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.
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
✓ I was
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
✓ She had incredibly
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.
✓ The model was
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:
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
Here, the adjective 'undercooked' is derived from the verb 'undercook'.
The city was
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
✓ His behavior was
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
✓ The cake was carefully
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:
Noun + Noun
Sometimes we can create compound adjectives by combining two nouns together:
Compound adjectives are mostly hyphenated. Here are the structures that make hyphenated compound adjectives.
Here are a few examples of compound adjectives:
Some compound adjectives are used with no space in between. They are called closed compound adjectives. Here are the examples:
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
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*:
- Compound adjectives can be used as subject complements and you can also use an adverb before them to modify compound nouns.
- Compound noun modifiers cannot be modified by adverbs and they also cannot be used as subject complements.
Check out the examples:
The Adjective 'open-minded' is used as the subject complement of the sentence; then it is a compound adjective.
Her dad is really
In this example, the adverb 'really' is used to describe the adjective open-minded, thus it is a compound adjective.
You cannot use 'thirty-years-old' as the subject complement, therefore the phrase is a noun modifier.
In this example the adverb 'really' does not modify 'thirty-years-old,' so, we have a noun modifier.
✗ This journey is
- . → noun modifier
In this example, you cannot use 5-day as a subject complement then it is not a compound adjective.
Really - journey.
Most compound adjectives are made up of two words; however, they can contain more: