Compound nouns

What do these six words have in common: hotdog, fireworks, well-being, waistline, sunset and ice cream? They could all describe a fun holiday celebration. For example:

My holiday was wonderful! I went to a friend’s party and we laughed, ate and had a lovely time. We grilled hotdogs and made ice cream. Then, after sunset, we all went down to the river to watch the fireworks. It was a great time…but probably terrible for my waistline!

Great story! But what is the grammatical connection between all the words we talked about? They are all compound nouns and that is our subject today.

A compound noun is a noun made by putting two or more words together to act as one noun. These nouns can be written as one word (as in fireworks and waistline), as hyphenated words (as in well-being), or as separate words (as in ice cream).

Compound Nouns

A person eats hotdogs and french fries at a Washington Nationals baseball game in Washington, DC.

Compound nouns often have different meanings from their separate words. For example, if you had never heard of a “hotdog,” you probably would not know its meaning just from the words “hot” and “dog.” A hotdog is a small cooked sausage usually made from beef or pork.

Making compound nouns

Compound nouns are often constructed from two parts of speech. The most common are:

  • noun + noun, as in ice cream, waistline and fireworks, which you heard earlier in the program
  • adjective + noun, as in hotdog and greenhouse.​
    Greenhouses at botanical gardens carry plants from around the world.
  • and noun + verb, as in sunset and rainfall.​
    The average yearly rainfall in Washington, DC is around 40 inches.

But, compound nouns are also formed in other ways, such as:

  • noun + preposition, as in passer-by​
    A passer-by witnessed the car accident on 17th Street.
  • gerund + noun, as in swimming pool and washing machine​
    I’m so glad that our hotel has a swimming pool!
  • adjective + verb, as in public speaking and dry cleaning
    Can you call and see if the dry cleaning is ready?
  • verb + preposition, as in take-off and lookout​
    Flight attendants, please prepare for take-off.
  • and preposition + verb, as in output and overthrow.​
    The company increased output by extending its office hours.

Compound Nouns

Gardener Roswitha Domine stands in a pond of the greenhouse at Berlin's Botanical Garden to inspect a leaf of a Victoria water-lily on June 14, 2018.

  • Plurals and possessives
  • OK, moving on to plurals and possessives.
  • In most plural compound nouns, the -s goes at the end. But here’s a little more to know:
  • If the compound noun has no space or does have a space in between words, the -s usually goes at the end, such as in greenhouses, waistlines, washing machines and swimming pools.
  • If the compound noun has a hyphen or hyphens, the -s usually goes at the end of the noun, such as in secretaries-general, passers-by and fathers-in-law.
  • To make the possessive form, simply add an apostrophe -s to the end of the complete word, such as in these examples:
  • My daughter-in-law’s dress is being made.
  • The dry cleaner’s number is on the table.
  • How to pronounce

Lastly, let’s talk about stress. In spoken language, stress is giving greater loudness or force to part of a word. Correct stress is very important for compound nouns.

We usually stress the first syllable. For instance, when I say the word “fireworks,” I put greater loudness on “fire.” If I put the stress on “works,” it changes the meaning and would confuse the listener.

Compound Nouns

Boy enjoys an ice cream in Montgomery Mall, Bethesda, Maryland. July 15, 2010.

  1. Listen to more examples that stress the first syllable:
  2. swimming pool
  3. ice cream
  4. And, just for fun, here’s an old – but still popular – song about ice cream:
  5. I scream
    You scream
  6. We all scream for ice cream!

Not all compound nouns follow the rule of first syllable stress. Proper nouns that are more than one word are considered compound nouns and they usually carry the stress at the start of the second word.

  • Listen for the stress in these proper nouns:
  • New Orleans
    Las Vegas
    Mount Rainier
    Grand Canyon
    South Africa
    New Zealand
  • Prime Minister

By now in your English studies, you’ve already used many compound nouns. And, surely, you’ll use many more. So, practice ones that are useful to you in speaking and writing! You can use a good dictionary to check how we say and write them.

I’m Alice Bryant.

Alice Bryant wrote this story for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.



  1. Look at the following list of compound nouns and decide what parts of speech they are made from (example: bottle opener = noun + noun).

