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 purposeWhat or who
policeman
boyfriend
watertank
diningtable
bedroom

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

1. as one word.
Example: policemanboyfriend

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

3. as two separate words.
Example: 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 + nounbedroom
water tank
motorcycle
printer cartridge
noun + verbrainfall
haircut
train-spotting
noun + adverbhanger-on
passer-by
verb + nounwashing machine
driving licence
swimming pool
verb + adverb*lookout
take-off
drawback
adjective + noungreenhouse
software
redhead
adjective + verbdry-cleaning
public speaking
adverb + nounonlooker
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)
green ‘house = house painted green (adjective and noun)
a ‘bluebird = type of bird (compound noun)
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.


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