Compound Words

Compound Words, Hyphenation and Prefixes Spelling

Compound words

  • What is a compound word?
    Conditional compounds
  • Full-time compounds

What Is a Compound Word?

Compound words are those which are made of two or more words that work logically and cooperatively, in a specified order. In compound words, the order in which their separate parts are located cannot be changed or reversed, without destroying its meaning.

The so-called full-time compound words are always hyphenated, no matter what role they fulfill in a sentence.

Conditional compounds are always hyphenated when they are used as adjectives, and never when used as nouns.

  1. Adjectival compounds: we were asked to engage in a role-playing activity to train our teamwork skills, but we were also warned that role playing was not the only activity to be used in the classroom.
  2. Hyphens are to be added to all prefixes that follow capitalized abbreviation, proper nouns, and numbers.
  3. Fractions are hyphenated each time they carry the meaning of a single quantity, e.g. two-thirds.
  4. Made-up compounds are not stable compound words but those which are used occasionally, or for a specific occasion. In other words, the meaning of these made-up compounds can be understood only in the context in which they are used. It should be noted, that when made-up compounds are used as predicates, they are not hyphenated.
  5. Never use –ly endings to hyphenate compound words.


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In most cases, no hyphens are used to denote the meaning of prefixes. Take a look at the following words: microwave, cofounder, aftereffect, unbiased, etc. In these prefixes no hyphens are used.

  1. Insert a hyphen when there are two same letters put together.
  2. There are prefixes that are followed by a hyphen when they precede and modify a noun; however, when they precede a modified no hyphen is used. This is mainly the case of prefixes such as ill-, better-, well-, little-, and others.
  3. Weird terms often result by combining two or more words. In this situation, the use of the hyphen is justified by the need to clarify the meaning of the newly formed word. For example, if you choose to use the word anti-college, use the hyphen to make its meaning clearer.


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