by Yen Cabag | 24 comments
When reading or writing in English, you will notice that two or more words put together can mean a totally different thing.
For example, you may understand the words “old” and “school” when you encounter them separately, but when you put them together, you create a compound word that describes something traditional or old-fashioned.
Learning compound words is a great way to expand your vocabulary. In this post, we’ll explore some of the most common compound words in the English language, along with their meanings.
What Are Compound Words?
Compound words are words that are formed by connecting two or more words together to create a new meaning. They are written in three ways:
- Open compound words: These are spelled as two separate words.
- Closed compound words: These are joined together to form one word.
- Hyphenated compounds: These are two or more words connected by a hyphen.
The challenge is knowing how to spell the words that you need. One way is to simply memorize them, but there are also some qualities that can help you remember how to write them.
Open Compound Words
Open compound words are usually formed when a modifying adjective is attached to a noun, creating a new noun. Take note that it is not simply an adjective describing a noun in a sentence, but instead, the compound is taken as a whole new word.
For example, let’s take the noun school:
- high school: means a completely different thing than just an adjective describing a school;
- new school: is a description of a school that is new, not a compound word;
- old-school: this is a hyphenated compound word that describes something out-of-date, traditional, or old-fashioned (notice the two other hyphenated compound words in this sentence).
To form open compound words, we separate the modifying adjective from the noun with a space.
- dining room
- living room
- new moon
- real estate
- coffee table
- paperback book
- racing car
- mountain bike
- jogging pants
- P.E. uniform
- foster mom
- high school
- school bus
- ice cream
- cream cheese
Open compound words are also formed when an adverb ending in -ly is combined with another word:
- newly discovered
- highly contagious
Closed Compound Words
Closed compound words are two or more words that are joined together as one word. Initially, they may not have been joined together, but over time, many of them have come to be accepted as “real words” in English.
Hyphenated Compound Words
Compound adjectives are the ones that usually come with hyphens. But remember, you only hyphenate them when they come before the noun they modify. If they appear after the noun in the sentence, remove the hyphens.
- That was a well-thought-out plan.
- The plan was well thought out.
- He made sure to make politically-correct statements.
- His statements were all politically correct.
Compound nouns that come with hyphens include:
How to Spell Compound Words
The best way to learn how to spell compound words is to memorize them, or consult a dictionary. Here is a list of some of the most common compound words and their spellings:
- great grandfather
- great grandmother
Parts of the Home
- living room
- dining room
- coffee mug
- shot glass
- shoulder blade
People and Their Professions
- business suit
- wedding dress
- tennis shoes
- rubber shoes
Vehicles and Related Words
- jet plane
- mountain bike
- race car
Food and Related Items
- ice cream
- ice cream cone
- snow cone
- white wine
- red wine
- apple pie
- French fries
- chocolate chip cookies
- custard cake
- grilled cheese sandwich
- grocery store
- convenience store
- car rental
- online store
- barber shop
- hair salon
Animals and Insects
- praying mantis
- angler fish
- Persian cat
- golden retriever
- German shepherd
- cocker spaniel
- Yorkshire terrier
- brittle star
- hermit crab
- table tennis
- lawn tennis
- tennis racket
- badminton racket
- video game
- virtual reality
- golf cart
- golf balls
- baseball mitt
- baseball bat
- Chinese checkers
Spelling Open and Closed Compound Words
Familiarize yourself with the correct spelling of compound words so you will always know whether to spell them as one word, separate words, or hyphenated words.
If you’re uncertain, always consult a dictionary, style guide, or a trusted Internet source.
Did you find this post helpful? Let us know in the comments below!
