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Compound Nouns

A compound noun is a noun that is made with two or more words. A compound noun is usually [noun + noun] or [adjective + noun], but there are other combinations (see below). It is important to understand and recognize compound nouns. Each compound noun acts as a single unit and can be modified by adjectives and other nouns.

There are three forms for compound nouns:

  1. open or spaced - space between words (tennis shoe)
  2. hyphenated - hyphen between words (six-pack)
  3. closed or solid - no space or hyphen between words (bedroom)

Here are some examples of compound nouns:

noun + noun bus stop Is this the bus stop for the number 12 bus?
fire-fly In the tropics you can see fire-flies at night.
football Shall we play football today?
adjective + noun full moon I always feel crazy at full moon.
blackboard Clean the blackboard please.
software I can't install this software on my PC.
verb(-ing) + noun breakfast We always eat breakfast at 8am.
washing machine Put the clothes in the red washing machine.
swimming pool What a beautiful swimming pool!
noun + verb(-ing) sunrise I like to get up at sunrise.
haircut You need a haircut.
train-spotting His hobby is train-spotting.
verb + preposition check-out Please remember that check-out is at 12 noon.
noun + prepositional phrase mother-in-law My mother-in-law lives with us.
preposition + noun underworld Do you think the police accept money from the underworld?
noun + adjective truckful We need 10 truckfuls of bricks.


Compound nouns tend to have more stress on the first word. In the phrase "pink ball", both words are equally stressed (as you know, adjectives and nouns are always stressed). In the compound noun "golf ball", the first word is stressed more (even though both words are nouns, and nouns are always stressed). Since "golf ball" is a compound noun we consider it as a single noun and so it has a single main stress - on the first word. Stress is important in compound nouns. For example, it helps us know if somebody said "a GREEN HOUSE" (a house which is painted green) or "a GREENhouse" (a building made of glass for growing plants inside).

British/American differences

Different varieties of English, and even different writers, may use the open, hyphenated or closed form for the same compound noun. It is partly a matter of style. There are no definite rules. For example we can find:

If you are not sure which form to use, please check in a good dictionary.