Creating New Words With Compound Nouns

This guide is for students at middle and high school levels who are learning about the rules of English grammar. It can apply to both native speakers and ESL students. Teachers may use this article to provide some structure to some of their lessons on the subject of compound noun examples and their use in speaking or writing. Throughout the guide, we will provide compound noun examples that can help students at these grade levels form concrete associations with the rules that govern the formation and use of compound nouns.

At this level, most students should already understand that the basic noun form is one that names people, places, and things within a sentence structure. As the name suggests, compound nouns do this by combining at least two words that are traditionally separate from one another. Once they make the link, the formerly separate words form a new term that speakers or writers can use as a noun in its own right. There are some rules that students need to follow for creating these nouns, but the structure of these terms can come from nouns mixed with adjectives, prepositions, or verbs. Further, they might combine into a single new word, or they can stay as two separate words that now share a link.

compound noun examples

What Do Compound Nouns Do?

Within the mechanics of English grammar, there are a few ways that students can form nouns like these. We will get into some of the primary ways they can do this. As we move forward, we will use some simple and firm examples of compound nouns to show how these words might look in a sentence.

Before we dive in, it is a good idea to remember that the first word in a noun that is a compound often acts as a modifier for the second one. For example, let us look at the word sunscreen. Incidentally, this is a compound noun example that takes two words, sun and screen, and puts them together into one new word. In this example, you have a product that acts as a sort of screen to protect your skin. The word sun is modifying the word screen. Thus, it creates a specific kind of screen that is different from other screens with which students may be familiar already. Similarly, the second word can tell you what the main noun is, and students can see that it is a screen.

How Does One Form Compound Nouns?

In general, there are three main ways that speakers or writers will take different terms in order to make them into compound ones. The first way is by using what we might call the open form. This example of compound nouns takes two words that seem to have no relation to each other and puts them next to each other in one sentence. Even though these terms remain separate, their proximity to one another within the sentence structure allows readers to see that a new, interconnected idea forms from the base.

For example, if we write something like Emily entered the wading pool, we can see that there is a particular type of pool in which she stands now. A wading pool denotes a body of water that is shallow enough for you to still remain upright as you walk through it. We can contrast this with the compound noun example of swimming pool. In this case, Emily has entered a pool that is deep enough to submerge herself in and swim fully. Both of these compounds tell you about different kinds of pools, and they combine separate words to form a new term.

The second way to form these kinds of nouns uses the closed form. With this construction, we are making examples of compound nouns that push together two words to form a new term that is only one word. For example, we might write that Jerry likes to practice on his skateboard after school. In the preceding sentence, skateboard acts as a closed noun in its compound form. It combines two words that had no prior relationship to each other into a single, new compound. Again, we can see that skate modifies board to tell us what kind of object with which we are dealing. As another example, we might write that Sarah enjoys looking at the moonlight. For this example, light acts as the main noun, and moon tells readers or listeners what kind of light they might experience.

Finally, you can form these kinds of compound words using a hyphen. The hyphen form is a sort of go-between that doesn’t put two words together as one, but it doesn’t use a space in the sentence structure to separate them. Compound noun examples like this one might include Colson sometimes needs over-the-counter medicine to deal with his discomfort. When we look at this example, we see that the subject purchases a particular type of medicine. The hyphenated compound noun tells readers about the type of medicine Colson gets, but it also tells us the way in which he can make the purchase. This type of medicine is something he gets without a prescription, and the pharmacist can check it out for him over the counter as he buys it.

Making Compound Nouns Plural

With regular nouns, you will usually just add the -s suffix to them as a way to make them plural. What you do with these nouns depends on which type you are making. For the closed form, you will still add -s. Examples here might include washcloths, railroads, or basketballs. For the open form, you need to look at the part of speech. In nearly all cases, the main noun will take the plural form. Examples here might be living rooms, or movie theaters. Look for the main word when you are dealing with hyphenated compound noun examples. These might look like sisters-in-law or comrades-in-arms.


Compound nouns allow us to make wholly new words in English that are more specific than their separate terms. However, there may be some exceptions to how some of these form, particularly when you want to pluralize them. Other types of English nouns include countable, uncountable, proper, concrete, and abstract ones.