Rliberni's Blog – Radical language

October 8, 2009

Some rules about compound nouns

Compound nouns are hybrids made up of two or sometimes more words combined to make one single noun.

Creating new words from old is very common in English and we have an array of different types.

You will be pleased to know that there isn’t a great deal to say or learn about compound nouns beyond whether they are one word, separate words or hyphenated words.

Unfortunately how to write them down depends on the individual word and is something you’ll need to learn and /or check in the dictionary. You will also find that some words have more than one way of writing them.

Here are some examples of compound noun types and their written forms.

Compound nouns:

  • noun + noun – (these are the most common) – housewife,  suitcase, seafood. database
  • noun + er (noun or verb) – housekeeper, backwater, screwdriver, eye-opener
  • noun + verb-ing – skydiving, window shopping, film-making, trainspotting (train spotting)
  • verb+particle – handout, giveaway, checkout, lookout
  • particle-verb – income, output, bypass, outsource
  • adj + noun – greenhouse, blackbird, whiteboard, real estate
  • verb + noun – swimsuit, driving licence, rocking chair, washing machine
  • three word compounds  – washing-up-liquid, sister-in-law, birds-of-prey

For more information

 Making compound nouns plural:

Most compound nouns follow the normal convention that would be used if the final part of the compound were pluralised:

  • suitcases, handouts, swimsuits
  • housewives, bypasses

Where compounds end in the prepositions by or on the first word in made plural:

  • passer-by  passers-by
  • hanger-on  hangers-on

Where compounds have three parts the first word is made plural (if this word is the defining word):

  • sisters-in-law   but   washing-up-liquids

Try a short quiz to check your knowledge.

More on nouns next time but this time we’ll tackle the rather more colourful topic of collective nouns!

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