Compound Adjectives: Useful Rules & Examples

Last Updated on December 13, 2023

Compound adjectives are a unique and creative way to express complex ideas in a concise and effective manner. Whether we want to describe a fast-paced action movie or a mouth-watering chocolate cake, compound adjectives help us to convey specific qualities in a memorable way. In this article, we will explore the concept of compound adjectives, their various types, and how to use them effectively in writing and speech.

Understanding Compound Adjectives

Forming Compound Adjectives | Image

Forming Compound Adjectives: Rules & ExamplesPin

Compound adjectives are a combination of two or more words that work together to modify a noun or pronoun. They are commonly used in English to create more precise and descriptive language. Compound adjectives can be made up of different parts of speech, including nouns, adjectives, adverbs, and participles.

For example, the compound adjective “well-known” is made up of the adjective “well” and the past participle “known.” When used to describe a noun, it provides more information about the level of familiarity or recognition associated with that noun. Another example is the compound adjective “fast-paced,” which is made up of the adjective “fast” and the noun “paced.” When used to describe a noun, it provides information about the speed or tempo associated with that noun.

It is important to note that compound adjectives are usually hyphenated when they come before a noun. This helps to clarify that the words are working together to modify the noun. For example, “a fast-paced environment” or “a well-known celebrity.”

Compound adjectives can also be formed by combining two or more nouns, as in “fire truck” or “coffee table.” These compound nouns can also be used as adjectives to modify other nouns, such as “fire truck sirens” or “coffee table book.”

Types of Compound Adjectives

Compound adjectives can be created in various ways, and they are classified into three main categories: Descriptive, Origin, and Compound Adjectives from Phrasal Verbs.

Descriptive Compound Adjectives

Descriptive compound adjectives are formed by combining two or more adjectives to describe a noun. The adjectives can be linked by a hyphen or written separately. Some examples of descriptive compound adjectives are:

  • Fast-paced
  • Well-known
  • Old-fashioned
  • Yellow-striped

Origin Compound Adjectives

Origin compound adjectives are formed by combining a noun with an adjective that describes its origin. These adjectives are commonly used to describe food, drinks, and products. Some examples of origin compound adjectives are:

  • French-made
  • Italian-style
  • American-made
  • Chinese-inspired

Compound Adjectives from Verbs

Compound adjectives from phrasal verbs are formed by combining a verb and a preposition with a noun or an adjective. Some examples of compound adjectives from phrasal verbs are:

  • Breakneck
  • Cut-and-dried 
  • Run-of-the-mill 
  • Stand-alone 

Formation of Compound Adjectives

Hyphenated Compound Adjectives

Hyphenated compound adjectives are formed by joining two or more words with a hyphen. The hyphen helps to clarify the meaning of the compound adjective and avoids ambiguity. Here are some examples of hyphenated compound adjectives:

  • well-known
  • fast-paced
  • high-speed
  • time-consuming
  • light-hearted

Unhyphenated Compound Adjectives

Unhyphenated compound adjectives are formed by joining two or more words without a hyphen. These compound adjectives are less common than hyphenated compound adjectives and can sometimes be ambiguous. Here are some examples of unhyphenated compound adjectives:

  • handmade
  • everyday
  • worldwide
  • lifelong
  • outspoken

It is important to note that some compound adjectives can be both hyphenated and unhyphenated, depending on personal preference. 

Compound Adjectives by Combination

Compound adjectives can be formed as follows:

Adjective + Past participle

  • narrow-minded

He was too narrow-minded and prejudiced and bigoted.

  • high-spirited

Sophie’s a high-spirited young girl.

  • old-fashioned

An old-fashioned bell tinkled as he pushed open the door.

  • short-haired

He was dancing with a short-haired woman.

  • absent-minded

The actress was so absent-minded that she fluffed her lines.

  • strong-willed

She’s very strong-willed and if she’s decided to leave school, nothing will stop her.

  • quick-witted

He proved himself a quick-witted negotiator.

  • kind-hearted

Everyone says he is a kind-hearted man.

Adverb + Past Participle

  • well-behaved

He is an obedient and well-behaved child.

  • well-educated

I come from a well-educated family.

  • densely-populated

The Republic of Malta is a small and densely-populated island nation in southern Europe.

  • widely-recognized

She’s a widely-recognized expert in technology.

  • highly-respected

Our speaker tonight is a highly-respected scholar.

  • brightly-lit

He walked into the brightly-lit kitchen, opened the fridge, took out a bottle of water.

