What Are Compound Words in English? (2024)

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What Are Compound Words in English? (1)


  • English Grammar
    • An Introduction to Punctuation
  • Writing


Richard Nordquist

Richard Nordquist

English and Rhetoric Professor

  • Ph.D., Rhetoric and English, University of Georgia
  • M.A., Modern English and American Literature, University of Leicester
  • B.A., English, State University of New York

Dr. Richard Nordquist is professor emeritus of rhetoric and English at Georgia Southern University and the author of several university-level grammar and composition textbooks.

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Updated on April 30, 2018

In morphology, a compound word is made up of two or more words that express a single idea and function as a single word.

Read MoreDiscover the Secrets of Compound NounsBy Richard Nordquist

The most common types of compound words in English are compound nouns (e.g., cheeseburger), compound adjectives ("red-hot temper"), and compound verbs ("waterproof the deck").

The rules for spelling compound words are not consistent. Some compound words are written as a single word (eyeglasses), some as two (or more) hyphenated words (brother-in-law), and some as two (or more) separate words (soccer stadium).

Examples and Observations

  • "As the car pulled into the parking lot, Kenny Dennard whipped a snowball right at the windshield."
    (John Feinstein, Forever's Team. Villard, 1989)
  • On Sunday afternoons in the summer, my grandfather and I enjoyed eating hot dogs at the ballpark.
  • "While we were waiting for our food, I played with my chopsticks. They make excellent drumsticks. I also told Dad all about this big baseball game we were going to play after school the next day."
    (Dan Greenburg, Zack Files 13: The Misfortune Cookie. Turtleback, 1998)
  • "He hid in a cave until the ship had left, only to find that his shipmates had taken pity on him, and left him a barrel of biscuits and a fire, which he kept alight for months. A year later a southbound ship stopped by."
    (Simon Winchester, Outposts. Penguin, 2003)
  • "A diary can take almost any form: written responses to a periodic e-mail reminder, a handwritten notebook, a narrated video, or photos with written commentary."
    (Kim Goodwin, Designing for the Digital Age. Wiley, 2009)
  • "In Aboriginal Australia all home building was do-it-yourself."
    (Tony Dingle, "Necessity the Mother of Invention, or Do-It-Yourself." A History of European Housing in Australia, ed. by Patrick Troy. Cambridge University Press, 2000)
  • "I became a shop steward immediately and a trustee in 1936. . . . I became the local's secretary-treasurer in 1946."
    (Mary Callahan, quoted in Rocking the Boat: Union Women's Voices, 1915-1975. Rutger's University Press, 1996)
  • "On a hot day, nothing beats walking into a nice, cool, air-conditioned home. Unfortunately, running your air conditioner is expensive and eats up energy."
    (Eric Corey Freed, Green Building & Remodeling For Dummies. Wiley, 2008)
  • Heads of Compound Words
    "One part of a compound word is usually clearly its head, in a general way able to represent the meaning of the whole compound. The heads of the various types of compound word are [in capital letters] in this list: bellBOY, spin-DRY, red HOT, inTO, and/OR. It can be seen that in English, the head of a compound word is always the last element, on the right-hand end. (This is not true of compound words in all languages, however.)"
    (James R. Hurford, Grammar: A Student's Guide. Cambridge University Press, 1994)
  • Dividing Compound Words
    "If you divide a compound word at the end of a line, place the hyphen between the elements of the compound (snow-mobile, not snowmo-bile)."
    (Laurie Kirszner and Stephen Mandell, The Concise Wadsworth Handbook, 2nd ed. Wadsworth, 2008)
  • Metaphorical Compounds
    "Metaphors furnished with common household objects are figures of speech that we literally live with every day. Some of these comparisons are new, such as a couch potato, a phrase that compares lumpish watchers of television to lumpy potatoes: the longer couch potatoes sit, the deeper they put down their roots."
    (Richard Lederer, The Play of Words. Simon & Schuster, 1990)
  • Complex Compounds
    "It is possible to form a compound from two words one of which is itself a compound. For example, we can combine the compound law degree with the word requirement to get the complex compound law degree requirement. This compound can in turn be combined with changes to get law degree requirement changes, and so on. . . . [T]he process is essentially unlimited."
    (Bruce Hayes. Introductory Phonology. Wiley, 2009)



Your Citation

Nordquist, Richard. "What Are Compound Words in English?" ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/what-is-compound-word-1689777.Nordquist, Richard. (2021, February 16). What Are Compound Words in English? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-compound-word-1689777Nordquist, Richard. "What Are Compound Words in English?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-compound-word-1689777 (accessed June 15, 2024).

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