Compound Nouns

There are many types of nouns in English. Compound nouns are a special type of noun made of two or more words. There are many compound nouns in English, so it is important to understand and learn them well.

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In English, some words can be combined to form compound nouns. A compound noun is a noun made with two or more words. Each compound noun works as a single noun. 

  • mother-in-law

  • cellular phone

  • chalkboard

Types of compound nouns

There are three types of compound nouns in English

1. Solid or closed compound nouns (meaning there is no space or hyphen between words)
  • bedroom

  • toothbrush

2. Hyphenated compound nouns
  • sister-in-law

  • take-off

3. Open (spaced) compound nouns
  • washing machine

  • full moon

Usually, there are no specific rules for using a hyphen or a space in a compound noun. However, you should keep it consistent.

  • paperclip

  • paper-clip

  • paper clip

All three forms of this compound noun are acceptable in English.

Hyphens are not used as often in modern American English.

You can also use a dictionary to check for the acceptable way to write compound nouns.

Girl reading a book

Forms of compound nouns

Here are some common ways to form compound nouns by combining two or more English words:

noun + noun
  • football
  • website
  • printer cartridge
noun + verb
  • haircut
  • sunrise
  • heartbeat
verb (-ing) + noun
  • washing machine
  • swimming pool
  • training room
noun + preposition or
prepositional phrase
  • mother-in-law
  • ladies-in-waiting
  • hanger-on
preposition + noun
  • underworld
  • upstairs
  • downtown
  • full moon
  • white board
  • hot water
verb + preposition
  • hold-up
  • checkout
  • breakthrough

Pinterest graphic

Plural compound nouns

To create the plural form of a compound noun, the plural ending is usually added to the noun. If compound words are formed with two nouns, the plural ending is added to the main noun.

  • lady-in-waiting => ladies-in-waiting

  • mother-in-law => mothers-in-law

  • outcome => outcomes

  • superpower => superpowers

  • football => footballs

  • overthrow => overthrows

  • assistant secretary of state => assistant secretaries of state
When a compound noun is formed with two nouns (printer cartridge; football), the second noun becomes plural. The first noun acts as an adjective because it describes the second noun. The second noun is the base noun.

  • printer cartridge => printer cartridges

  • peach tree => peach trees

  • wall clock => wall clocks

  • question mark => question marks
question marks

Some compound nouns do not have an obvious base word. You should use a dictionary to check the correct spelling of these compound nouns.

Practice plural noun rules with
English Plural Nouns Worksheets.


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