Noun + Past Participle

  • sun-baked

We strolled along the sun-baked streets of Naples.

  • child-wanted

I wanted to buy my daughter the most child-wanted toy.

  • middle-aged

I noticed two middle-aged passengers.

Noun + Present Participle

  • English-speaking

United Kingdom is an English-speaking country.

  • time-saving

We spend a fortune on the latest time-saving gadgets.

  • record-breaking

The show had a record-breaking run in the London theatre.

  • mouth-watering

The waitress came round with a tray of mouth-watering cream cakes.

  • thought-provoking

The film had a thought-provoking message.

Adjective + Present Participle

  • good-looking

He was tall and quite good-looking.

  • long-lasting

The impact of divorce on children can be long-lasting.

  • slow-moving

He was stuck in a line of slow-moving traffic.

  • far-reaching

Our findings have far-reaching consequences for researchers.

Adverb + Present Participle

  • never-ending

Writing a dictionary is a never-ending task.

  • forward-thinking

Some forward-thinking politicians are proposing reforms to the educational system.

Noun + Adjective

  • world-famous

His books are world-famous.

  • ice-cold

I’d love an ice-cold beer.

  • smoke-free

This is a smoke-free restaurant.

Adjective + Noun

  • full-length

A full-length portrait of the Queen hung on the wall.

  • last-minute

It was a last-minute decision.

Noun + Noun

  • part-time

We have 20 part-time members of staff .

Adjective + Adjective

  • fat-free

You can put it over frozen yogurt, fat-free ice cream, whatever you like.

Common Mistakes and Misunderstandings

Incorrect Hyphenation

One of the most common mistakes with compound adjectives is incorrect hyphenation.

For example, the compound adjective “well known” should be hyphenated when it is used to modify a noun, such as in the phrase “a well-known author.” However, it should not be hyphenated when it is used as a predicate adjective, such as in the sentence “The author is well known.”

Confusion with Compound Nouns

Another common mistake with compound adjectives is confusion with compound nouns. Compound nouns are made up of two or more words that function as a single noun, whereas compound adjectives modify a noun.

For example, the phrase “fire truck” is a compound noun that refers to a specific type of vehicle, whereas the word “fire-fighting” in “fire-fighting equipment” is a compound adjective that describes equipment used for fighting fires.

It is important to understand the difference between compound nouns and compound adjectives to use them correctly in writing.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some examples of noun+adjective compound words?

Compound adjectives are formed by combining two or more words to modify a noun or pronoun. Noun+adjective compound words are formed by using a noun and an adjective. Some examples of noun+adjective compound words are:

  • Ice-cold water
  • Timeless beauty
  • Heartbreaking news
  • Mouth-watering food
  • Heavy-duty machinery

What are the three types of compound adjectives?

There are three types of compound adjectives:

  1. Open compound adjectives: These are formed by combining two or more words that are not hyphenated or separated by any other punctuation. For example, “full time” and “high school”.
  2. Hyphenated compound adjectives: These are formed by combining two or more words that are separated by a hyphen. For example, “well-known” and “long-term”.
  3. Closed compound adjectives: These are formed by combining two or more words that are written as a single word. For example, “blueberry” and “raincoat”.

What is a hyphenated compound adjective?

A hyphenated compound adjective is a type of compound adjective that is formed by combining two or more words that are separated by a hyphen. Hyphenated compound adjectives are used to modify a noun and are often used to avoid confusion or ambiguity. For example, “well-known” and “long-term” are hyphenated compound adjectives.

What are some types of compound adjectives?

Compound adjectives can be made up of different parts of speech, including nouns, adjectives, adverbs, and participles. Some types of compound adjectives include:

  • Adjective + noun: blue-eyed girl, high school student
  • Adverb + adjective: well-dressed man, fast-moving car
  • Noun + participle: time-saving technique, money-making scheme

What are some ways to describe a person using compound adjectives?

Compound adjectives can be used to describe a person in many ways, such as:

  • Kind-hearted
  • Quick-witted
  • Hard-working
  • Easy-going
  • Self-confident

What are some common compound adjectives used with numbers?

Compound adjectives can also be formed by combining a number and an adjective. Some common compound adjectives used with numbers are:

  • Two-year-old
  • Five-star
  • Ten-foot
  • Twenty-five-cent
  • Hundred-year-old

15 thoughts on “Compound Adjectives: Useful Rules & Examples”

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