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Compounding

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English

Compounding (also known as composition or nominal composition) is important in linguistics because it allows for new words to be made and exists in most, if not all, languages. For some languages (like Chinese) it is a major source of new word formation.

Zero-derivation - the compounds bedroom & dining table - StudySmarter Compounding combines words to create new words. JW A StudySmarter Original

What is Compounding?

Compounding (from Latin componere, meaning 'to put together') combines two or more words to create a new one.

Steam + boat = Steamboat

Bed + room = Bedroom

Hair + cut = Haircut

Motor + cycle = Motorcycle

Compound elements

A compound is made up of various parts of speech such as a noun, verb, and adverb.

This means that compounds can be a combination of noun plus noun, verb plus noun, adjective plus noun, etc.

The word "bedroom" is made up of two nouns, bed and room.

The word "sunrise" is made up of a noun and a verb, sun and rise.

The word "greenhouse" is made up of an adjective and a noun, green and house.

Compounds can be written as one word, two separate words, or a word with a hyphen.

Note: Compounds are made up of complete words; this process is called nominal composition and should not be confused with morphological derivation.

Morphological derivation is when a new word is made from an existing word, usually by adding prefixes or suffixes. For example, employment is made of the verb employ plus the suffix morpheme -ment.

Classical compounds is another category of compounds, derived from Latin or ancient Greek.

Biography is a compound of the Greek words bios (life) and graphia (writing), which by the 17th century had become biography.

Agriculture is a compound of the Latin words ager (field) and cultura (growing / cultivation) which became 'agriculture' in late Middle English.

Pronunciation

Pronunciation can help to determine the meaning of words. Depending on how we pronounce a word, this can change its meaning. One important aspect of our pronunciations is stress. Let's look at this in more detail:

Stress

Stress in pronunciation is when we place greater emphasis on one syllable or word than on other parts of a sentence; this usually helps us to recognize and understand the meaning of a word.

Stress is useful in helping us to understand the difference between a compound noun and an adjective with a noun. In the following examples, note where the stress falls:

A greenhouse = place where we grow plants (compound noun).

A green house = house painted green (adjective and noun).

A bluebird = type of bird (compound noun).

A blue bird = any bird with blue feathers (adjective and noun).

Compound elements

Noun + noun

bedroom

toothpaste

database

Noun + verb

rainfall

handmade

sunrise

Noun + adverb

hanger-on

passer-by

runner-up

Verb + noun

washing machine

driving license

swimming pool

Verb + adverb

lookout

take off

drawback

Adverb + noun

onlooker

bystander

Adjective + verb

dry cleaning

public speaking

Adjective + noun

greenhouse

software

redhead

Adverb + verb

output

overthrow

upturn

input

The Suspended Compound

The suspended compound is used to avoid repetition with longer words.

For example, instead of saying: 'There are mostly eighteenth-century or nineteenth-century buildings in the town centre,' we can shorten the first compound and say: '' There are mostly eighteenth- or nineteenth-century buildings in the town centre. ''

Other examples:

Short- and long-term plans are equally valid.

Both first- and second-class tickets cost the same.

Compounding across the globe

Compounds exist in virtually every language.

Let's look at some examples from around the world.

English Italian Spanish
science fiction fantascienza ciencia-ficción
science + fiction imaginary + science science + fiction
Dutch English Composition
verjaardagskalender birthday calendar verjaardag 'birthday' + calendar 'calendar'
Klantenserviceemedewerker customer service representative clanten 'customers' + service 'service' + medewerker 'worker'
university library university library university 'university' + library 'library'
Chinese English Composition
谢谢 thanks Repeating of 謝 xiè thank
摩天 楼 skyscraper 摩 mó touch + 天 tiān sky + 楼 lóu building (with more than 1 storey
学生 college student 學 xué learn + 生 shēng living being
百科 全書 encyclopaedia 百 bǎi hundred + 科 kē (branch of) study + 全 quán entire / complete + 書 shū book
Finnish English Composition
sanakirja dictionary sana 'word' + kirja 'book'
tietokone computer tieto 'knowledge data' + kone 'machine'
German English Composition
skyscraper skyscraper Clouds' + scratches' scraper '
railroad railway Iron 'iron' + train 'track'
Ancient Greek English Composition
φιλόσοφος philosopher φίλος phílos 'beloved' + σοφία sophíā 'wisdom'
δημοκρατία democracy δῆμος dêmos 'people' + κράτος 'rule'
Italian English Composition
millepiedi centipede mille 'thousand' + piedi 'feet'
ferrovia railway ferro 'iron' + via 'way'

Compounds and Form

Compound nouns can be written in three ways: open form, closed form and hyphenated form.

