Compound Nouns

A compound noun consists of two or more words that act as a singular noun.

All compound nouns contain at least one main word, which is usually the last in such combination and in most cases is a noun:

  • table tennis, playground, school bag, haircut, dishwasher, toothpaste, swimming pool   

The other word(s) in this combination may be an adjective, a preposition, or a verb. They modify the main word or add to its meaning:

  • We need to go to the bus stop. (noun + noun)
  • Take a look at the whiteboard. (adjective + noun)
  • The historic city centre is reachable by underground. (preposition + noun)

Here’s a great video from Shaw English to help you get started with compound nouns:

How to form compound nouns

Compound nouns can be formed in three different ways:

– two words melded together to make one word:

  • Jennifer needs some time to fix her makeup.
  • Michael likes playing football.
  • I need a new toothbrush for my trip.

separate words next to each other:

  • To receive your parcel you should contact your local post office.
  • Kids have been playing in the  swimming pool all day long.
  • Please put the plates on the kitchen table, I will wash them later.

hyphenated words:

  • This coat is not suitable for dry-cleaning.
  • All visitors are invited to the hotel reception for check-in.
  • There are two six-packs of beer in my fridge.

How to form plural forms of compound nouns

Plural forms of compound nouns are created by making the final noun plural:

  • Babysitter → Good babysitters always have reference letters from their clients.
  • Haircut → Some haircuts can make your face look thinner.
  • Cycle race → Nick took part in many cycle races.

Note: In general we make the plural of a compound noun by adding -s to the ‘base word‘ (the most ‘significant’ word):

– mother-in-law mothers-in-law
– passer-by passers-by

Some compound nouns have no obvious base word and you may need to consult a dictionary to find the plural:

– grown-up grown-ups
– good-for-nothing good-for-nothings

See also:

Nouns: Formation with Common Prefixes

Nouns: Formation with Common Suffixes

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