There are two important peculiarities distinguishing compounding in English from compounding in other languages. Firstly, both immediate constituents of an English compound are free forms, i.e. they can be used as independent words with a distinct meaning of their own. The conditions of distribution will be different but the sound pattern the same, except for the stress. The point may be illustrated by a brief list of the most frequently used compounds studied in every elementary course of English: afternoon, anyway, anybody, anything, birthday, day-off, downstairs, everybody, fountain-pen, grown-up, ice-cream, large-scale, looking-glass, mankind, mother-in-law, motherland, nevertheless, notebook, nowhere, post-card, railway, schoolboy, skating-rink, somebody, staircase, Sunday.

It is common knowledge that the combining elements in Russian are as a rule bound forms (), but in English combinations like Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Soviet, Indo-European or politico-economical, where the first elements are bound forms, occur very rarely and seem to be avoided. They are coined on the neo-Latin pattern.

The second feature that should attract attention is that the regular pattern for the English language is a two-stem compound, as is clearly testified by all the preceding examples. An exception to this rule is observed when the combining element is represented by a form-word stem, as in mother-in-law, bread-and-butter, whisky-and-soda, deaf-and-dumb, good-for-nothing, man-of-war, mother-of-pearl, stick-in-the-mud.

If, however, the number of stems is more than two, so that one of the immediate constituents is itself a compound, it will be more often the determinant than the determinatum. Thus aircraft-carrier, waste-paper-basket are words, but baby outfit, village schoolmaster, night watchman and similar combinations are syntactic groups with two stresses, or even phrases with the conjunction and: book-keeper and typist.

The predominance of two-stem structures in English compounding distinguishes it from the German language which can coin monstrosities like the anecdotal Vierwaldstatterseeschraubendampfschiffgesellschaft or Feuer- and Unfallversicherungsgesellschaft.

One more specific feature of English compounding is the important role the attributive syntactic function can play in providing a phrase with structural cohesion and turning it into a compound. Compare: ... weve done last-minute changes before ...( Priestley) and the same combination as a free phrase in the function of an adverbial: we changed it at the last minute more than once. Cf. four-year course, pass-fail basis (a student passes or fails but is not graded).

It often happens that elements of a phrase united by their attributive function become further united phonemically by stress and graphically by a hyphen, or even solid spelling. Cf. common sense and common-sense advice; old age and old-age pensioner; the records are out of date and out-of-date records; the let-sleeping-dogs-lie approach (Priestley). Cf.: Let sleeping dogs lie (a proverb). This last type is also called quotation compound or holophrasis. The speaker (or writer, as the case may be) creates those combinations freely as the need for them arises: they are originally nonce-compounds. In the course of time they may become firmly established in the language: the ban-the-bomb voice, round-the-clock duty.

Other syntactical functions unusual for the combination can also provide structural cohesion. E. g. working class is a noun phrase, but when used predicatively it is turned into a compound word. E. g.: He wasnt working-class enough. The process may be, and often is, combined with conversion and will be discussed elsewhere (see p. 163).

The function of hyphenated spelling in these cases is not quite clear. It may be argued that it serves to indicate syntactical relationships and not structural cohesion, e. g. keep-your-distance chilliness. It is then not a word-formative but a phrase-formative device. This last term was suggested by L. Bloomfield, who wrote: A phrase may contain a bound form which is not part of a word. For example, the possessive [z] in the man I saw yesterdays daughter. Such a bound form is a phrase formative."1 Cf. ... for the I-dont-know-how-manyth time (Cooper).


The great variety of compound types brings about a great variety of classifications. Compound words may be classified according to the type of composition and the linking element; according to the part of

1 Bloomfield L. A Set of Postulates for the Science of Language. // Psycho-linguistics. A Book of Reading/Ed. by Sol Saporta. N.Y., 1961. Pt. IV. P. 28.

speech to which the compound belongs; and within each part of speech according to the structural pattern (see the next paragraph). It is also possible to subdivide compounds according to other characteristics, i.e. semantically, into motivated and idiomatic compounds (in the motivated ones the meaning of the constituents can be either direct or figurative). Structurally, compounds are distinguished as endocentric and exocentric, with the subgroup of bahuvrihi (see p. 125ff) and syntactic and asyntactic combinations. A classification according to the type of the syntactic phrase with which the compound is correlated has also been suggested. Even so there remain some miscellaneous types that defy classification, such as phrase compounds, reduplicative compounds, pseudo-compounds and quotation compounds.

The classification according to the type of composition permits us to establish the following groups:

1) The predominant type is a mere juxtaposition without connecting elements: heartache n, heart-beat n, heart-break n, heart-breaking a, heart-broken a, heart-felt a.

