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Classification of English Compounds

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Ways of Forming Compound Words


Composition is the way of word-building when a word is formed by joining two or more stems to form one word. The structural unity of a compound word depends upon:

a) A unity of stress. As a rule, English compounds have one uniting stress, e.g. 'best-seller. We can also have a double stress in an English compound: 'blood-‚vessel. The main stress may be on the second component: ‚sky-'blue.

b) Solid or hyphenated ['haɪfəneɪtɪd] (написанный через дефис) spelling. Spelling in English compounds is not very reliable because they can have different spelling even in the same text, e.g. war-ship, blood-vessel can be spelt through a hyphen and also with a break. Insofar, underfoot can be spelt solidly and with a break.

c) Semantic unity. It 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 (сочинять за кого-л.другого), skinhead, brain-drain. In nonidiomatic compounds semantic unity is not strong, e.g. airbus.

d) Unity of morphological and syntactical functioning. They are used in a sentence as one part of it and only one component changes grammatically: These girls are chatter-boxes.


There are two characteristic features of English compounds:

a) both components in an English compound can be used as words with a distinctive meaning of their own, e.g. a 'green-house and a 'green 'house;

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.

English compounds can be formed not only by means of composition but also by means of:

a) reduplication: too-too чересчур утончённый;

b) partial conversion from word-groups: to micky-mouse, can-do исполнительный и энергичный;

c) back formation from compound nouns or word-groups: to fingerprint (fingerprinting), to baby-sit (baby-sitter);

d) analogy: lie-in (on the analogy with sit-in);

e) contrast: brain-gain (in contrast to brain-drain).

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

a) nouns: baby-moon;

b) adjectives: power-happy;

c) adverbs: headfirst неосмотрительно;

d) prepositions: into, within;

e) numerals: fifty-five.

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

a) neutral, which are formed by joining together two stems without any joining morpheme: ball-point;

b) morphological where components are joined by a linking element: astrospace, handicraft, sportsman;

c) syntactical where components are joined by means of form-word stems, e.g. do-or-die.

3.According to their structure compounds are subdivided into:

a) compound words proper which consist of two stems: to job-hunt, trainsick;

b) compound-affixed words, where besides the stems we have affixes: earminded, hydro-skimmer, astrophysical;

c) compound words consisting of three or more stems: cornflower-blue, singer-songwriter;

d) compound-shortened words, e.g. V-day, Eurodollar, Camford.

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

a) subordinative compounds where one of the components is the semantic centre and the structural centre and the second component is subordinate: honey-sweet, gold-rich, love-sick, Tom-cat;

b) coordinative compounds where both components are semantically independent. Here belong such compounds when one person (object) has two functions. Such compounds are called additive: Anglo-Saxon, woman-doctor. There are also tautological compounds. They are formed by means of reduplication: no-no, fifty-fifty or with the help of rhythmic stems: criss-cross, walkie-talkie.

5. According to the meaning of the whole compound we can point out idiomatic and non-idiomatic compounds. Idiomatic compounds are very different in meaning from the corresponding free phrase: a blackboard is quite different from a black board. Non-idiomatic compounds are not different in their meaning from corresponding free phrases: airmail, speedometer.


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