Compound Adjectives

Compound adjectives are used as one single adjective. They function as the head of the sentence. In this lesson, we will learn all about them.

What Are Compound Adjectives?

What Are Compound Adjectives?

Compound adjectives are made up of multiple individual words that are used as one single adjective. The words are most commonly connected by a hyphen when used as adjectives.

Compound Adjectives: Function

Like other adjectives, compound adjectives are used to modify nouns and pronouns, and they often appear directly before the word they modify or after a linking verb. Have a look:

  • Before the Noun (Attributive Position): Compound adjectives placed before the noun modify the noun directly and provide additional information about it. For example:

She used old-fashioned dresses to represent the style of the eighteenth century.

  • After the Noun (Predicative Position): Compound adjectives placed after the noun and a linking verb (e.g., 'are,' 'is,' 'seem') function as predicate adjectives, describing the subject of the sentence. For example:

They were hard-working.

Compound Adjectives: Structure

Compound adjectives can have different structures, some of the most common ones are:

  • Noun + Adjective
  • Adjective + Adjective
  • Adjective + Noun
  • Adverb + Adjective
  • Preposition + Noun

Noun + Adjective

Sometimes if you add a noun to an adjective, a new word is created that can be used as a compound adjective to modify another noun. In this case, the compound adjective is usually hyphenated. For example:

The water is ice-cold.

She had sky-blue eyes.

I felt awfully seasick.

The food was really mouth-watering.

Noun + present participle (adjective).

His behavior was self-effacing.

When there is a combination of a noun and a present participle (adjective), the compound adjective is always hyphenated.

Sun-dried tomatoes have an intense sweet-tart flavor.

Noun + past participle (adjective).

She's a homegrown pop artist.

Noun + past participle (adjective).

'seasick' is a compound adjective

Tip!

Some compound adjectives are written as single words without hyphens or spaces when they are widely accepted. They are called closed compound adjectives. Here are the examples:

I was homesick for France.

As you can see, the lack of a hyphen indicates that the two parts of the compound adjective have fused together, forming a single word.

Adjective + Adjective

These compound adjectives are formed by combining two adjectives to describe a noun. They work together to provide more specific information about the noun they modify and they are typically hyphenated. Here are a few examples:

The chicken is double-baked.

Adjective + past participle (adjective)

The high-pitched whistle hurt my ears.

Adjective + past participle (adjective)

She wore a blue-green dress to the party.

Adjective + Noun

This type of compound adjective is created when an adjective and a noun are joined together to describe a noun, often indicating a specific quality or characteristic. These compound adjectives are usually hyphenated. Here are some examples:

I bought a low-fat yogurt.

Many blue-collar workers in the factory have been with the company for years.

He made a last-minute decision to join the trip.

Adverb + Adjective

These compound adjectives are formed by adding an adverb to a past participle (adjective) to describe a noun in a more detailed way. Have a look:

She comes from a well-educated family.

Tokyo is one of the most densely-populated cities in the world.

The actor is so well-known that he gets recognized wherever he goes.

The ill-tempered cat hissed at everyone who came near.

Tip!

Sometimes there is a space between the adverb and the past participle, in which case the phrase is not a compound adjective. Check out the example:

She carefully washed the dishes. → not a compound adjective

Preposition + Noun

Some of these compound adjectives are made from a preposition plus a noun. Take a look:

The product's price tag does not include after-tax costs.

The in-service training program provided valuable skills for the employees.

Tip!

Most compound adjectives consist of two words; however, they can consist of more:

Some over-the-counter drugs relieve aches, pains, and itches.

As you can see, 'the' is a definite article used to specify a particular counter, and "counter" refers to a physical or figurative surface or location where transactions or interactions take place.

Punctuation Rules

Compound adjectives are mostly hyphenated. The use of hyphens in compound adjectives can be a source of confusion in English writing. Here are some guidelines to help you understand when to hyphenate compound adjectives:

  • Adjective-Noun Combinations: Compound adjectives formed by combining an adjective and a noun are often hyphenated. For example:

High-tech gadgets

Low-income families

  • Adjective-Adjective Combinations: When two adjectives are used together to modify a noun, they are typically hyphenated. For example:

Blue-eyed girl

  • Time and Age Expressions: Compound adjectives involving time or age expressions are usually hyphenated. For example:

Ten-minute break

Two-year project

Adjectives of Compound Verbs

Some adjectives are formed from past participle forms of compound verbs, which are used as adjectives. These adjectives are written as single words, but they are not considered compound adjectives. Here are the examples:

The meat is undercooked. → not a compound adjective

Here, the adjective 'undercooked' is derived from the verb 'undercook', so, it is not a compound adjective.

The city was overpopulated. → not a compound adjective

Here, the adjective overpopulated is derived from the compound verb 'overpopulate.'

Warning

A compound adjective should be able to function as a subject complement. If a group of words meets this criterion, then it is a compound adjective. Otherwise, it is another type of phrase. Pay attention to the examples:

This is a mind-blowing movie. → This movie is mind-blowing. (subject complement)

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An attributive adjective is an adjective that appears before the noun or pronoun it describes. In this lesson, we will learn more about them.

Proper Adjectives

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Participle Adjectives

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Participle adjectives are the same form as participles with the same characteristics with adjectives.

Postpositive Adjectives

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