2) Composition with a vowel or a consonant as a linking element. The examples are very few: electromotive a, speedometer n, Afro-Asian a, handicraft n, statesman n.

3) Compounds with linking elements represented by preposition or conjunction stems: down-and-out n, matter-of-fact a, son-in-law n, pepper-and-salt a, wall-to-wall a, up-to-date a, on the up-and-up adv (continually improving), up-and-coming, as in the following example: No doubt hed had the pick of some up-and-coming jazzmen in Paris (Wain). There are also a few other lexicalised phrases like devil-may-care a, forget-me-not n, pick-me-up n, stick-in-the-mud n, whats-her name n.

The classification of compounds according to the structure of immediate constituents distinguishes:

1) compounds consisting of simple stems: film-star;

2) compounds where at least one of the constituents is a derived stem: chain-smoker;

3) compounds where at least one of the constituents is a clipped stem: maths-mistress (in British English) and math-mistress (in American English). The subgroup will contain abbreviations like H-bag (handbag) or Xmas (Christmas), whodunit n (for mystery novels) considered substandard;

4) compounds where at least one of the constituents is a compound stem: wastepaper-basket.

In what follows the main structural types of English compounds are described in greater detail. The list is by no means exhaustive but it may serve as a general guide.


Within the class of compound nouns we distinguish endentri and exocentric compounds. In endocentric nouns the referent is named by one of the elements and given a

further characteristic by the other. In exocentric nouns only the combination of both elements names the referent. A further subdivision takes into account the character of stems.

The sunbeam type. A noun stem is determined by another noun stem. This is a most productive type, the number of examples being practically unlimited.

The maidservant type also consists of noun stems but the relationship between the elements is different. Maidservant is an appositional compound. The second element is notionally dominant.

The looking-glass type shows a combination of a derived verbal stem with a noun stem.

The searchlight type consisting of a verbal stem and a noun stem is of a comparatively recent origin.

The blackboard type has already been discussed. The first stem here very often is not an adjective but a Participle II: cutwork. Sometimes the semantic relationship of the first element to the second is different. For instance, a green-grocer is not a grocer who happens to be green but one who sells vegetables.

There are several groups with a noun stem for the first element and various deverbal noun stems for the second: housekeeping, sunrise, time-server.

In exocentric compounds the referent is not named. The type scarecrow denotes the agent (a person or a thing) who or which performs the action named by the combination of the stems. In the case of scarecrow, it is a person or a thing employed in scaring birds. The type consists of a verbal stem followed by a noun stem. The personal nouns of this type are as a rule imaginative and often contemptuous: cut-throat, daredevil a reckless person, a murderer, lickspittle a toady, a flatterer, pickpocket a thief, turncoat a renegade.

A very productive and numerous group are nouns derived from verbs with postpositives, or more rarely with adverbs. This type consists chiefly of impersonal deverbal nouns denoting some action or specific instance. Examples: blackout a period of complete darkness (for example, when all the electric lights go out on the stage of the theatre, or when all lights in a city are covered as a precaution against air raids); also a temporary loss of consciousness; breakdown a stoppage through accident, a nervous collapse; hangover an unpleasant after-effect (especially after drink); make-up, a polysemantic compound which may mean, for example, the way anything is arranged, ones mental qualities, cosmetics; take-off, also polysemantic: caricature, the beginning of a flight, etc. Compare also: I could just imagine the brush-off hed had (Wain). Some more examples: comedown, drawback, drop-out, feedback, frame-up, knockout, set-back, shake-up, splash-down, take-in, teach-in, etc.

A special subgroup is formed by personal nouns with a somewhat derogatory connotation, as in go-between an intermediary, start-back a deserter. Sometimes these compounds are keenly ironical: die-hard an irreconcilable conservative, pin-up (such a girl as might have her

photograph pinned up on the wall for admiration, also the photograph itself), pick-up a chance acquaintance, a prostitute. More seldom the pattern is used for names of objects, mostly disparaging. For instance: Are these your books? Yes. They were a very odd collection of throw-outs from my flat (Cooper).

The group of bahuvrihi compound nouns is not very numerous. The term bahuvrihi is borrowed from the grammarians of ancient India. Its literal meaning is much-riced. It is used to designate possessive exocentric formations in which a person, animal or thing are metonymically named after some striking feature they possess, chiefly a striking feature in their appearance. This feature is in its turn expressed by the sum of the meanings of the compounds immediate constituents. The formula of the bahuvrihi compound nouns is adjective stem +noun stem.The following extract will illustrate the way bahuvrihi compounds may be coined: I got discouraged with sitting all day in the

backroom of a police station..... with six assorted women and a man with

a wooden leg. At the end of a week, we all knew each others life histories, including that of the woodenlegs uncle, who lived at Selsey and had to be careful of his diet (M. Dickens).

