Compound Nouns

Compound nouns are nouns that are made up of two or more words.

Examples:  backspace, blackboard, copyright, daylight, downstairs, earring , everything , haircut, handwriting, toothpaste, weekend, lipstick, keyboard, daughter-in-law, merry-go-round, well-being

Most (but not all) compound nouns have two words. The first word usually describes the person or thing and the second word identifies who or what the thing is.

Describes type or purpose (first word)


+

Identifies who or what (second word)


=

Compound Noun


police

police

girl

dry

bed

man

car

friend

cleaning

room

policeman

police car

girlfriend

dry-cleaning

bedroom

Before we continue, please note that there are other forms of compound words  which function as different parts of speech:

  • ice-skater (noun):  Carolina Kostner is one of my favorite ice-skaters.
  • ice-skate (verb):  We ice-skated at the rink last night.
  • ice-skates (noun):  My ice-skates are white.
  • makeup (noun): I don't usually wear makeup.
  • make up (verb):  I can't make up my mind which makeup to buy.


Forming compound nouns

There are three forms:

Closed form:  formed by two separate words joined together.

  • Keyboard, notebook, postman, football, housewife, moonlight, eyebrow, eyelid, lawsuit, toothpaste, haircut, bedroom.

Hyphenated form: The words are connected with a hyphen -

  • mother-in-law, five-year-old, ex-husband, one-half, dry-cleaning, well-being, baby-sitter.

Open form: there is a space between the two words. Even though they are separate, both words together make the noun.

  • post office, full moon, vice president, ice cream, swimming pool.

So how do you know which form to use? You need to consult your good friend, Miss Dictionary. (You do have a quality dictionary, right?)

Even native English speakers struggle with this. Although we can use compound nouns effortlessly in speech most mother-tongue English speakers have to carefully think or use spell check or a dictionary to know if these words are open, closed or hyphenated.


Compound nouns by word class

Let's look at a few examples of by word classes.

adjective

+

noun

full moon, blackboard, software

noun

+

adjective

mouthful, snow white

noun

+

noun

bus stop, firefly, toothpaste, football, bedroom

verb

+

noun

washing machine, breakfast, swimming pool, frying pan

noun

+

verb

sunrise, haircut, rainfall

verb

+

preposition

checkout, check-in, make up

preposition

+

verb

input, output

noun

+

prepositional phrase

mother-in-law, merry-go-round

preposition

+

noun

underline, up stairs, in service, off shore

adjective

+

verb

dry-cleaning, public speaking

Finally, remember when in doubt, consult your dictionary for the correct form (open, closed or hyphenated).

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