If you enjoyed this post, then you might also like:
- How to Study for a Spelling Test: 8 Tips for Better Results
- American vs. British Spelling: Orthography and Alternate Spellings of Common Words
- How to Spell Better Using the Secrets of Spelling Bee Winners
- Irregular Plural Nouns Explained: Rules and Examples
Yen Cabag is the Blog Writer of TCK Publishing. She is also a homeschooling mom, family coach, and speaker for the Charlotte Mason method, an educational philosophy that places great emphasis on classic literature and the masterpieces in art and music. She has also written several books, both fiction and nonfiction. Her passion is to see the next generation of children become lovers of reading and learning in the midst of short attention spans.
Nailaon August 4, 2022 at 6:19 am
It’s more confusing
peter griffinon October 17, 2022 at 6:10 pm
i agree, lois
reece obrienon May 12, 2022 at 11:41 am
also could you hyphinate uncle-in-law?
Kaelyn Barronon May 20, 2022 at 5:38 pm
Hi Reece, yes, like mother- and father-in-law, you would hyphenate uncle-in-law.
reece obrienon May 12, 2022 at 11:39 am
hi just wondering would dinging-room-table be hyphenated or not thank you!
Kaelyn Barronon May 20, 2022 at 5:37 pm
Hi Reece, it’s generally not hyphenated anymore (I think because dining room is no longer hyphenated, so “dining room table” would be no different from “kitchen table.”)
........on September 28, 2021 at 7:39 pm
Rita smithon October 2, 2021 at 1:12 am
Would ice cream be hyphenated in ice-cream cone?
Kaelyn Barronon October 2, 2021 at 5:04 pm
Hi Rita, ice cream cone is actually not hyphenated. One example you might compare it to is “dining room table”
reece obrienon May 12, 2022 at 11:42 am
hi ……. tysm for your comment it means the most tysm
Paulon July 3, 2021 at 2:43 pm
is there a term for a compound word whose pronunciation differs from the root words which comprise it?
Eg., a typical compound word XY is pronounced “X Y”. But some compound words change the sound of one syllable (chairman is not pronounced “chair man”) and other compound words change both syllables (breakfast is pronounced as neither “break” nor “fast”).
(And even similar words are not consistent – chairman and caveman don’t share the same “man” sound.)
Kaelyn Barronon July 9, 2021 at 10:49 pm
Hi Paul, great question! I’ve never heard of a term for such cases, but I’ll research it!
altheaon September 1, 2022 at 8:53 am
Kateon June 21, 2021 at 8:10 am
I am trying to work out why “separation anxiety” is an open compound noun. Could you help me please?
Kaelyn Barronon July 2, 2021 at 4:07 pm
Hi Kate, I don’t really know how to explain why it’s open and not hyphenated—for most compound words, there aren’t very clear rules, you simply have to memorize which are open/closed/hyphenated. Separation anxiety can be compared to something like “racing car” (listed in examples of open compound words above). What kind of car is it? a racing one. What kind of anxiety? separation. Sorry I don’t have a more helpful explanation :)
Gizeldaon March 8, 2021 at 3:31 pm
I’d like to know If “PERSONAL PRONOUNS”, very much”, and “How many” are named compound words.
Kaelyn Barronon March 12, 2021 at 11:04 pm
Hi Gizelda, no, none of those are compound words
Amos D. Doeon January 2, 2021 at 8:44 pm
it was very helpful, I appreciate.
Kaelyn Barronon January 6, 2021 at 12:58 am
Glad you found it helpful, Amos! :)
Joon January 26, 2021 at 3:55 pm
Is morning time an open compound word or a noun phrase, where morning modifies ‘time’.?
Kaelyn Barronon February 1, 2021 at 5:21 pm
Hi Jo, that’s a great question. I’m not 100% sure (even after doing some research). I’d say a noun phrase, because it’s not really as common as most open compound words, so I don’t think it’s considered one.
Rajeon May 16, 2021 at 10:44 am
It was very informative and useful.
Kaelyn Barronon May 22, 2021 at 5:40 pm
Thanks Raje, I’m glad the article was helpful! :)
Shellonieon September 28, 2021 at 7:37 pm