Semantically the bahuvrihi are almost invariably characterised by a deprecative ironical emotional tone. Cf. bigwig a person of importance, black-shirt an Italian fascist (also, by analogy, any fascist), fathead a dull, stupid person, greenhorn an ignoramus, highbrow a person who claims to be superior in intellect and culture, lazy-bones a lazy person.


Compound adjectives regularly correspond to free phrases. Thus, for example, the type threadbare consists of a noun stem and an adjective stem. The relation underlying this combination corresponds to the phrase bare to the thread. Examples are: airtight, bloodthirsty, carefree, heartfree, media-shy, noteworthy, pennywise, poundfoolish, seasick, etc.

The type has a variant with a different semantic formula: snow-white means as white as snow, so the underlying sense relation in that case is emphatic comparison, e. g. dog-tired, dirt-cheap, stone-deaf. Examples are mostly connected with colours: blood-red, sky-blue, pitch-black; with dimensions and scale: knee-deep, breast-high, nationwide, life-long, world-wide.

The red-hot type consists of two adjective stems, the first expressing the degree or the nuance of the second: white-hot, light-blue, reddish-brown.

The same formula occurs in additive compounds of the bitter-sweet type correlated with free phrases of the type adjective1and adjective2 {bitter and sweet) that are rather numerous in technical and scholarly vocabulary: social-economic, etc. The subgroup of Anglo-Saxon has been already discussed.

The peace-loving type consisting of a noun stem and a participle stem, is very productive at present. Examples are: breath-taking,

freedom-loving, soul-stirring. Temporal and local relations underlie such cases as sea-going, picture-going, summer-flowering.

The type is now literary and sometimes lofty, whereas in the 20s it was very common in upper-class slang, e. g. sick-making sickening.

A similar type with the pronoun stem self- as the first component (self-adjusting, self-propelling) is used in cultivated and technical speech only.

The hard-working type structurally consists of an adjective stem and a participle stem. Other examples of the same type are: good-looking, sweet-smelling, far-reaching. It is not difficult to notice, however, that looking, smelling, reaching do not exist as separate adjectives. Neither is it quite clear whether the first element corresponds to an adjective or an adverb. They receive some definite character only in compounds.

There is a considerable group of compounds characterised by the type word man-made, i.e. consisting of Participle II with a noun stem for a determinant.

The semantic relations underlying this type are remarkable for their great variety: man-made made by man (the relationship expressed is that of the agent and the action); home-made made at home (the notion of place); safety-tested tested for safety (purpose); moss-grown covered with moss (instrumental notion); compare also the figurative compound heart-broken having a broken heart. Most of the compounds containing a Participle II stem for their second element have a passive meaning. The few exceptions are: well-read, well-spoken, well-behaved and the like.


Scholars are not agreed on the question of compound verbs. This problem indeed can be argued in several different ways. It is not even clear whether verbal compositions exist in present-day English, though such verbs as outgrow, overflow, stand up, black-list, stage-manage and whitewash are often called compound verbs. There are even more complications to the problem than meet the eye.

H. Marchand, whose work has been quoted so extensively in the present chapter, treats outgrow and overflow as unquestionable compounds, although he admits that the type is not productive and that locative particles are near to prefixes. The Concise Oxford Dictionary", on the other hand, defines out- and over- as prefixes used both for verbs and nouns; this approach classes outgrow and overflow as derivatives, which seems convincing.

The stand-up type was in turns regarded as a phrase, a compound and a derivative; its nature has been the subject of much discussion (see 6.2.4).

The verbs blackmail and stage-manage belong to two different groups because they show different correlations with the rest of the vocabulary.

blackmail v = honeymoon v = nickname v

blackmail n honeymoon n nickname n

The verbs blackmail, honeymoon and nickname are, therefore, cases of conversion from endocentric nominal compounds. The type stage-manage may be referred to back-formation. The correlation is as follows:

stage-manage v = proof-read v = housekeep v
stage-manager n proof-reader n housekeeper n

The second element in the first group is a noun stem; in the second group it is always verbal.

Some examples of the first group are the verbs safeguard, nickname, shipwreck, whitewash, tiptoe, outline, honeymoon, blackmail, hero-worship. All these exist in English for a long time. The 20th century created week-end, double-cross betray, stream-line, softpedal, spotlight.

The type is especially productive in colloquial speech and slang, particularly in American English.

The second group is less numerous than the first but highly productive in the 20th century. Among the earliest coinages are backbite (1300) and browbeat (1603), then later ill-treat, house-keep. The 20th century has coined hitch-hike (cf. hitch-hiker) to travel from place to place by asking motorists for free rides; proof-read (cf. proof-reader) to read and correct printers proofs; compare also mass-produce, taperecord and vacuum-clean. The most recent is hijack make pilots change the course of aeroplanes by using violence which comes from the slang word hijacker explained in the Chamberss Dictionary as a highwayman or a robber and blackmailer of bootleggers (smugglers of liquor).

