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English compound adjectives

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A sheep is sitting and behind there is a blackboard and it is written “2+2=5”.

What is a compound adjective, how to form it and what types are there in the English language? Today we will answer all these questions, because this topic is indeed very important for English learners.

Native speakers use compound adjectives very often! Have you ever heard of “well-known, hard-working”? I am sure that yes! All these words are compound adjectives. In general, there are simple and compound adjectives. Simple adjectives consist of one word and we talk about them in a more detailed way in the other articles.  

Compound adjectives consist of two or more words. They can be written all together, separately or with a dash, for instance: “part-time, well done, worldwide, good-looking”. It is better to check their spelling in the dictionary. Although there are some spelling rules, they are not so reliable, because there are so many exceptions. In common, compound adjectives with numbers should be written with a dash, like “first-class, hundred-dollar cheque”. Also, if a part of a compound adjective is an adverb that ends in “-ly”, it should be written separately. For instance: “an internationally recognized actor”. 

And the last rule is quite easy, but it does not always work, remember that! If a compound adjective goes before an object it describes, we should write it with a dash. If it goes after an object, we do not need any dash. For example: “A well-known person (compound adjective + noun); This man is well known (noun + verb + compound adjective)”.

We can also divide all compound adjectives into approximate thematic groups according to the characteristic it adds to an object or person. These are:

  1. Colours (e.g. snow-white)
  2. Qualities (e.g. hard-working)
  3. Quantities (e.g. six-month-old)
  4. Characteristics (e.g. ready-made)

We can form compound adjectives differently. To do that we should put together two parts of speech (like a noun, a verb, an adjective, an adverb, a numeral). Let us check which parts of speech we can unite. There are eight models that shows how a compound adjective can be formed with the two different words:

  1. Noun + noun (e.g. waterproof)
  2. Noun + adjective (e.g. sugar-free)
  3. Adjective + adjective (e.g. light-blue)
  4. Adjective + present participle (e.g. easy-going)
  5. Adjective + past participle (e.g. old-fashioned)
  6. Adverb + past participle (e.g. well-known)
  7. Numeral + past participle (e.g. two-faced)
  8. Numeral + noun (e.g. two-hour)

In conclusion, let us remember that compound adjectives can be divided in four thematic groups and formed in eight ways. There are also some spelling rules and many exceptions, that is why always check it up in dictionaries.

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Polina Kovalenko
Polina Kovalenko
Can you give your examples of compound adjectives?

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