What Are Compound Adjectives? Definition and Examples

By Carly Forsaith, updated on August 25, 2023

If you're curious about compound adjectives, you're definitely in the right place. In this article, you'll learn everything you need to know about them and how to use them to make your writing more engaging and fun.

In short:

  • Compound adjectives are groups of two or more words that come together to form one adjective.
  • Often, they're connected with a hyphen; sometimes, they aren't.

This guide is part of our free online Grammar Book.

What Are Compound Adjectives?

Compound adjectives comprise two or more words that form a single unit. Just like all adjectives, they modify a noun or a pronoun. Though there are many exceptions, they are often connected by hyphens, so don't take that as a general rule. More often than not, though, they will require one.

There are many types of compound words in the English language, and compound adjectives are just one of them.

Here are some examples of compound adjectives:

  • well-lit (hyphenated)
  • crystal clear (open)
  • makeup (closed)

Joining two or more adjectives together can create a brand new adjective that takes on the combined meaning of the words it's made up of. Sometimes, it takes on a different meaning altogether.

  • Not all compound words are made up of two words, mind you.
  • You can also form a compound word by combining a word element with a word.

The three-word elements in English are:

  • prefixes (anti-, im-, non-, pre-)
  • combining forms (mini-, macro-, pseudo-, -graphy, -logy)
  • suffixes (-ful, -ment, -ion, -dom)

The first two are the ones that tend to apply to compound adjectives.

Here are some sentence examples:

It always seems impossible until it's done.

The doctor prescribed him some antidepressants.

We're leading a non-violent protest.

How to Use Compound Adjectives

Now that you know what compound adjectives are, you're going to learn a little more about how to use them correctly in your writing.

The first thing to note is that, like all adjectives, they should be placed directly before the noun or pronoun they modify. Or, if they're being used as predicate adjectives, you can place them after the linking verb.

Here are some examples:

She was wearing an emerald green dress. (attributive)

Alpacas are warm-blooded animals from Peru. (attributive)

These tomatoes are sun-dried(predicate)

It's also worth noting that not all adjectives placed side-by-side are compound. Sometimes, it might just be a series of regular adjectives.

Look at the two following sentences:

Dalmatians are white, spotted dogs. 

Dalmatians are white-spotted dogs.

The comma between the adjectives 'white' and 'spotted' in the first sentence shows that these are to be read as two separate adjectives. Indeed, a Dalmatian is white and has spots. The second sentence, however, combining the two adjectives seems to imply that Dalmatians have white spots, which is not the case. This shows the importance of writing your adjectives correctly so as not to be misinterpreted.

How to Make Compound Adjectives

Compound adjectives can be made up of almost any part of speech. That's right: the words in the combination don't have to be adjectives, although they often are. '

Read on for some of the combinations you can use to form a compound adjective.

And let's not forget about multi-word adjective compounds, of which here are some examples:

I didn't know you could get over-the-counter anxiety medication.

They produce one-of-a-kind footwear that feels light and airy.

Smartphones were being produced on a never-seen-before scale.

The truth is, there's no actual limit to how many words can be in a compound adjective. They're so versatile you can even make up your own. Don't make them too long, though, or you might lose your readers!

Concluding Thoughts

That concludes this article on compound adjectives. I hope you found it helpful.

Let's summarize what we've learned:

  • Compound adjectives are made up of two or more words that come together to form a single adjective.
  • They are often joined with a hyphen, but not always.
  • You can place them directly before the noun they modify or after the linking verb.
  • They can be made up of a variety of parts of speech combinations.

If you liked this article, you'll love our Grammar Book, a free online database of grammar articles like this one. Check it out!

We encourage you to share this article on Twitter and Facebook. Just click those two links - you'll see why.

It's important to share the news to spread the truth. Most people won't.

Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

Add new comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

WritingTips.org Newsletter
Receive information on
new articles posted, important topics, and tips.
Join Now
We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.