Compound words are two or more words joined to form a new word. They can be solid (two words written as one without a hyphen, such as keyboard or goldfish), open (two words written as two words but forming a unit, with no hyphen, such as post office or attorney general), and hyphenated (two or more words linked with hyphens, such as well-being, self-imposed,ex-president, or freckle-faced boy).
Adjectives modify (describe) nouns. Example: I am wearing fancy shoes. (What kind of shoes? Fancy. Fancy is the adjective.) Ex.: He wore a faded, blue shirt. (Faded and blue are adjectives.)
Compound adjectives are two or more words that together modify another word. In most cases, the two or more words are linked together with a hyphen. Hyphenated compound adjectives are used before nouns. When they come after nouns, they are not hyphenated, unless they are a hyphenated compound word anyway. Examples:
I have a part-time job.
My job at Target is part time.
My six-year-old cat, Phoebe, had kittens.
My cat, Phoebe, is six years old today.
It was a life-changing adventure.
The experience was life changing.
It was a decision-making process.
The process required decision making.
Otis is a freckle-faced boy.
Otis has always been freckle-faced.
I like one-of-a-kind shoes.
Sparky’s shoes were one-of-a-kind.
We filled out a self-esteem questionnaire.
The questionnaire measured self-esteem.
The mother-of-pearl necklace was a gift.
The necklace was mother-of-pearl.
What kind of job? A part-time job. Part together with time modifies the word job. Part-time is the compound adjective that distinguishes what kind of job it is. The difference between an adjective and a compound adjective is that the compound adjective is made of two or more words that together modify another word.
Two or more descriptors (cumulative adjectives) are separated by commas (She had a big, toothy grin. It was a small, yellow, polka-dotted purse.). In the last example, polka-dotted is a compound word as well as a compound adjective. If the adjectives (compound or not) can switch places, a comma is needed to separate them: It was a polka-dotted, small, yellow purse. If the modifying words can’t switch places and still make sense, chances are they form a compound adjective. Examples:
Her light-blue hat complemented her salmon-pink, silk scarf. Silk and salmon-pinkboth modify the word scarf. They can be exchanged: …her silk, salmon-pink scarf. Salmon and pink, however, cannot be exchanged, nor can light and blue: …her silk, pink-salmon…her blue-light hat.)
Use hyphens forwords that could be misunderstood, for example, re-pair (pair again), re-form (form again), co-op (not to be confused with coop), or un-ionized (not to be confused with unionized). In the sentence “She works in the large-print area of the library,” if there were no hyphen, one might think the area of the library was large, rather than the print of the books.
Compound words composed with prefixes: Write most words formed with prefixes as one word (aftereffect, extracurricular, multiphase, socioeconomic, interlibrary, coauthor, intramural, bilingual, multimedia, counterclockwise, antisocial, overanxious, to name a few).
Use hyphens when the compound is composed of a word ending in the same letter the next word begins with (semi-interested, meta-analysis, anti-intellectual, co-occur, co-op, for example).
Suspended hyphens: When two or more compound modifiers have a common base, this base is sometimes omitted in all except the last modifier, but the hyphens are retained (suspended).
Examples: Dotty has an amazing long- and short-term memory. Yoga sessions were 30-, 40-, and 60-minutes.
When the base word is capitalized, hyphenate the compound words.
Use hyphens when the compound adjective involves a number.
Example: The new go-go boots style is from a mid-1970s era.
Self words: Use hyphens to connect compound words (adjectives or nouns) using self (self-report, self-esteem, self-directed, self-possessed, self-important, self-aware, to name a few).
Compound adjectives with ly words DO NOT NEED TO BE HYPHENATED.
Adverbs modify verbs. Ex. She ran quickly. How did she run (verb)? Quickly (adverb). When adverbs end in ly and form a compound adjective, do not hyphenate the compound adjective.
Example: The performance was extremely well attended. Not The performance was extremely-well attended.
Example: They both were happily married women whose husbands were astonishingly accomplished bakers.
Not They were happily-married women whose husbands were astonishingly-accomplished bakers.
No hyphen is required because it is clear that the adverb modifies the adjective (accomplished; how accomplished? Astonishingly accomplished) rather than the subsequent noun (bakers). Happily modifies married, not women. Happily and married form a unit (compound) adjective.
Compound adjectives includingcomparativesand superlativesDO NOT NEED TO BE HYPHENATED.
Examples: She bakes the most delicious pies; he called at the least desirable moment; a more recent update…; the most ambitious athlete…; a lesser known author…
NO HYPHEN IS NEEDED with compound words or adjectives that are open (two words written as one unit with no hyphen) or with when there is no ambiguity. Examples of open compound words: truck stop, uneven bars, full moon, fruit fly, and fishing net. If a compound adjective is unambiguous, a hyphen may not be necessary (“…a Sunday morning walk” needs no hyphen between Sunday and morning). One way to decide if a hyphen is necessary is to see if the phrase might be ambiguous without it (Dr. Hu works at a large animal clinic: large animal or large clinic?). When in doubt, one can check in a dictionary.
EXERCIZES. Correct the following sentences or leave them as is if they are already correct.
We need more qualified workers. (meaning we need more workers who are qualified).
We need more qualified workers (meaning we need workers who are more qualified).
Gretta is a well respected seamstress, according to Mr. Braun, who is himself well respected in the sewing world. Her grade point average had nothing to do with her sewing skills.
The dancers were repaired when the dance changed from Tango to Cha-Cha-Cha.
Jacob’s dancing shoe needed to be re paired after the evening of long, old time square dances.
Ming’s fish net stocking had a hole in it after catching it on her brass buckled pumps.
The middleaged man’s fish net was tangled after the incredibly windy storm.