    If you are not sure what the words mean, you can use the Merriam-Webster Learner’s Dictionary.

See also:  How to survive the sinking of the titanic

fish tank
small talk

2. Write a paragraph about yourself or someone else. Use 3-5 compound nouns. You can use compound nouns from today's program and practice and/or compound nouns that you find somewhere else.


Words in This Story

  1. waistline – n. the distance around the smallest part of your waist
  2. hyphenated – adj. connected with a hyphen punctuation mark
  3. sausage – n. ground meat that is usually stuffed into a narrow tube of animal skin
  4. greenhouse – n. a building that has glass walls and a glass roof and that is used for growing plants
  5. output – n. the amount of something that is produced by a person or thing
  6. plural – adj. relating to a form of a word that refers to more than one person or thing
  7. possessive – adj. relating to a form of a word that shows that something or someone belongs to something or someone else
  8. apostrophe – n. the punctuation mark ʼ used to show the possessive form of a noun
  9. syllable – n. any one of the parts into which a word is naturally divided when it is pronounced
  10. proper noun – n. a word or group of words that is the name of a person, place, or thing and usually begins with a capital letter
  11. dictionary – n. a book that lists words in alphabetical order and gives information about meanings, forms and pronunciations

Grammar Lessons | The Plural of Compound Nouns

Compound Nouns

Forming the plural of compound nouns might be confusing for some. Before presenting some quick tips to form these compounds, let's review what compound nouns are first.

Compound Nouns

A compound noun is a noun made up of two or more words (e.g. toothpaste, haircut or daughter-in-law). Most compound nouns can be formed as follows:

noun + noun

noun + adjective

adjective + noun

verb (ing) + noun

noun + verb (ing)

verb + preposition

noun + preposition

preposition + noun

noun + preposition + noun

train station
full moon
swimming pool

As you can see from the examples above, some compound nouns are spelled as one word (e.g. handful), but others with hyphens (e.g. father-in-law) or separated by a space (e.g. full moon).

Forming the plural of compound nouns

The plurals of compound nouns are generally formed by adding 's' to the principal word (i.e.

the most significant word in the compound), also called the head of the compound. The head informs us about what the compound refers to.

The other elements of the compound modify the head and are called the head's dependents.


car park park car parks
blackboard board blackboards
mother-in-law mother mothers-in-law
taxi driver driver taxi drivers

Compound nouns with -ful

Compound nouns with '-ful' (e.g. truckful, handful) may have two possible plurals. The 's' can be added either t:o

  • the head noun (e.g. trucksful, handsful)
  • or to '-ful ' (e.g. truckfuls, handfuls).

It is just a question of consistency.

More examples:

Compound nouns with '-ful'
handful handsful handfuls
mouthful mouthsful mouthfuls
spoonful spoonsful spoonfuls
bucketful bucketsful bucketfuls
cupful cupsful cupfuls
truckful trucksful truckfuls

Compound nouns ending in a preposition

When the compound is formed with a noun and a preposition, (e.g. passer-by), the plural is formed by adding an 's' to the noun.


Compound Noun
passer-by passers-by
hanger-on hangers-on

When neither element of a compound is a noun, the plural is formed by adding 's' to the last word.

For example, the compound noun 'grown-up' is made of the word 'grown', which is the past participle of the verb 'grow', and the preposition 'up'.

The plural of 'grown-up' is formed by adding 's' to 'up' (i.e. 'grown-ups).

More examples:

Compound Noun
grown-up grown-ups
go-between go-betweens
check-in check-ins
higher-up higher-ups
also-ran also-rans