The structural integrity of these combinations is supported by the order of constituents which is a contrast to the usual syntactic pattern where the verb stem would come first. Cf. to read proofs and to proofread.

H. Marchand calls them pseudo-compounds, because they are created as verbs not by the process of composition but by conversion and back-formation. His classification may seem convincing, if the vocabulary is treated diachronically from the viewpoint of those processes that are at theback of its formation. It is quite true that the verb vacuum-clean was not coined by compounding and so is not a compound genetically (on the word-formation level). But if we are concerned with the present-day structure and follow consistently the definition of a compound given in the opening lines of this chapter, we see that it is a word containing two free stems. It functions in the sentence as a separate lexical unit. It seems logical to consider such words as compounds by right of their structural pattern.


Derivational compounds or compound-derivatives like long-legged do not fit the definition of compounds as words consisting of more than one free stem, because their second element (-legged) is not a free stem. Derivational compounds are included in this

chapter for two reasons: because the number of root morphemes is more than one, and because they are nearest to compounds in patterns.

Derivational compounds or compound-derivatives are words in which the structural integrity of the two free stems is ensured by a suffix referring to the combination as a whole, not to one of its elements: kind-hearted, old-timer, schoolboyishness, teenager. In the coining of the derivational compounds two types of word-formation are at work. The essence of the derivational compounds will be clear if we compare them with derivatives and compounds proper that possess a similar structure. Take, for example, brainstraster, honeymooner and mill-owner. The ultimate constituents of all three are: noun stem+ nounstem+-er. Analysing into immediate constituents, we see that the immediate constituents (ICs) of the compound mill-owner are two noun stems, the first simple, the second derived: mill+owner, of which the last, the determinatum, as well as the whole compound, names a person. For the word honeymooner no such division is possible, since *mooner does not exist as a free stem. The ICs are honeymoon+-er, and the suffix -er signals that the whole denotes a person: the structure is (honey+moon)+-er.

The process of word-building in these seemingly similar words is different: mill-owner is coined by composition, honeymooner by derivation from the compound honeymoon. Honeymoon being a compound, honeymooner is a derivative. Now brains trust a group of experts is a phrase, so brainstruster is formed by two simultaneous processes by composition and by derivation and may be called a derivational compound. Its ICs are (brains+ trust)+-r1.

The suffix -er is one of the productive suffixes in forming derivational compounds. Other examples of the same pattern are: backbencher an M.P. occupying the back bench, do-gooder (ironically used in AmE), eye-opener enlightening circumstance, first-nighter habitual frequenter of the first performance of plays, go-getter (colloq.) a pushing person, late-comer, left-hander left-handed person or blow.

Nonce-words show some variations on this type. The process of their formation is clearly seen in the following examples: Have you ever thought of bringing them together? Oh, God forbid. As you may have noticed, I'm not much of a bringer-together at the best of times. (Plomer) The shops are very modern here, he went on, speaking with all the rather touchy insistence on up-to-dateness which characterises the inhabitants of an under-bathroomed and over-monumented country (Huxley).

Another frequent type of derivational compounds are the possessive compounds of the type kind-hearted: adjective stem+noun stem+-ed. Its ICs are a noun phrase kind heart and the suffix -ed that unites the elements of the phrase and turns them into the elements of a compound adjective. Similar examples are extremely numerous. Compounds of this type can be coined very freely to meet the requirements of different situations.

1 See on this point the article on compounds in The Second Barnhart Dictionary of New English (p. 115).

Very few go back to Old English, such as one-eyed and three-headed, most of the cases are coined in Modern English. Examples are practically unlimited, especially in words describing personal appearance or character: absent-minded, bare-legged, black-haired, blue-eyed, cruel-hearted, light-minded, ill-mannered, many-sided, narrow-minded, shortsighted, etc.

The first element may also be a noun stem: bow-legged, heart-shaped and very often a numeral: three-coloured.

The derivational compounds often become the basis of further derivation. Cf. war-minded : : war-mindedness; whole-hearted : : whole-heartedness : : whole-heartedly, schoolboyish : : schoolboyishness; do-it-yourselfer : : do-it-yourselfism.

The process is also called phrasal derivation: mini-skirt>mini-skirted, nothing but>nothingbutism, dress up>dressuppable, Romeo-and-Julietishness, or quotation derivation as when an unwillingness to do anything is characterised as let-George-do-it-ity. All these are nonce-words, with some ironic or jocular connotation.

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