Compound Words: Definition and Examples Explained

Learn all about compound words: definitions, types, and practical examples.

Compound Words: Definition and Examples Explained 1

What are compound words?

Compound words are words formed by the union of two or more simple words that retain their individual meanings. These words usually have a semantic relationship between their components, which allows us to understand their meaning as a whole.

Types of Compound Words in English with Examples

1. Closed Compound Words

Closed compound words are formed when two unique words are combined to create a new meaning, and they appear as a single word. These are prevalent in English and are often used in everyday language.


- Notebook (note + book): A book with blank pages for writing notes.
- Sunflower (sun + flower): A plant known for its large flower heads that turn toward the sun.
- Keyboard (key + board): A set of keys for operating a computer or typewriter.

2. Open Compound Words

Open compounds are written as separate words but, when used together, represent a single item or concept. These are sometimes harder to recognize as compound words due to their appearance.


- Full moon (full + moon): The phase of the moon when it is fully illuminated.
- Living room (living + room): A room in a residence used for common social activities.
- Post office (post + office): A public department that handles mail and postage.

3. Hyphenated Compound Words

Hyphenated compounds are two or more words that are connected by one or more hyphens. They often arise when modifying phrases come before nouns, or when the compound word itself is formed from multiple parts.


- Mother-in-law (mother + in + law): The mother of one's spouse.
- Well-being (well + being): The state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy.
- Long-term (long + term): Involving, maturing over, or remaining for a long time.

4. Compound Nouns

A subcategory of compound words, compound nouns combine two or more words to create a new noun. They can be closed, open, or hyphenated.


- Toothbrush (tooth + brush): A brush for cleaning teeth.
- Ice cream (ice + cream): A frozen sweet dessert made from cream or milk and sugar.
- Brother-in-law (brother + in + law): The brother of one's spouse or the husband of one's sibling.

5. Compound Adjectives

These are adjectives consisting of two or more words and often come with hyphens. They provide a unique way to describe objects and situations.


- High-speed (high + speed): Operating at, capable of, or involving high speed.
- Old-fashioned (old + fashioned): In the style of an earlier period.
- English-speaking (English + speaking): Able to speak English.

Compound Words: Definition and Examples Explained 4

Examples of compound words with their meanings

- Earthquake

Meaning: A sudden and violent shaking of the ground, sometimes causing great destruction, as a result of movements within the earth's crust or volcanic action.
Origin: From "earth" and "quake," indicating the shaking or quaking of the earth.

- Snowball

Meaning: A ball of packed snow, especially one made for throwing playfully.
Origin: From "snow" and "ball," referring to a ball made of snow.

- Firefighter

Meaning: A person whose job is to extinguish fires.
Origin: From "fire" and "fighter," denoting someone who fights against fire.

- Sunflower

Meaning: A tall plant with large yellow flowers that produce edible seeds.
Origin: From "sun" and "flower," likely due to its appearance and tendency to turn towards the sun.

- Toothbrush

Meaning: A small brush with a long handle, used for cleaning the teeth.
Origin: From "tooth" and "brush," indicating a brush used for teeth.

- Waterproof

Meaning: Impervious to water.
Origin: From "water" and "proof," signifying something that proves or tests against water.

- Blackboard

Meaning: A large board with a smooth, dark surface, used for writing on with chalk in classrooms.
Origin: From "black" and "board," describing the board's color and its purpose.

- Rainbow

Meaning: A curved, multicolored band that appears in the sky when sunlight shines through rain.
Origin: From "rain" and "bow," referring to the bow-like shape that appears during or after rain.

- Passport

Meaning: An official document issued by a government, certifying the holder's identity and citizenship, and entitling them to travel under its protection to and from foreign countries.
Origin: From "pass" and "port," historically implying permission to enter or leave a port or cross borders.

Compound Words: Definition and Examples Explained 6

Examples of Compound Words Used in Sentences

1. Flashlight

Sentence: "During the power outage, she relied on her trusty flashlight to navigate through the dark house."
Context: 'Flashlight' refers to a small portable electric light.

2. Grasshopper

Sentence: "The grasshopper leaped from one blade of grass to another, enjoying the sunny day."
Context: 'Grasshopper' is a long-legged insect that hops on grass.

3. Blueberry

Sentence: "She added fresh blueberries to the pancake batter for a fruity flavor."
Context: 'Blueberry' describes a small blue edible berry.

4. Sandbox

Sentence: "Children built castles and dug tunnels in the sandbox at the playground."
Context: 'Sandbox' is a box filled with sand for children to play in.

5. Bookshelf

Sentence: "He arranged his extensive collection of novels on the new bookshelf."
Context: 'Bookshelf' refers to a shelf for holding books.

6. Mailbox

Sentence: "Every morning, she checked the mailbox for letters and packages."
Context: 'Mailbox' is a box into which mail is delivered.

7. Snowflake

Sentence: "Each snowflake that fell from the sky had a unique and intricate design."
Context: 'Snowflake' is a single ice crystal that has fallen as snow.

8. Teacup

Sentence: "She sipped her hot tea from a delicate porcelain teacup."
Context: 'Teacup' is a small cup used for drinking tea.

9. Goldfish

Sentence: "The small goldfish swam gracefully around the aquarium, captivating the children."
Context: 'Goldfish' is a small golden or orange-colored freshwater fish often kept as a pet.

10. Starlight

Sentence: "Under the clear night sky, the starlight illuminated the path through the woods."
Context: 'Starlight' refers to the light emitted by stars, especially as observed from the earth's surface.

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