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Using Compound Nouns

Image representing students learning about fun facts about the English language

Compound nouns are a really common part of the English language. Whether you’re planning to work in an English-speaking country or just visiting, you’re bound to come across them. To help you understand them, take a look at what they are – and how to use them!

What are compound nouns?

Compounds are nouns just like any other noun. What makes them slightly different however, is their structure. They consist of two other words put together into one – to make a different noun altogether!

You can’t just put any two words together to make a compound noun, though.

First of all, they normally have two distinct parts:

Part 1: a word that identifies the object of the noun, e.g. “tooth”.

Part 2: a second word that says more about what kind of noun the first one is, or what its role or purpose is. E.g “paste”.

Together, you end up with “toothpaste” – which describes a paste that can be used on the teeth.

What kind of words can be used?

You can make a compound through a combination of virtually any word, including two nouns, a noun and an adjective, or a noun and a verb.

In many common compounds, the pronunciation of the compound noun is often slightly different than if you had pronounced each separate word on its own.

E.g. “breakfast” is a compound of the verb, “break” and the noun, “fast” – but together the word is said in a very different way!

How to use them

Compound nouns can be used just like any other noun. Where it gets tricky is when you use them in writing.

There are three different ways they are normally written down:

–        As one joined up word: e.g. “Boyfriend”

–        As two words, separated by a hyphen: e.g. “dry-cleaning”

–        As two words, kept apart but still used as a compound: e.g. “ice cream”

There are unfortunately no fixed rules for which form to use, and when! If you’re not sure, the simplest way to use them is to keep the two words separate.


To practice using compounds, think of the correct one to use to describe the situations below:

  1. My dog always howls when the moon is full.
  2. She liked to play a game when she could kick a ball with her foot
  3. Go upstairs to the room with your bed!
  4. You need to wait at the place where the bus comes to a stop on its route.