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English inherits the ability to form compounds from its parent the Proto-Indo-European language and expands on it. Close to two-thirds of the words in the Old English poem Beowulf are found to be compounds. Of all the types of word-formation in English, compounding is said to be the most productive.

Compound nouns

Most English compound nouns are noun phrases (i.e. nominal phrases) that include a noun modified by adjectives or noun adjuncts. Due to the English tendency towards Conversion (word formation), conversion, the two classes are not always easily distinguished. Most English compound nouns that consist of more than two words can be constructed recursion, recursively by combining two words at a time. Combining "science" and "fiction", and then combining the resulting compound with "writer", for example, can construct the compound "science-fiction writer". Some compounds, such as ''salt and pepper'' or ''mother-of-pearl'', cannot be constructed in this way, however.

Types of compound nouns

Since English is a mostly analytic language, unlike most other Germanic languages, it creates compounds by concatenating words without case markers. As in other Germanic languages, the compounds may be arbitrarily long. However, this is obscured by the fact that the written representation of long compounds always contains spaces. Short compounds may be written in three different ways, which do not correspond to different pronunciations, though: *The "solid" or "closed" forms in which two usually moderately short words appear together as one. Solid compounds most likely consist of short (syllable, monosyllabic) units that often have been established in the language for a long time. Examples are ''housewife'', ''lawsuit'', ''wallpaper'', ''basketball''. *The ''hyphenated'' form in which two or more words are connected by a hyphen. Compounds that contain affixes, such as ''house-build(er)'' and ''single-mind(ed)(ness)'', as well as adjective–adjective compounds and verb–verb compounds, such as ''blue-green'' and ''freeze-dried'', are often hyphenated. Compounds that contain Article (grammar), articles, English prepositions, prepositions or Grammatical conjunction, conjunctions, such as ''rent-a-cop'', ''mother-of-pearl'' and ''salt-and-pepper'', are also often hyphenated. *The ''open'' or ''spaced'' form consisting of newer combinations of usually longer words, such as ''distance learning'', ''player piano'', ''lawn tennis''. Usage in the US and in the UK differs and often depends on the individual choice of the writer rather than on a hard-and-fast rule; therefore, open, hyphenated, and closed forms may be encountered for the same compound noun, such as the triplets ''container ship''/''container-ship''/''containership'' and ''particle board''/''particle-board''/''particleboard''. In addition to this native English compounding, there is the ''classical compound, neo-classical'' type, which consists of words derived from Latin, as ''horticulture'', and those of Greeks, Greek origin, such as ''photography'', the components of which are in bound (grammar), bound form (connected by connecting vowels, which are most often ''-i-'' and ''-o-'' in Latin and Greek respectively) and cannot stand alone.Adams, §3.2.

Analyzability (transparency)

