Compound Nouns


Compound nouns are divided into three categories. They can be written as hyphenated words, separate words, or solid words (one-word nouns).

  1. Not Hyphenated
    Compound nouns that have a noun as one of its elements are usually not hyphenated. They may be written as two words or as solid words, depending on usage.

Noun + noun : bathroom, moon light, grammar book, armchair
Adjective + noun : blackbird, common sense, blue print
Verb + noun : pickpocket, dance team, flashlight
Gerund + noun : dining room, punching bag, swimming pool
Noun + gerund : house cleaning, water skiing, problem solving, brainstorming
Preposition + noun : down payment, inside story

  1. Hyphenated
      1. Hyphenate a compound noun that doesn’t have a noun as one of its parts.
        the have-nots                     good-for-nothing                      know-how                look-alike                           free-for-all                               grown-up
      2. Nouns that are made up of repeated or rhyming syllables are usually hyphenated.
        boo-boo                             yo-yo                                      walkie-talkie
        goody-goody                      no-no
      3. Many compound nouns that end with a prepositional phrase are also hyphenated
        jack-of-all-trade                 sister-in-law
        jack-in-the-box                  attorney-at-law
      4. Hyphenate two nouns when they indicate one person or are one thing with two functions
        actor-director                    dinner-dance
        teacher-writer                   bed-sofa
      5. Compound nouns with a single letter as their first element can be either hyphenated or written as two words, depending on usage.
        H-bomb                           U-turn                                        I beams
        T-shirt                             V-neck                                        X Ray (but used as verb                                                                                          or adjective: X-ray)
      6. Compound nouns with “ex” are always hyphenated.
        ex-wife                           ex-boyfriend                                 ex-minister

Important Note: If you’re not sure of how a compound word should be written, always check the dictionary. But remember that dictionaries may differ in the way some compound nouns are written. Following are some very common compound nouns. Look carefully how they are written.

crossroads                       workday                   hometown                  eye-opener
eyewitness                      masterpiece              paperwork                  book review
nightlife                          daytime                    close-up                     work load
timetable                        airmail                      night-life                    master plan
trademark                      bookstore                  show-off                     paper clip
newlyweds                     pressure                    cooker                        baby-sitter

Activity: Recognizing errors in writing compound nouns

Level: Intermediate

Directions: In the following sentences, correct any mistakes in the writing of compound nouns. A number of the sentences are correct.

  1. His handshake was firm, like a real man’s.
  2. The offspring of this rare species needs special
  3. The fortuneteller gazed into the glass ball.
  4. Mike Thompson is mayorsheriff of this small town.
  5. I always wore my older sister’s handmedowns.
  6. Her exhusband was once a posterboy for a local magazine.
  7. Why don’t we have a gettogether some time next week?
  8. The princess was followed by six of her ladiesinwaiting.
  9. He was promoted to deputymanager of the company.
  10. Has anyone seen my pencilcase?
  11. That flower is called a forgetmenot.
  12. This book became a bestseller of all times.
  13. That annoying boy is a real painintheneck.
  14. There’s a bakerycoffeeshop just around the corner of the street.
  15. He’s a real doginthemanger: he hates to see other people happy.
  16. The vase was filled with liliesofthevalley.


Please check the answers to the activity above on April 23, 2018.

Here are the answers to the article of Blue Jeans.

  1. May 20, 1873 was the day when blue jeans were first acknowledged as a new product.
  2. Strauss was a man who was not arrogant about his success.
  3. Jacob Davis was not indifferent to his customers.
  4. The gold miners had a problem with their clothing.
  5. Duck cotton, although uncomfortable for wear, lasted a long time.
  6. The word denim is part of the original French name.
  7. The baby boom generation consisted of young adults.
  8. The closing of the passage is meant to illustrate the jeans’ durability.