Open (or spaced) form compounds

An open compound is written as two separate words.

washing machine,

water bottle.

Closed form compounds

A closed (or solid) compound is written as one word.

rainfall,

drawback,

toothpaste.

Hyphenated form compounds

A hyphenated compound is written with a hyphen.

Check in,

hanger-on,

mother-in-law.

Some compounds are made up of two similar-sounding elements, such as:

  • goody-goody,
  • hush-hush,
  • razzle-dazzle.

These are called reduplicative compounds and are usually hyphenated if each element has one or more syllables. However, closed form is also common, as in:

  • crisscross,
  • knickknack,
  • singsong.

Compound subclasses

Compounds are usually made up of two words:

One word gives the basic meaning of the whole compound and is called the head, the other word (the modifier) qualifies this meaning (ie. it gives us more specific information about the head).

Compounds can be divided into four subclasses:

Endocentric

Exocentric

Coordinative

Appositional

Endocentric compounds

In endocentric compounds, the meaning of the whole word tends to be clear and relates to the head.

The first word will be the modifier. The head word comes second and categorizes the compound. This is called a head final. The modifier will qualify the meaning of the head final.

In the compound word cookbook, book is the head (it gives us the main meaning) and cook is the modifier (it tells us what kind of book).

In the compound word doghouse, house is the head and dog is the modifier, and this tells us it is a house intended for a dog.

Endocentric compounds tend to be of the same part of speech (word class) as their head, as in the case of doghouse, which is made up of a noun plus noun .

Cat food tells us what type of food (food intended for cats).

Water bottle tells us what type of bottle (a bottle we can drink water from).

Because the modifier gives us a specialization of the head word, this type of compound is also known as a descriptive compound.

Zero-derivation - the endocentric compound cookbook - StudySmarter Cookbook is an endocentric compound. JW A StudySmarter Original

Exocentric compounds

With exocentric compounds, the meaning is not obvious and often seems unrelated to any part of the compound itself.

Facebook is not a type of book.

Scarecrow is not a type of crow.

Paperback is not a type of back.

Facebook is a social media platform, yet we couldn't guess this from the words used to make the compound. The same goes for scarecrow, a figure created to scare birds away from crops, and paperback, which is a type of book.

Exocentric compounds lack a clear head and are also often called headless compounds.

Coordinative compounds

Coordinative (or copulative) compounds are compounds with two semantic heads that work in coordination. The meanings will be related, or have similar origins, without being the same thing.

Semantic gives us the meaning or interpretation of a word.

For example, actor-manager means someone who is an actor and a theatre manager.

Producer-director is a person who is a producer and a director.

Camper-trailer is a vehicle that is a camper and a trailer.

Theater-museum is a building that is both a theater and a museum.

Coordinative compounds are often used to describe people's professions and can be made up of as many as five words.

Designer-builder is a person who designs and builds.

Listener-viewer-reader is a person who lists, watches (films) and reads (books).

Musician-writer-fillmmaker is a musician who is also a professional writer and filmmaker.

Zero-derivation - A musician-writer-filmmaker - StudySmarter Musician-writer-filmmaker is a coordinative compound. JW A StudySmarter Original

Appositional compounds

Appositional compounds are made up of (two) words that each describe the compound differently.

For example, instead of saying 'these prehistoric tribes were both hunters and gatherers' you could say 'these prehistoric tribes were hunter-gatherers'.

Player-coach means a person who is both a player and a coach.

Student-teacher is a student who also teaches.

Singer-songwriter is a singer who is also a songwriter.

Table summary

Type Description Examples
Endocentric A + B = a special kind of B Whiteboard, darkroom
Exocentric A + B = an external, unrelated meaning Redhead, cowhand
Coordinative A + B = 'the sum' of what A and B denote Producer-director, theater-museum
Appositional

A and B offer different descriptions for the same thing or person

Hunter-gatherer, student-teacher

Brahuvrihi compounds:

Brahuvrihi compounds are a subclass of exocentric compounds, and are also known as possessive compounds. This is when the first part (or word) of the compound is a specific feature of the second.