Related pages

compound noun – Russian translation – Linguee

People who face German language […] for the first time […] are surprised with existence of longcompound nounsequal by volume to whole sentences […] and even paragraphs, […] and include several definitions simultaneously. У сталкивающихся с […] немецким впервые вызывает удивление существование длинных составных существительных, которые […] по объёму равны целым […] предложениям и даже параграфам, и включают в себя несколько понятий одновременно.
На китайском языке, однако, […] они соединены, чтобы сформировать одно существительное.
Любое существительное может использоваться в […] качестве прилагательного, когда оно представляет последнюю часть сложного слова типа бахуббихи (см. главу о сложных словах), определяющего выраженное или подразумеваемое существительное или местоимение.
It is also important to […] avoid using the trademark as a verb ornounso that it does not come to be perceived […] by consumers as a generic term. Также важно избегать […] использования словесного элемента […] товарного знака как простого существительного или глагола для того, чтобы он […] не стал восприниматься […] потребителями в качестве термина, вошедшего во всеобщее употребление для обозначения товаров определенного вида.
Owing to the general fact, that the notion “Swiss bank” […] has become a commonnoundenoting stability […] and reliability, and considering that the […] role of the American dollar is on decrease, the Swiss franc can act as an attractive long-term investment instrument. В целом, учитывая то, что понятие […] «швейцарский банк» стало уже именем нарицательным, […] характеризующим стабильность и надежность, […] а также принимая во внимание снижение роли американского доллара, швейцарский франк в долгосрочной перспективе может рассматриваться как привлекательный инвестиционный инструмент.
Lemmata ofanounmust have a gender, […] lemmata of a full participle must have a tense (full participle is a separate lemma for reasons stated above). У лемм существительного должен быть […] указан род, у лемм полного причастия — время (полное причастие является отдельной леммой […] по причинам, указанным выше).
Schools and colleges are not only places of learning about sustainable development, but places where children can actively implement good practices of sustainable development, for example […] in energy conservation, recycling, […] productive use of school grounds orcompound,use of natural materials and […] resources. В школах и колледжах можно не только проводить обучение по вопросам устойчивого развития, в них дети могут активно применять на практике принципы устойчивого развития, например в том, что […] касается экономии энергии, […] рециркуляции, продуктивного использования школьных помещений или комплекса, […] использования природных […] материалов и ресурсов.
The Chief Justice and the Attorney-General agreed in April to programme the resumption of activities supported by UNDP, including a training programme for judges and prosecutors and the provision of essential […] equipment, including furniture and legal resources, as well as the […] rehabilitation of the main justicecompoundin Mogadishu. Верховный судья и генеральный прокурор согласился в апреле запланировать возобновление деятельности при поддержке со стороны ПРООН, включая учебную программу для судей и обвинителей и предоставление […] необходимого имущества, в том числе […] мебели и юридических материалов, а также восстановление […] главного комплекса правосудия в Могадишо.
Advanced I, II, and III – Students taking advanced level courses broaden and increase their understanding of perfect and perfect progressive verb tenses, […] subject-verb agreement, nouns and pronouns, modal […] auxiliaries, passive voice verbs,nounclauses, adjective clauses, […] gerunds and infinitives, coordinating conjunctions, […] adverb clauses, reduction of adverb clauses into adverbial phrases, connectives, and conditional structures. Продвинутый I, II и III – студенты, обучающиеся на курсах продвинутого уровня, углубляют и улучшают […] понимание совершенного и совершенного […] длительного времен глагола, согласования предмета с глаголом, […] существительных и местоимений, модальных вспомогательных глаголов, глаголов […] в пассивном залоге, деепричастных оборотов, причастных оборотов, герундиев и инфинитивов, соединительных союзов, придаточных предложений, перехода придаточных предложений в деепричастные обороты, соединительных связок и условных предложений.
It may seem that […] we deal with a significant word(nounor adjective), but actually it turns […] into a pronoun or even an article, […] i.e. something that is placed before these or those words according to the norms which have lost their sense. Вроде бы мы имеем дело […] со значимым словом (именем существительным или прилагательным), а на самом […] деле оно оказывается местоимением […] или даже артиклем — тем, что ставится по утратившим смысл нормам перед теми или иными словами.
It is a remarkable kind of verbalnounthat suggests that everyone and no one […] governs at the same time. Это удивительная иллюстрация отглагольного существительного, означающего, что в одно и то же […] время правят все и не правит никто.
