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A Definitive Guide To Compound Words In English

Not every word in English needs to stand alone. Sometimes, words like to join up. And When two words are used together to yield a new meaning, a compound is formed. These compound words may have a completely new meaning. Keep reading to learn more about compound words in English! 

A Definitive Guide To Compound Words In English | English Medium

What Is A Compound Word?

Compound words are made up of two or more other words. They are of three types: 

  1. Open Compounds: Open Compounds  are written as separate words, but they are conventionally used together (e.g., full moon, mobile phone, ice cream).
  2. Hyphenated Compounds: Hyphenated compounds occur when two or more terms are joined with a hyphen (e.g., mother-in-law, well-known, T-shirt).
  3. Closed Compounds: Closed compounds are written as a single term but combine two or more words that could be written separately (e.g., notebook, boyfriend, childlike).

How Do You Use Compound Words?

As we explained above that compound words of three types. The question that arises now is how do we use them and which type should be used when. Let’s take a look at that now. 

Open Compound Words

An open compound word is created in cases when the modifying adjective is used with its noun to create a new noun. We just use a space between the adjective and the noun, so sometimes it can be hard to identify as a compound; however, if the two words are commonly used together, it’s considered to be a compound word. 


  1. Living room
  2. Real estate
  3. Coffee mug
  4. Tea cup 

Open compound words are also always used when adverbs ending in -ly combine with another word.

Closed Compound Words

There was a time in English history when these words weren’t considered real words at all. But today, among the three types these are the most commonly used ones. Closed compound words are formed when two fully independent, unique words are combined to create a new word. For example, you would combine “grand” and “mother” to create the closed-form word “grandmother”.


  1. Basketball 
  2. Anybody
  3. Outside
  4. Cannot
  5. Skateboard

Hyphenated Compound Words

When it comes to these words, One important rule of thumb to remember is that in most cases, a compound adjective is hyphenated if placed before the noun it modifies, but not if placed after the noun.


  1. two-fold
  2. check-in
  3. merry-go-round
  4. father-in-law
  5. seventy-two
  6. long-term
  7. Up-to-date

Finally, there are some words that aren’t compound but are considered to be. For example, alot (which should actually be written as ‘a lot’) and nevermind (which in fact is ‘never mind’). Keep an eye out for these and you should be good with compound words in English. 

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