COMPOUND NOUNS

COMPOUND NOUNS

Formation

Words can be combined to form compound nouns. These are very common, and new combinations are invented almost daily. They normally have two parts. The second part identifies the object or person in question (man, friend, tank, table, room). The first part tells us what kind of object or person it is, or what its purpose is (police, boy, water, dining, bed):

What type / what purpose What or who
police man
boy friend
water tank
dining table
bed room

The two parts may be written in a number of ways :

1. as one word.
Examples policeman, boyfriend

2. as two words joined with a hyphen.
Examples dining-table

3. as two separate words.
Examples fish tank.

There are no clear rules about this - so write the common compounds that you know well as one word, and the others as two words.

The two parts may be: Examples
noun + noun bedroom
water tank
motorcycle
printer cartridge
noun + verb rainfall
haircut
train-spotting
noun + adverb hanger-on
passer-by
verb + noun washing machine
driving licence
swimming pool
verb + adverb* lookout
take-off
drawback
adjective + noun greenhouse
software
redhead
adjective + verb dry-cleaning
public speaking
adverb + noun onlooker
bystander
adverb + verb* output
overthrow
upturn
input

Compound nouns often have a meaning that is different from the two separate words.

Stress is important in pronunciation, as it distinguishes between a compound noun (e.g. greenhouse) and an adjective with a noun (e.g. green house).

In compound nouns, the stress usually falls on the first syllable:

a 'greenhouse = place where we grow plants (compound noun)
a green 'house = house painted green (adjective and noun)
a 'bluebird = type of bird (compound noun)
a blue 'bird = any bird with blue feathers (adjective and noun)

*Many common compound nouns are formed from phrasal verbs (verb + adverb or adverb + verb).

Examples

breakdown, outbreak, outcome, cutback, drive-in, drop-out, feedback, flyover, hold-up, hangover, outlay, outlet, inlet, makeup, output, set-back, stand-in, takeaway, walkover.