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Compound Nouns

Compound nouns are formed by two words that act as a single unit (a noun). Further, some compound nouns can be written in more than one way, and no clear rule exists on how compound nouns are written.

How to write compound nouns?

Compound nouns can either be written as a single word (highway, pullover, horseshoe), with a hyphen (-) (well-being, fire-engine, rib-eye, six-wheeler), or written as two (or more) separate words (small talk, city centre, hound dog).

Compound nouns are written as a single word

  • Bloodhound
  • Highway
  • Horseshoe
  • Paperback
  • Pullover

Compound nouns joined by a hyphen

  • Well-being
  • Fire-Engine
  • Gun-carriage
  • Rib-eye
  • Six-wheeler

Compound nouns written as two separate words

  • Small talk
  • Concealed carry
  • City centre
  • Hound dog
  • Cleaning lady/cleaning man

Compound nouns with context and analysis

  • What’s your opinion on the public transportation1 system in London?
  • Well, the underground2 system works fantastically well, as do3 most cities in Europe, although, the system is very expensive. My girlfriend,4 who has to catch the subway every day5, has to pay over one hundred6 pounds per month, which I think is a tad7 too pricey.
  • Maybe you ought to get8 your driver license9 then, eh?
  • No way! Driving a car in London is even more expensive.
  • What about getting a motorcycle?10
  • Well, motorcycles are fairly11 dangerous you know. I was on the lookout12 for a cheap scooter though. I don’t think a scooter or moped would be too expensive to maintain.
  • The passers-by13 always have it the best. That’s why you need to just walk to work.
  • Are you kidding me!?
  • Who on earth14 in London gets to walk15 to work!
  • I was just joking.
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  1. Public transportation: is a very common compound noun. It doesn’t need a hyphen (-). Generally, when a compound noun has a hyphen, it is because the compound noun itself is very new or just being introduced into society for the first time. When the compound noun becomes more well-known it’s common to get rid of the hyphen. 
  2. Underground: a compound noun that refers to the metro system underground. In American English, subway is more commonly used.
  3. As do: the plural do is used because cities is plural.
  4. Girlfriend: a compound noun, as is a boyfriend.
  5. Every day: careful not confuse everyday with every day. The former is the adjective, i.e., I like your everyday clothes (everyday is an adjective and it is modifying the noun, clothes). And the latter being two separate words, every, the adjective, modifies the noun, day. I.e., I go to school every day.
  6. One hundred: is a compound noun. Numbers from twenty-one to ninety-nine always require a hyphen/dash (-).
  7. Tad: a noun meaning, a small amount.
  8. To get your driver license: ‘get + noun’ = ‘obtain’ or ‘receive’. The noun being, driver license. To get your driver license would be the same as saying, to receive/obtain your driver license.
  9. Driver license: a compound noun.
  10. Motorcycle: compound noun. You can see that it’s a compound noun due to the formation of two separate words, motor and cycle.
  11. Fairly: is a very common adverb that English speakers use to express the degree to which something happens. Rather, quite, and little are also very common, but with higher or lower levels of degree.
  12. Lookout: a compound noun that refers to a place where one can see the panorama.
  13. Passer-by: is a compound noun in the singular. The plural form is as above, passers-by. This compound noun just refers to pedestrians or people walking on the street.
  14. What/who/where/how etc, on earth: is a popular expression to express shock, surprise, or anger.
  15. Gets to walk: ‘get + to + infinitive’ literally means, ‘to have the opportunity’. I.e., They get to travel to South America every year. I get to learn English with English Reservoir.

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