Hunchback is a person who has a hunched, or very curved, back.

Bluebell is a particular type of bell-shaped flower coloured blue.

A highbrow is a brow that is high (and associated with intelligence or intellect).

White-collar is a collar that is white (and therefore associated with office workers).

Barefoot is used when a person walks about without shoes on

The term comes from Sanskrit bahuvrīhi, which is also this type of compound, from bahu much + vrīh rice.

Possessive or bahuvrihi compounds are often used in English to describe characteristics of people, and can be figurative, or non-literal, in their meaning.

Green thumb suggests a person who is good at growing green things eg a gardener.

Hothead suggests a person with a quick (or 'hot') temper.

Egghead suggests someone who is studious or intellectual (originally a 'bald person', possibly associated with academics).

Goldilocks is used to describe locks of hair that are golden in color.

Greedyguts suggests someone who has a greedy stomach or is greedy by nature.

Lazybones suggests that a person is idle or lazy.

What are Compound Sentences?

Compound words are a combination of two or more words.

Compound sentences are a combination of two or more independent clauses.

Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity, and some men have mediocrity thrust upon them. (Joseph Heller, 1923-1999)

In the above sentence, we have three independent clauses. Note how they are linked by commas and the conjunction 'and'.

A compound sentence has at least two independent clauses. They can be joined by:

  • a semicolon,
  • a comma and coordinating conjunction eg 'and', 'or' and 'but'.

"I love to travel, but I hate to arrive." (Albert Einstein, 1879-1955)

Compounding - key takeaways

  • Compounding combines two or more words to create a new word.
  • A compound is made up of various parts of speech such as noun, verb, and adverb.
  • Compounds can be a combination of noun plus noun, verb plus noun, adjective plus noun etc.
  • Compounds can be written as one word, as two separate words, or as a word with a hyphen.
  • Compounds can be divided into four subclasses: endocentric, exocentric, coordinative and appositional.
  • Compound sentences are a combination of two or more independent clauses, linked by 'and', 'but' or a semi-colon.

Compounding

A compound word is made up of two or more words.

Compound sentences are a combination of two or more independent clauses.

Steamboat is an example of compounding, where the noun 'steam' is combined with the noun 'boat' to make a new word: steamboat.

Final Compounding Quiz

Question

What is compounding?

Show answer

Answer

Compounding combines two or more words to create a new word.

Show question

Question

Complete the following sentence: 

Compounds can be a …  of noun plus ..., ... plus noun,  ... plus noun etc.

Show answer

Answer

Compounds can be a combination of noun plus noun, verb plus noun,  adjective plus noun etc.

Show question

Question

True or false? Compound nouns can be written in two ways: open form, and hyphenated form.


Show answer

Answer

False. Compound nouns can be written in three ways: open form, closed form and hyphenated form.

Show question

Question

True or false? Compounds can be written as one word only.


Show answer

Answer

False. Compounds can be written as one word, as two separate words, or as a word with a hyphen.

Show question

Question

Complete the following sentence:

 …. compounds lack a clear head and are also often called ... compounds.

Show answer

Answer

Exocentric compounds lack a clear head and are also often called headless compounds.


Show question

Question

What is a coordinative compound? Give an example.


Show answer

Answer

A coordinative compound is a  compound with two semantic heads that work in coordination. For example: actor-manager, producer-director, theatre-museum etc.

Show question

Question

True or false? 

Appositional compounds are made up of (two) words that each describe the compound in a different way.

Show answer

Answer

True.

Show question

Question

What is a possessive compound? Give an example.


Show answer

Answer

A possessive compound is when the first part (or word) of the compound is a specific feature of the second. For example: white-collar, barefoot, highbrow etc.

Show question

Question

Bedroom and toothpaste are compounds made up of noun + noun. What are the following compounds made up of? 

Sunrise, swimming pool, passer-by.

Show answer

Answer

Sunrise = noun + verb

Swimming pool = verb + noun

Passer-by = noun + adverb

Show question

Question

 What is a compound sentence and give an example.


Show answer

Answer

A compound sentence is a combination of two or more independent clauses. For example, 'I love to travel, but I hate to arrive.'


Show question

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