In general, the meaning of a compound noun is a Specialization (linguistics), specialization of the meaning of its head. The Grammatical modifier, modifier limits the meaning of the head. This is most obvious in descriptive compounds (known as ''karmadharaya'' compounds in the Sanskrit tradition), in which the modifier is used in an attributive or appositional manner. A ''blackboard'' is a particular kind of board, which is (generally) black, for instance. In determinative compounds, however, the relationship is not attributive. For example, a ''footstool'' is not a particular type of stool that is like a foot. Rather, it is a ''stool for one's foot or feet''. (It can be used for sitting on, but that is not its primary purpose.) In a similar manner, an ''office manager'' is the manager of an office, an ''Chair#Armrests, armchair'' is a ''chair with arms'', and a ''raincoat'' is a ''coat against the rain''. These relationships, which are expressed by prepositions in English, would be expressed by grammatical case in other languages. (Compounds of this type are known as ''tatpurusha'' in the Sanskrit tradition.) Both of the above types of compounds are called endocentric compounds because the semantic head is contained within the compound itself—a blackboard is a type of board, for example, and a footstool is a type of chair, stool. However, in another common type of compound, the exocentric (known as a bahuvrihi compound in the Sanskrit tradition), the semantic head is not explicitly expressed. A ''red hair, redhead'', for example, is not a kind of head, but is a person ''with'' red hair. Similarly, a ''wiktionary:blockhead, blockhead'' is also not a head, but a person with a head that is as hard and unreceptive as a block (i.e. stupid). And a ''lionheart (disambiguation), lionheart'' is not a type of heart, but a person with a heart like a lion (in its bravery, courage, fearlessness, etc.). There is a general way to tell the two apart. In a compound "[X . Y]": * Can one substitute Y with a noun that ''is'' a Y, or a verb that ''does'' Y? This is an endocentric compound. * Can one substitute Y with a noun that is ''with'' Y? This is an exocentric compound. Exocentric compounds occur more often in adjectives than nouns. A ''V-8 car'' is a car ''with'' a V8 engine, V-8 engine rather than a car that ''is'' a V-8, and a ''twenty-five-dollar car'' is a car ''with'' a worth of Dollar sign, $25, not a car that ''is'' $25. The compounds shown here are bare, but more commonly, a suffixal morpheme is added, such as ''-ed'': a ''two-legged'' person is a person ''with'' two legs, and this is exocentric. On the other hand, endocentric adjectives are also frequently formed, using the suffixal morphemes ''-ing'' or ''-er/or''. A ''people-carrier'' is a clear endocentric determinative compound: it is a thing that ''is'' a carrier of people. The related adjective, ''car-carrying'', is also endocentric: it refers to an object which ''is'' a carrying-thing (or equivalently, which ''does'' carry). These types account for most compound nouns, but there are other, rarer types as well. ''Coordinative'', ''copula (linguistics), copulative'' or ''dvandva'' compounds combine elements with a similar meaning, and the compound meaning may be a generalization instead of a specialization. ''Bosnia-Herzegovina'', for example, is the combined area of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but a ''fighter-bomber'' is an aircraft that is both a fighter and a bomber. ''Iterative'' or ''amredita'' compounds repeat a single element, to express repetition or as an emphasis. ''Day by day'' and ''go-go'' are examples of this type of compound, which has more than one head. Analyzability may be further limited by cranberry morphemes and semantic changes. For instance, the word ''butterfly'', commonly thought to be a Metathesis (linguistics), metathesis for ''flutter by'', which the bugs do, is actually based on an old wives' tale that butterflies are small witches that steal butter from window sills. ''Cranberry'' is a part translation from Low German, which is why we cannot recognize the element ''cran'' (from the Low German ''kraan'' or ''kroon'', "crane"). The ''ladybird'' or ''ladybug'' was named after the Christian expression "our ''Lady'', the Virgin Mary". In the case of verb+noun compounds, the noun may be either the subject (grammar), subject or the object (grammar), object of the verb. In ''playboy'', for example, the noun is the subject of the verb (''the boy plays''), whereas it is the object in ''callgirl'' (''someone calls the girl'').

Sound patterns

stress (linguistics), Stress patterns may distinguish a compound word from a noun phrase consisting of the same component words. For example, a ''black board,'' adjective plus noun, is any board that is black, and has equal stress on both elements. The compound ''blackboard'', on the other hand, though it may have started out historically as ''black board'', now is stressed on only the first element, ''black''. Thus a compound such as ''the White House'' normally has a falling intonation which a phrase such as ''a white house'' does not.

Compound modifiers

English compound modifiers are constructed in a very similar way to the compound noun. ''Blackboard Jungle'', ''leftover ingredients'', ''gunmetal sheen'', and ''green monkey disease'' are only a few examples. A compound modifier is a sequence of modifiers of a noun that function as a single unit. It consists of two or more words (adjectives, gerunds, or nouns) of which the left-hand component modifies the right-hand one, as in "the dark-green dress": ''dark'' modifies the ''green'' that modifies ''dress''.

Solid compound modifiers

There are some well-established permanent compound modifiers that have become solid over a longer period, especially in American usage: ''earsplitting'', ''eyecatching'', and ''downtown''. However, in British usage, these, apart from ''downtown'', are more likely written with a hyphen: ''ear-splitting'', ''eye-catching''. Other solid compound modifiers are for example: *Numbers that are spelled out and have the Affix, suffix ''-fold'' added: "fifteenfold", "sixfold". *Points of the compass: ''Ordinal directions, northwest'', ''northwestern'', ''northwesterly'', ''northwestwards''. In British usage, the hyphenated and open versions are more common: ''north-western'', ''north-westerly'', ''north west'', ''north-westwards''.

