Compound Nouns

1. A compound noun is a fixed expression which is made up of more than one word and functions as a noun. They can be written as two words (tin opener, address book, ...), with a hyphen (post-office, ice-cream, ...) or as one word (earring, teapot, ...).

2. Compound nouns may be COUNTABLE (alarm clock, burglar alarm, heart attack, tea-bag, credit card), UNCOUNTABLE (birth control, junk food, pocket money, food poisoning) or only used in either the SINGULAR (arms race, greenhouse effect, sound barrier, death penalty) or the PLURAL (human rights, sunglasses, traffic lights, kitchen scissors).

3. A large number of compound nouns are based on phrasal verbs. Nouns based on phrasal verbs are often informal and are very common in newspaper reporting:

There was a break-out from the local prison (escape)
What the computer produces depends on the input (information that is put in)
Output has increased thanks to new technology (productions)
I can easily get you a printout of the report (paper on which computer information has been printed)
A breakthrough has been made in AIDS research (important discovery)
There are drawbacks as well as advantages (negative aspects)
The outcome wasn't satisfactory (conclusion)
Teachers need feedback from students (comments)
Many of the problems were caused by a breakdown in communications (failure)

Compound Adjectives

A compound adjective is an adjective which is made up of two parts and it is usually written with a hyphen. The second part of the compound adjective is frequently a present or past participle.

1. A large number of compound adjectives describe personal appearance: curly-haired, blue-eyed, tight-fitting, ...

2. Another set of compound adjectives describes a person's character: absent-minded, easy-going, two-faced, ...

3. Another group of compound adjectives are those where the second part is a preposition: an all-out strike (total), a burnt-out car (nothing left in it after the fire), a broken-down bus (it won't work),
worn-out shoes (can't be worn anymore), a drive-in movie (you watch from your car), ...


Compound Verbs

A compound verb is a verb which consists of two words. Compund verbs are usually written with a hyphen. Most compound verbs consist of a noun plus a verb: baby-sit, cross-examine, ice-skate, ...

As all verbs, they can be transitive (Do not dry-clean it!) or intransitive (The children ice-skated all afternoon), and they can inflect in the same way as single-word verb.


Adapted from English Vocabulary in Use by McCarthy & O'Dell, CUP 1994

and Cobuild English Grammar, Collins 1990

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© Olga Godoy Giménez, 2002 - 2005