Compound adjectives are composed of more than one word. They have the same role in a sentence as one-word adjectives. This can sometimes be confusing for learners of English because those words don’t have to be adjectives but can be a combination of different kinds of words.
|Mary had light-brown hair.||(adjective-adjective)|
|He has a part-time job at McDonald’s.||(noun-noun)|
|Are these sales figures up-to-date?||(preposition-preposition-noun)|
|It was a meat-eating dinosaur.||(noun-verb)|
|I thought it was a well-written novel.||(adjective-past participle)|
|She wore a blood-red jacket.||(noun-adjective)|
|Get up-to-the-minute football scores.||(preposition-preposition-article-noun)|
Compound adjectives are often joined by hyphens but that is not always the case. It is unnecessary to hyphenate an adverb followed by an adjective:
He was an exceptionally gifted pianist (the adverb exceptionally modifies the adjective gifted which in turn modifies the noun pianist)
When that adverb is followed by a past participle, it can be connected with a hyphen because that creates a compound adjective:
He was a well-respected politician
He is an often-quoted author
She admired the skilfully-crafted ornament
They were in a brightly-decorated corridor
If the compound adjective follows the noun it is modifying, you don’t need a hyphen (or hyphens) unless the adjective is hyphenated in the dictionary:
The actor was well known
His novel was expertly written
The water was ice-cold
She works there full-time
Some compound adjectives include numbers and words:
We flew in a six-seater aircraft.
I have booked two nights in a five-star hotel.
You can call our 24-hour hotline.
I'm afraid there will be a twenty-minute delay.
Compound adjectives which are attributive (they are within the noun phrase) are usually separated with hyphens. This is to make it clear to the reader which words are modifying the noun:
Red-hot plate (a plate which is red hot)
Red hot plate (a hot plate which is red in colour)
English-speaking class (the class is held in English, or the participants speak English)
English speaking class (this is a class focusing on speaking English)
Modern-art studio (a studio for modern works of art)
Modern art studio (a modern studio for works of art)
Wild-goose chase (an idiom in English to mean a futile pursuit)
Wild goose chase (a chase involving wild geese)
Exercise: Rewrite the following sentences using compound adjectives.
- In South America, you can find huge spiders that eat birds. ________________________
- The hotel has four stars. __________________________
- She works as a waitress part time. ________________________
- His hair was a light shade of brown. ________________________
You can post your answer in the comments below or email me directly. If you would like to know more about compound adjectives, have any questions regarding the English language or would like to arrange a free trial lesson, you can contact me here or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Congratulations to everyone who correctly completed the exercise in the last blog about capitalisation.