Hyphenated compound modifiers

Major style guides advise consulting a dictionary to determine whether a compound modifier should be hyphenated; the dictionary's hyphenation should be followed even when the compound modifier follows a noun (that is, regardless of whether in attributive or predicative position), because they are permanent compounds (whereas the general rule with temporary compounds is that hyphens are omitted in the predicative position because they are used only when necessary to prevent misreading, which is usually only in the attributive position, and even there, only on a case-by-case basis). Generally, a compound modifier is hyphenated if the hyphen helps the reader differentiate a compound modifier from two adjacent modifiers that modify the noun independently. Compare the following examples: * "small appliance industry": a small industry producing appliances * "small-appliance industry": an industry producing small appliances The hyphen is unneeded when capitalization or italicization makes grouping clear: * "old English scholar": an old person who is English and a scholar, or an old scholar who studies English (language), English * "Old English scholar": a scholar of Old English. * "''De facto'' proceedings" (not "''de-facto''") If, however, there is no risk of ambiguities, it may be written without a hyphen: ''Sunday morning walk'' (a "walk on Sunday morning" is practically the same as a "morning walk on Sunday"). Hyphenated compound modifiers may have been formed originally by an adjective preceding a noun, when this phrase in turn precedes another noun: * "Round table" → "round-table discussion" * "Blue sky" → "blue-sky law" * "Red light" → "red-light district" * "Four wheels" → "four-wheel drive" (historically, the Grammatical number, singular or Root (linguistics), root is used, not the plural) Others may have originated with a verb preceding an adjective or adverb: * "Feel good" → "feel-good factor" * "Buy now, pay later" → "buy-now pay-later purchase" Yet others are created with an original verb preceding a preposition. * "Stick on" → "stick-on label" * "Walk on" → "walk-on part" * "Stand by" → "stand-by fare" * "Roll on, roll off" → "roll-on roll-off ferry" The following compound modifiers are ''always'' hyphenated when they are not written as one word: * An adjective preceding a noun to which -''d'' or -''ed'' has been added as a past participle, past-participle construction, used before a noun: ** "loud-mouthed hooligan" ** "middle-aged lady" ** "Rose Colored Glasses (disambiguation), rose-tinted glasses" * A noun, adjective, or adverb preceding a present participle: ** "an awe-inspiring personality" ** "a long-lasting affair" ** "a far-reaching decision" * Numbers, whether or not spelled out, that precede a noun: ** "Seven Year Itch, seven-year itch" ** "five-sided polygon" ** "History of poetry, 20th-century poem" ** "30-piece band" ** "tenth-storey window" ** "a 20-year-old man" (as a compound modifier) and "the 20-year-old" (as a compound noun)—but "a man, who is 20 years old" * A numeral with the affix ''-fold'' has a hyphen (''15-fold''), but when spelled out takes a solid construction (''fifteenfold''). * Numbers, spelled out or not, with added ''-odd'': ''sixteen-odd'', ''70-odd''. * Compound modifiers with ''high-'' or ''low-'': "high-level discussion", "low-price markup". * Colours in compounds: ** "a dark-blue sweater" ** "a reddish-orange dress". * Fractions as modifiers are hyphenated: "two-thirds majority", but if numerator or denominator are already hyphenated, the fraction itself does not take a hyphen: "a thirty-three thousandth part". (Fractions used as nouns have no hyphens: "I ate two thirds of the pie.") * Comparatives and superlatives in compound adjectives also take hyphens: ** "the highest-placed competitor" ** "a shorter-term loan" * However, a construction with ''most'' is not hyphenated: ** "the most respected member". * Compounds including two geographical modifiers: ** "Afro-Cuban" ** "African-American" (sometimes) **"Anglo-Indian" : But not :* "Central American", which refers to people from a specific geographical region The following compound modifiers are not normally hyphenated: * Compound modifiers that are not hyphenated in the relevant dictionary or that are unambiguous without a hyphen. * Where there is no risk of ambiguity: ** "a Sunday morning walk" * Left-hand components of a compound modifier that end in ''-ly'' and that modify right-hand components that are past participles (ending in -''ed''): ** "a hotly disputed subject" ** "a greatly improved scheme" ** "a distantly related celebrity" * Compound modifiers that include comparatives and superlatives with ''more'', ''most'', ''less'' or ''least'': ** "a more recent development" ** "the most respected member" ** "a less opportune moment" ** "the least expected event" * Ordinarily hyphenated compounds with intensive adverbs in front of adjectives: ** "very much admired classicist" ** "really well accepted proposal"

Using a group of compound nouns containing the same "head"

Special rules apply when multiple compound nouns with the same "head" are used together, often with a conjunction (and with Hyphen#Suspended hyphens, hyphens and commas if they are needed). * The third- and fourth-grade teachers met with the parents. * Both full- and part-time employees will get raises this year. * We don't see many 3-, 4-, and 5-year-old children around here.

