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.

When Do We Use Compound Adjectives?

Compound adjectives act exactly like any other adjectives: they are used to modify nouns and pronouns, and they often appear directly before the word that they modify or after a linking verb.

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

They were hard-working.

Compound Adjectives' Structure

There are different structures that make compound words. Check the following structures to find out if they are compound adjectives or noun modifiers:

  • Noun + Adjective
  • Adverb + Past Participle
  • Noun + Present Participle
  • Adjective + Past Participle
  • Noun + Past Participle
  • Noun + Noun

Noun + Adjective

There are some structures in which a noun is added to the beginning of an adjective. Check out the examples:

✓ I felt awfully seasick. → compound adjective

✓ I was seasick after the taking the trip to Venice. → compound adjective

Sometimes if you add a noun to the beginning of an adjective they make a new word that can be used as a compound adjective for another noun. In this case, the compound adjective is usually hyphenated.

✓ Pool water is ice-cold. → compound adjective

✓ She had incredibly sky-blue eyes. → compound adjective

'seasick' is a compound adjective

Adverb + Past Participle

Adding every adverb to the past participle cannot make a compound adjective. When you face one of these structures, all you have to do is to check them through a statement; if they can be used as a subject complement or an adverb can modify them, then you have a compound adjective, if not, you are facing with another kind of phrase.

Always well-dressed, she opened the door. → compound adjective

✓ The model was half-naked. → compound adjective

✗ The almost remarkably beautiful girl. → not a compound adjective

✗ The really three-day trip to Spain → not a compound adjective


Sometimes there is a space between the adverb and the following word, which in this case the phrase is not a compound word. Check out the example:

She carefully washed the dishes. → not a compound adjective

Sometimes there is no space between the adverb and the following words and they are used as adjectives, but they are derived from a verb and we are actually using the past participle of a verb as the adjective, which in this case there is no compound adjective. Here are the examples:

The meat is undercooked. → not a compound adjective

Here, the adjective 'undercooked' is derived from the verb 'undercook'.

The city was overpopulated. → not a compound adjective

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

Noun + Present Participle

Sometimes adding a noun to the present participle can make a compound adjective which is always hyphenated. Check out the following examples:

✓ They were really mouth-watering. → compound adjective

✓ His behavior was self-effacing. → compound adjective

Adjective + Past Participle

Mostly when you add an adjective to the past participle of the verb properly, a compound adjective is created. Remember in this case, it is better to add a hyphen between the adjective and past participle. Here are a few examples:

✓ The chicken is double-baked. → compound adjective

✓ The cake was carefully double-baked. → compound adjective

Noun + Past Participle

Sometimes when you add a noun to the past participle of the verb, you make a compound adjective. Here are a few examples:

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

She's a homegrown pop artist.

Noun + Noun

Sometimes we can create compound adjectives by combining two nouns together:

Hal was seasick almost at once.

Bullet-proof vests use layers of very strong fibers to deform a bullet.

Punctuation Rules

Compound adjectives are mostly hyphenated. Here are the structures that make hyphenated compound adjectives.

Here are a few examples of compound adjectives:

Time-saving methods

paper-thin boxes

mind-blowing event

Some compound adjectives are used with no space in between. They are called closed compound adjectives. Here are the examples:

They were bulletproof jackets.

I was homesick for France.

Adjectives of Compound Verbs

Some adjectives are actually past participle forms of compound verbs that are used as adjectives. These adjectives are written closed, but they are not compound adjectives. Here are the examples:

The steak was overcooked.

She was brainwashed.

Compound Adjectives vs. Compound Noun Modifiers

Compound nouns and compound adjectives are usually confusing for English learners. There are two delicate differences between compound adjectives and compound nouns*:

  1. Compound adjectives can be used as subject complements and you can also use an adverb before them to modify compound nouns.
  2. Compound noun modifiers cannot be modified by adverbs and they also cannot be used as subject complements.

Check out the examples:

He is open-minded. ✓

The Adjective 'open-minded' is used as the subject complement of the sentence; then it is a compound adjective.

Her dad is really open-minded. ✓

In this example, the adverb 'really' is used to describe the adjective open-minded, thus it is a compound adjective.

He is thirty-year-old. ✗

You cannot use 'thirty-years-old' as the subject complement, therefore the phrase is a noun modifier.

He is really thirty-year-old. ✗

In this example the adverb 'really' does not modify 'thirty-years-old,' so, we have a noun modifier.

Usually, noun modifiers that are made of numbers (post determiners) are hyphenated but are not considered compound adjectives. Here are the examples.

✗ This journey is five-day . → noun modifier

In this example, you cannot use 5-day as a subject complement then it is not a compound adjective.

Really five-day journey.


Most compound adjectives are made up of two words; however, they can contain more:

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


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Participle Adjectives

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

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