 1963
Hop on Pop 1963
Fox in Socks 1965
Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You? 1970
The Lorax 1971
Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now! 1972
There's a Wocket in My Pocket! 1974
The Butter Battle Book 1984
Oh, the Places You'll Go! 1990

Number of Publications Selected by Decade Included Publicaitons 5 10 15 2 5 1930 3 4 1940 6 12 1950 7 15 1960 4 12 1970 1 5 1980 1 1 1990
Percentage of Dr. Seuss Works Used 50% 100% 40% 1930 75% 1940 50% 1950 47% 1960 33% 1970 20% 1980 100% 1990


We have set up our schema for nonsense words to record the part of speech and function.

Click on the parts of speech or function to see examples.

Parts of speech can be:

Function may include:

Download our schemas here:
Schema for Part of Speech and Function
Schema for Morphology


We further marked up the morphemes in each nonsense word, hoping to identify the English morphemes Dr. Seuss uses. After extracting a list of all of the distinct nonsense words using XQuery, we marked each morpheme for its type, part, and whether or not it was English.

Types of morphemes:
Free Lexical: can stand on its own as a word (e.g. bang, once, see)
Free Functional: a closed class of morphemes (new ones cannot be added) including mostly function words (e.g. the, in, some)
Bound Derivational: cannot stand on its own as a word, changes the part of speech of the word (e.g. ing, ly)
Bound Inflectional: cannot stand on its own as a word, modify a verb’s tense or a noun’s number without changing the part of speech (e.g. ed, s, ‘s)
Parts: prefix, root, suffix


1Schroth, E. (1978). Dr. Seuss and Language Use: Reading Teacher, 31, 7, 748-50, Apr 78.

2Hank, F., Yonghan, P., Baker, S. K., Smith, J. L. M., Stoolmiller, M., & Kame'enui, E. J. (2010). An Examination of the Relation of Nonsense Word Fluency Initial Status and Gains to Reading Outcomes for Beginning Readers. School Psychology Review, 39(4), 631-653.
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