The adjective andnoungreen economy” have different […] meanings to different groups. Имя прилагательное и имя существительное «зеленая […] экономика» имеют различные значения для различных групп.
ODR is a collectivenounfor dispute resolution […] techniques outside the courts using [information and communications technology], […] and, in particular, Internet applications. УСО – собирательный термин для обозначения методов […] урегулирования споров вне суда при использовании [информационно-коммуникационных […] технологий] и, в частности, прикладных средств Интернета”.
Thenounthus used, whether Feminine or Neuter, assumes […] the form of the Masculine. Существительное, используемое таким образом, всегда […] принимает формы мужского рода.
Ifanoungets the ending -q when it is either a definite object […] or a subject of a sentence that doesn’t have a definite […] object, it also gets -r before the ending -mik when it is an indefinite object (nanu-q — nanu-r-mik; iluaqhaiji — iluaqhaiji-mik). Если существительное принимает окончание -q в роли определенного […] дополнения или подлежащего в предложении без определенного […] дополнения, оно получает и -r перед окончанием -mik в роли неопределенного дополнения (nanu-q — nanu-r-mik; iluaqhaiji — iluaqhaiji-mik).
The activists were reportedly arrested by plain-clothed national […] security service personnel at the […] entrance to the UNMIScompoundand driven to Khartoum […] East Police Station, where they […] were detained for approximately six hours before being released on bail following intervention by lawyers. Согласно сообщениям, активисты были арестованы одетыми в штатское […] сотрудниками национальной службы […] безопасности на входе вкомплекс МООНВС и доставлены в […] Восточное полицейское отделение Хартума, […] где они оставались под стражей приблизительно шесть часов до того, как их освободили под залог после вмешательства адвокатов.
In non-European countries, the […] use of terrestrial animal protein […] meals and oils withincompoundaquafeeds is increasing […] for both high- and low-trophic-level […] species and species groups (e.g. salmons, trouts, marine finfishes, marine shrimps, catfishes, tilapias, carps and mullets), although the type and level vary depending upon species and species group. Использование муки из белка наземных […] животных и жиров животного […] происхождения в неевропейских странах вкачестве компонента аквакормов […] для культивации как высокого, […] так и низкого трофического уровня видов и видовых групп (например, лососевых, форели, морских пелагических рыб, морских креветок, сомообразных, тилапии, карпообразных и кефали) становится все шире, но тип и объем их использования варьируются в зависимости от конкретных видов и видовых групп.
In view of the rapidly changing security climate, in which threat levels may fluctuate […] according to an event or adverse pronouncement, there is a […] need to make immediate safety decisions at the UNMOGIPcompound. Поскольку ситуация в плане безопасности быстро меняется и уровни угроз могут быть самыми различными в зависимости от происходящих событий или тех […] или иных негативных […] высказываний, решения, касающиеся безопасности комплекса ГВНООНИП, необходимо […] принимать немедленно.
Typically, a personal computer is provided with one or more serial ports […] and usually one parallel port. 2) […] In programming, a port(noun)is a “logical connection […] place” and specifically, using […] the Internet protocol, TCP/IP, the way a client program specifies a particular server program on a computer in a network. Обычно персональный компьютер имеет один или несколько […] последовательных портов и один […] параллельный порт. 2) В программировании порт представляет […] собой “логическое место соединения” […] и в частности, при использовании Интернет-протокола TCP/IP, способ, который использует клиентская программа для указания на определенную серверную программу на компьютере или в сети.
The possessive pronouns are P2s ‘my’ […] and mis ‘your’; if thenounbegins with a stop, this […] consonant becomes voiced and the corresponding nasal appears before it. Обладание выражают […] местоимения P2s ‘мой’ и mis твой; если существительное начинается […] со смычного согласного, тот озвончается, […] а перед ним появляется соответствующий носовой.
Through its International Hydrological Programme (IHP), UNESCO/HYD develops methodologies for integrated river basin management, management of groundwater, including submarine, which contributes significantly to species diversity in coastal estuaries, and maintenance of coastal aquifers, which may be intruded by saline […] water from estuaries, seas and deep rock formations, […] problems that may well becompoundedby accelerated climate change. ЮНЕСКО/HYD посредством Международной гидрологической программы (МГП) ведет разработку методологий в таких областях, как комплексное управление речными бассейнами, управление подзем ными водами, включая субмаринные, которые вносят значительный вклад в разнообразие видов в прибрежных эстуариях, а также сохранение прибрежных водоносных горизонтов, в которые может […] проникать соленая вода из эстуариев, […] морей и глубоководных скальных образований, причем […] эти проблемы могут осложняться в результате […] ускоренного изменения климата.

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