Lexicology of the English Language

: 7/38

The semantic unity of a compound word is often very strong. In such cases we have idiomatic compounds where the meaning of the whole is not a sum of meanings of its components, e.g. to ghostwrite, skinhead, brain-drain etc. In nonidiomatic compounds semantic unity is not strong, e. g., airbus, to bloodtransfuse, astrodynamics etc.

English compounds have the unity of morphological and syntactical functioning. They are used in a sentence as one part of it and only one component changes grammatically, e.g. These girls are chatter-boxes. Chatter-boxes is a predicative in the sentence and only the second component changes grammatically.

There are two characteristic features of English compounds:

a) Both components in an English compound are free stems, that is they can be used as words with a distinctive meaning of their own. The sound pattern will be the same except for the stresses, e.g. a green-house and a green house. Whereas for example in Russian compounds the stems are bound morphemes, as a rule.

b) English compounds have a two-stem pattern, with the exception of compound words which have form-word stems in their structure, e.g. middle-of-the-road, off-the-record, up-and-doing etc. The two-stem pattern distinguishes English compounds from German ones.


Compound words in English can be formed not only by means of composition but also by means of :

a) reduplication, e.g. too-too, and also by means of reduplicatin combined with sound interchange , e.g. rope-ripe,

b) conversion from word-groups, e.g. to micky-mouse, can-do, makeup etc,

c) back formation from compound nouns or word-groups, e.g. to bloodtransfuse, to fingerprint etc ,

d) analogy, e.g. lie-in ( on the analogy with sit-in) and also phone-in, brawn-drain (on the analogy with brain-drain) etc.


1. According to the parts of speech compounds are subdivided into:

a) nouns, such as : baby-moon, globe-trotter,

b) adjectives, such as : free-for-all, power-happy,

c) verbs, such as : to honey-moon, to baby-sit, to henpeck,

d) adverbs, such as: downdeep, headfirst,

e) prepositions, such as: into, within,

f) numerals, such as : fifty-five.

2. According to the way components are joined together compounds are divided into:

a) neutral, which are formed by joining together two stems without any joining morpheme, e.g. ball-point, to windowshop,

b) morphological where components are joined by a linking element : vowels o or i or the consonant s, e.g. {astrospace, handicraft, sportsman),

c) syntactical where the components are joined by means of form-word stems, e.g. here-and-now, free-for-all., do-or-die .

3. According to their structure compounds are subdivided into:

a) compound words proper which consist of two stems, e.g. to job-hunt, train-sick, go-go, tip-top ,

b) derivational compounds, where besides the stems we have affixes, e.g. ear-minded, hydro-skimmer,

c) compound words consisting of three or more stems, e.g. cornflower-blue, eggshell-thin, singer-songwriter,

d) compound-shortened words, e.g. boatel, tourmobile, VJ-day, motocross, intervision, Eurodollar, Camford.

4. According to the relations between the components compound words are subdivided into :

a) subordinative compounds where one of the components is the semantic and the structural centre and the second component is subordinate; these subordinative relations can be different:

with comparative relations, e.g. honey-sweet, eggshell-thin, with limiting relations, e.g. breast-high, knee-deep, with emphatic relations, e.g. dog-cheap, with objective relations, e.g. gold-rich, with cause relations, e.g. love-sick, with space relations, e.g. top-heavy, with time relations, e.g. spring-fresh, with subjective relations, e.g. foot-sore etc

b) coordinative compounds where both components are semantically independent. Here belong such compounds when one person (object) has two functions, e.g. secretary-stenographer, woman-doctor, Oxbridge etc. Such compounds are called additive. This group includes also compounds formed by means of reduplication, e.g. fifty-fifty, no-no, and also compounds formed with the help of rhythic stems (reduplication combined with sound interchange) e.g. criss-cross, walkie-talkie.

: 21/06/2009