Compound verbs

A compound verb is usually composed of an adverb and a verb, although other combinations also exist. The term ''compound verb'' was first used in publication in Grattan and Gurrey's ''Our Living Language'' (1925). Some compound verbs are difficult to analyze morphologically because several derivations are plausible. ''Blacklist'', for instance, might be analyzed as an adjective+verb compound, or as an adjective+noun compound that becomes a verb through zero derivation. Most compound verbs originally have the collective meaning of both components, but some of them later gain additional meanings that may supersede the original, emergent sense. Therefore, sometimes the resultant meanings are seemingly barely related to the original contributors. Compound verbs composed of a noun and verb are comparatively rare, and the noun is generally not the direct object of the verb. Examples of compound verbs following the pattern of indirect-object+verb include "''hand wash''" (eg "''you wash it by hand''" ~> "''you handwash it''"), and "''breastfeed''" (eg "''she feeds the baby with/by/from her breast''" ~> "''she breastfeeds the baby''"). Examples of non-existent direct-object+verb compound verbs would be *"''bread-bake''" (eg "''they bake bread''" ~> *"''they bread-bake''") and *"''car-drive''" (eg "''they drive a car''" ~> *"''they car-drive''"). Note the example of a compound like "''foxhunt''": although this matches the direct-object+verb pattern, it is ''not'' grammatically ''used'' in a sentence as a verb, but rather as a noun (eg "''they're hunting foxes tomorrow''" ~> "''they're going on a foxhunt tomorrow''", but "''not''" *"''they're foxhunting tomorrow''").


Compound verbs with single-syllable modifiers are often solid, or unhyphenated. Those with longer modifiers may originally be hyphenated, but as they became established, they became solid, e.g. *overhang (English origin) *counterattack (Latin origin) There was a tendency in the 18th century to use hyphens excessively, that is, to hyphenate all previously established solid compound verbs. American English, however, has diminished the use of hyphens, while British English is more conservative.

Phrasal verbs

English syntax distinguishes between phrasal verbs and adverbial Adjunct (grammar), adjuncts. Consider the following sentences: : ''I held up my hand'' implies that I raised my hand. : ''I held up the negotiations'' implies that I delayed the negotiations. : ''I held up the bank to the highest standard'' implies that I demanded model behavior regarding the bank. : ''I held up the bank'' implies either (a) that I robbed the bank or (b) that I lifted upward a bank [either literally, as for a toy bank, or figuratively, as in putting a bank forward as an example of something (although usually then the sentence would end with ''... as an exemplar.'' or similar)]. Each of the foregoing sentences implies a contextually distinguishable meaning of the word, "up," but the fourth sentence may differ syntactically, depending on whether it intends meaning (a) or (b). Specifically, the first three sentences render ''held up'' as a phrasal verb that expresses an idiomatic, figurative, or metaphorical sense that depends on the contextual meaning of the Grammatical particle, particle, "up." The fourth sentence, however, ambiguously renders ''up'' either as (a) a particle that complement (linguistics), complements "held," or as (b) an adverb that modifies "held." The ambiguity is minimized by rewording and providing more context to the sentences under discussion: : ''I held my hand up'' implies that I raised my hand. : ''I held the negotiations up'' implies that I delayed the negotiations. : ''I held the bank up to the highest standard'' implies that I expect model behavior regarding the bank. : ''I held the bank up upstairs'' implies that I robbed the upstairs bank. : ''I held the bank up the stairs'' implies that I lifted a (toy) bank along an upstairs route. Thus, the fifth sentence renders "up" as the head word of an adverbial prepositional phrase that modifies, the verb, ''held''. The first four sentences remain phrasal verbs. The ''Oxford English Grammar'' () distinguishes seven types of phrasal verbs in English: *intransitive phrasal verbs (e.g. ''give in'') *transitive phrasal verbs (e.g. ''find out'' [''discover'']) *monotransitive prepositional verbs (e.g. ''look after'' [''care for'']) *doubly transitive prepositional verbs (e.g. ''blame'' [something] ''on'' [someone]) *copular prepositional verbs. (e.g. ''serve as'') *monotransitive phrasal-prepositional verbs (e.g. ''look up to'' [''respect'']) *doubly transitive phrasal-prepositional verbs (e.g. ''put'' [something] ''down to'' [someone] [''attribute to'']) English has a number of other kinds of compound verb idioms. There are compound verbs with two verbs (e.g. ''make do''). These too can take idiomatic prepositions (e.g. ''get rid of''). There are also idiomatic combinations of verb and adjective (e.g. ''come true'', ''run amok'') and verb and adverb (''make sure''), verb and fixed noun (e.g. ''go ape''); and these, too, may have fixed idiomatic prepositions (e.g. ''take place on'').

Misuses of the term

"Compound verb" is often used in place of: # "complex verb", a type of complex phrase. But this usage is not accepted in linguistics, because "compound" and "complex" are not synonymous. # "verb phrase" or "verbal phrase". This is a partially, but not entirely, incorrect use. A phrasal verb can be a one-word verb, of which compound verb is a type. However, many phrasal verbs are multi-word. # "phrasal verb". A sub-type of verb phrase, which have a particle as a ''word'' before or after the verb.

See also

* Metaphor * Phrasal verb * Portmanteau * Syllabic abbreviations * Morphology (linguistics), Morphology




* * * * * * {{refend English grammar, Compound