Grammar: Compound Nouns

Exam in Mind Level B1/ B2

Compound nouns are nouns that are formed from two or more words. The meaning of the whole compound is often different from the meaning of the two words on their own. Compound nouns are very common. The main noun is normally the last one: teapot, headache, driving license, washing machine, self-control.

Compound nouns can be written:

  • as one word (bookcase, wallpaper, snowflake, birdcage)
  • as two words (post office, fire engine, eye shadow, cough sweets)
  • with a hyphen (window-cleaner, air-conditioning, lamp-post, check-in)

Forming the Plurals of Compound Nouns

  • As a rule in compounds it is the second component that takes the plural form: housewives, tooth-brushes, boy-scouts, maid-servants.
  • Compounds in -ful have the plural ending at the end of the word: handfuls, spoonfuls, mouthfuls, truckfuls (though spoonsful and mouthsful are also possible).
  • Compounds in which the first component is man or woman have plurals in both first and last components: men-servants, women-doctors, gentlemen-farmers.
  • Compounds ending in -man change it into -men in spelling. In pronunciation, however, there is no difference between the singular and plural forms, both having [ǝ]: policeman [ǝn] – policemen [ǝn].
  • Such nouns as German, Roman, Norman are not compounds, and therefore they have regular plurals: Germans, Romans, Normans.
  • In compounds originating from a prepositional noun phrase where the preposition is a linking element only the first noun takes the plural form: editors-in-chief, mothers-in-law, commanders-in-chief, coats-of-mail, men-of-war.
  • In compounds with a conjunction as a linking element the plural is taken by the second noun: gin-and-tonics.
  • In compound nouns formed by a noun plus a preposition, or an adverb, or an adjective only the first element takes the plural: passers-by, lookers-on, courts-martial, attorneys-general.
  • When the compound is a substantivized phrase which does not contain a noun, the last element takes the plural ending –s: forget-me-nots, breakdowns, stand-bys, grown-ups, close-ups, pick-upsdrop-outsgo-betweens.

Have Practice

Task 1. Choose the correct answer.

1. Which is the correct plural?
2. Which is the correct plural?
3.Which is the correct plural?
4. Which is the correct plural?
5. Which is the correct plural?
6. Which is the correct plural?
7. Which is the correct plural?
8. Which is the correct plural?
9. Which is the correct plural?
10. Which is the correct plural?

Task 2. Complete with the right plural of the compound nouns. 

1.The elderly spend most of their time looking at the _______.

a. passer-bys
b. passers-by
c. passers-bys/passers-by

2. Does this hotel allow early _______?

a. check-ins
b. checks-in
c. checks-in/check-ins

3. The association planted some _______.

a. apples tree
b. apple trees
c. apples tree/apple trees

4. The relationship between women and their _______ is often fraught.

a. mother-in-laws
b. mothers-in-law
c. mother-in-laws/mothers-in-law

5. Are there any _______ nearby?

a. shoe shops
b. shoes shop
c. shoe shops/shoes shop

6. Take two _______ of honey before you go to bed.

a. spoonfuls
b. spoonsful
c. spoonfuls/spoonsful

7. I have two _______ from the UK.

a. penfriends
b. pensfriend
c. penfriends/pensfriend

8. Get off after two _______.

a. buses stop
b. bus stops
c. bus stops/buses stop

9. She bought two _______.

a. tool boxes
b. tools box
c.  tools box/tool boxes

10. They are _______  who never take responsibilty for their lives.

a. goods-for-nothing
b. good-for-nothings
c. goods-for-nothing/ good-for-nothings