Compound Nouns

A compound noun is a noun made up of two or more words. Each word makes up part of the meaning of the noun.

  • Compound nouns can be written three ways:

A single word:
Haircut
Dropcloth

Two words:
Rain forest
Ice cream

Hyphenated:
Self-esteem
Brother-in-law

Hint: Single-word compound and hyphenated compounds are easy to spot. Two-word compounds can be tricky. Often they can be confused with adjectives describing nouns. Ask yourself, “Would I find that word in the dictionary?” For example, cold water is water that is cold. Ice cream is not cream that is ice. To check the spelling of a compound noun, check the dictionary.

  • Proper nouns such as names and places can also be classified as compound nouns.

Hint: A compound noun is the sum of its two parts. Just because you can divide a word into two other words doesn’t make it compound.

  • When making a compound noun plural, if the noun is one word, add s to the end. If it is two words or hyphenated, add s to the part that is plural, not the whole noun.

one director general … two directors general (there are two directors, not two generals)
one mother-in-law … two mothers-in-law (there are two mothers, not two laws)

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