Examples of the Different Types of Compound Adjective

by Craig Shrives

Examples of the Different Types of Compound Adjective

A compound adjective is a multi-word adjective. Most compound adjectives are two-word adjectives, but they can be longer. Usually, a hyphen (or hyphens) is used to link the words together to show that it is one adjective. For example (compound adjectives shaded):
  • Please request a four-foot table.
  • ("Four-foot" is an adjective describing "table." A hyphen is used to link "four" and "foot" to show they are part of the same adjective.)
  • It is a 6-page document.
  • Claire worked as a part-time keeper at the safari park.
  • That is an all-too-common mistake.
  • (This is an example of a compound adjective with more than two words.)
compound adjectives types and examples

Different Types of Compound Adjective (with Examples)

Here are some common formats for compound adjectives (with examples).

Examples of Compound Adjectives Starting with Numbers

number
+
noun


The most common compound adjectives start with numbers and end with nouns. For example:
  • three-hour wait
  • ten-minute journey
  • five-day holiday
  • three-page document
  • 500-word story

Examples of Compound Adjectives with Adjectives

[word]
+
adjective


Compound adjectives often end with adjectives. For example:
  • brand-new car
  • fat-free snacks
  • ice-cold drinks
  • red-hot peppers
  • world-famous player

Examples of Compound Adjectives Ending with Nouns

[word]
+
noun


Compound adjectives can end with nouns. For example:
  • apple-pie tin
  • blue-sky thinking
  • deep-water vessel
  • long-life milk
  • third-party insurance

Examples of Compound Adjectives Ending with Present Participles

[word]
+
present participle


Lots of compound adjectives end with present participles (adjectives that end "-ing" and are formed from verbs). For example:
  • English-speaking country
  • forward-thinking strategy
  • long-lasting relationship
  • never-ending story
  • thought-provoking idea
Read more about present participles.

Examples of Compound Adjectives Ending with Past Participles

[word]
+
past participle


Compound adjectives can end with present participles (adjectives that usually end "-ed," "-d," "-t," "-en," or "-n" and are formed from verbs). For example:
  • absent-minded person
  • level-headed leader
  • middle-aged man
  • narrow-minded response
  • short-haired cat
Read more about past participles.

Examples of Compound Adjectives from Proper Nouns

Sometimes, compound adjectives are formed from proper nouns (i.e., the names of things), and these are written using capital letters. With such compound adjectives, there is no need to group the words using hyphens. For example:
  • Did you manage to get the Billy Elliot tickets?
  • (The words "Billy Elliot" are one adjective describing the tickets. As the capital letters group the words, there is no need to use a hyphen.)
  • Waking the Dead Claire Goose had a cat that loved potato chips.
  • ("Waking the Dead" is correct. It is a compound adjective using title case.) Read more about proper nouns.

    Examples of Compound Adjectives with Quotation Marks and Italics

    Although a less common practice, it is also possible to group the words in a compound adjective using quotation marks, italics, or a combination of the two. For example:
    • It is an ab initio course (i.e., for beginners).
    • (Here, italics group the compound adjective. NB: Italics tend to be used for foreign words.)
    • Amber looked at the stick in the water, looked me in the eye and then turned away, giving me a "get it yourself" look.
    • (In this example, quotation marks group the compound adjective.)
    • For more than ten years, Jack claimed to be part of the "Mary Celeste" crew before admitting to his cousin at a party that he was not.
    • (Here, capital letters, italics, and quotation marks group the adjective.)
    Watch Those Capital Letters!

    The noun does not get a capital letter unless it is part of the title.
    • Did you manage to get the Billy Elliot Tickets?
    • (The word "Tickets" should be "tickets.")
    • The village fete will be held on the Red Lion lawn.
    • ("Red Lion" is a written in title case. The word "lawn" is just a common noun, hence the lowercase "l.")
    Read more about alternatives to hyphens in compound adjectives.

    Compound Adjectives with Adverbs

    An adjective is often preceded by a word like "very," "well," "beautifully," or "extremely." (These are adverbs.)

    Usually, there is no need to link an adverb to an adjective using a hyphen. For example:
    • Young Tracey is an extremely brave girl.
    • (The adverb "extremely" modifies the adjective "brave" but is not part of it. There is no need to group it and "brave" together with a hyphen.)
    • It was a beautifully painted portrait in a skilfully carved frame.
    • (The adverb "beautifully" adds to the adjective "painted" but is not part of it. It is the same with "skilfully" and "carved." There is no need for hyphens.)

    Beware of Ambiguous Adverbs!

    With words like "well" and "fast" (both of which can be used as an adjective or an adverb), a hyphen is useful to avoid ambiguity. For example:
    • Jacob took the well-fatted calf to the riverside.
    • (With a hyphen, "well-fatted calf" means a very plump calf.)
    • Jacob took the well fatted calf to the riverside.
    • (Without a hyphen, "well fatted calf" could be construed as a "well" (i.e., healthy) and "fatted" calf. In the first example, the "well-fatted calf" could be ill.)
    Two Easy Rules

    The following rules will cover most scenarios:

    (1) When preceding an adjective with the adverb "well," use a hyphen.
    • well-known actor
    • (Use a hyphen with "well.")
    (2) Do not use a hyphen with an adverb that ends "-ly."
    • widely known actor
    • (Do not use a hyphen if the adverb ends "-ly.")
    Read more about linking adverbs to adjectives (see Issue 3 and Issue 4).

    Read more about using compound adjectives.
    Interactive Exercise
    Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

    See Also

    More about compound adjectives What are adjectives? What are adverbs? What are conjunctions? What are interjections? What are nouns? What are prepositions? What are pronouns? What are verbs? Predicate adjectives Participles