Talk:Compound (linguistics)

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Merge proposal.[edit]

Why should Word formation be merged into this article? Compounding is just one kind of word formation. If the articles need to be merged — and I'm not convinced they do — then this article should be merged into that one, not the other way around. Ruakh 03:35, 28 October 2006 (UTC)

Perhaps you are right, on both accounts. FilipeS 21:20, 29 October 2006 (UTC)

Formation of compounds: German[edit]

"In German, for example, the compound Kapitänspatent consists of the lexemes Kapitän (sea captain) and Patent (license) joined by the genitive case marker -s."

Corresponding to Duden's grammar, the -s is a epenthesis, not a genitive case marker! ~ Koocachoo 09:48, 19 November 2006 (UTC)

Epenthesis is phonologically motivated, so I don't think its the right word. But it is not genitive either, there we agree. I am pretty sure that Duden calls it 'Fugen-S', which may be translated as 'joining s'. I'm sure there is a linguistic term for that. Anyways, it used to be genitive, but is not anymore. It is attached to lexemes that form the genetive differently, e.g. 'Verhandlungszimmer' (negotiation room): 'Verlandlung' is feminine and has no -s in genitive case. Yet in compounds, -s- in inserted to join the two lexemes. 22:44, 30 October 2007 (UTC)

In official German often the Fugen-S is not used, whereas the colloquial language uses it much more often. For example the official German Armed Forces term for cadet is "Offizieranwärter" (officer candidate), but most people would rather say "Offiziersanwärter". —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 19:10, 21 November 2008 (UTC)

If unsure, just refer to the extra s as an interfix, although it's only a collective term and doesn't explain its real function. As Germanic languages write compound nouns as one word, I'd say it's not meant to grammatically distinguish the words, but to facilitate pronunciation. In Swedish, there are other interfixes than the s, such as in familjefar, from familj (family) and far (father). I think this reinforces, if needed, the notion that the interfix isn't a genitive marker. Andailus (talk) 20:16, 28 January 2009 (UTC)

The larger problem with the section on German compounds is that it deals with only a subtype, the endocentric ones. It completely leaves out the very common exocentric ones, like Rotkehlchen (a bird with a red throat), Großmaul (a person with a big mouth), or Gernegroß, a very interesting combination of an adverb with an adjective denoting a person! — Preceding unsigned comment added by 2601:183:4201:2000:F87E:39DD:381:71AB (talk) 19:52, 11 December 2015 (UTC)

Problem with definition[edit]

The definition is problematic in that it refers "more than one free morpheme". The Spanish example (which is fine) of ferrocarríl does not have two free morphemes in it. I would think it would be better to refer to the presence of more than one root.

The discussion also seems to dodge the issue of what is a word --- "science fiction" is a compound "word" written (at least) as two words. What strings of "words" are really compounds? Stevemarlett 17:43, 10 December 2006 (UTC)

I think I'd only consider ferrocarril (note the lack of an accent, BTW) to be a "compound word", in the sense I'm used to hearing that term, if we consider ferro to be simply the combining form of hierro. Opinions aside, though, we're better off using an actual definition of "compound word" from a reputable source. A Google search for "compound word" doesn't pull up any obviously-reputable sources as far as I can tell, though it does display a consensus for the vague "a word formed by combining two or more words". Make of it what you will. —RuakhTALK 22:45, 10 December 2006 (UTC)

Defining word is not trivial. FilipeS 23:47, 10 December 2006 (UTC)

I agree with Stevemarlett completely: a compound is a lexeme composed of more than one lexeme. Dont use google, use a morphology textbook or reference book, or a linguistics dictionary/glossary/encyclopedia. – ishwar  (speak) 04:43, 12 December 2006 (UTC)
Defining word may not be trivial, but at least in ordinary usage, in English, two words that are written with a space between them are two words and not one word. Science fiction is a compound, but it is not a word. Based on Wikipedia and other sources, I understand that a lexeme is a word in the ordinary sense and can't consist of two ordinary words with a space between them. If that is correct, then the current lede sentence, "In linguistics, a compound is a lexeme (less precisely, a word) that consists of more than one stem," is not correct. Anomalocaris (talk) 07:10, 13 February 2009 (UTC)
Huddleston & Pullum (both eminent linguists) in their 2002 Cambridge Grammar of the English language, define compounding as the formation of a new base by combining two bases (p. 28). A lexical base for them is essentially the root or stem of a lexeme. They point out why word spaces are very inadequate for diagnostic tests for compounds (for which they give FIVE). They point out that daisy wheel, daisy-wheel and daisywheel are alternate spellings of the same thing. This problem is not isolated. And they also give the exmaple of "full stop" (British English for "period", of course) as a true compound that just happens to always be written with a space between the two parts. Stevemarlett (talk) 14 February 2009 —Preceding undated comment was added at 16:24, 14 February 2009 (UTC).
I have no problem with the fact that some compounds can be written in two or three ways — as one word, or as two words with a space, or as two words with a hyphen. I do have an issue with the lede sentence, because I understand that a lexeme is a word in the ordinary sense, that is, not two words with a space or hyphen between, and if that is correct, the lede sentence is incorrect. Contrariwise, if the lede sentence is correct, then I believe the lexeme article should be rewritten to clarify that a lexeme can be comprised of two or more words in the ordinary sense of the word word. Anomalocaris (talk) 09:04, 15 February 2009 (UTC)

Example has-been[edit]

Why is this an example of an endocentric compound rather than an exocentric one? Maybe I'm missing something. Stevemarlett 05:00, 19 January 2007 (UTC)

All you're missing is that I'm a total moron. Sorry about that … —RuakhTALK 18:28, 19 January 2007 (UTC)


I've just packed it away for a temporary move, otherwise I would pull out the quote right now, but Huddleston & Pullum's Cambridge Grammar of English is excellent in so many ways, and it has some good things (of course) to say about English compounds. They remind us of the standard tests for distinguishing compounds from what they call "composite nominals". And spaces between written words are not a reliable guide in either direction. An example I thought of today to illustrate the problem: "glovebox" and (my dialect) "glove compartment" --- you know, that place in the car where one puts anything except gloves these days. My bet is that these are both the same --- either compounds or composite nominals. But standard English writes them differently. Stevemarlett 05:06, 19 January 2007 (UTC)

Sequential or Compound?[edit]

Would the Japanese verbs 申し込む mōshikomu lit. "speak-CONJUNCTIVE-crowd/pack" which means 'to apply', and 引っ越す hikkosu lit. "pull-CONJUNCTIVE-cross over" which means 'to move (one's residence)' be considered sequential or compound? They don't seem especially sequential, compared to the Hindi examples given on the page, but they don't really fit the description of compound verbs either, since they have no one primary verb. LeeWilson 03:10, 19 April 2007 (UTC)

English disease?[edit]

Text says:

Moreover, the English way of compounding words is spreading to other languages: There is a trend in Scandinavian languages towards splitting compound words, known as word split error or English disease[citation needed].

Is an increasing error frequency a trend? My experience is that the level of protests from Swedish speakers was directly proportionate to the error frequency, so it cannot be a trend in the language. It is a phenomenon, allegedly connected to MicroSoft Word, that is so-so-common, but it has decreased considerably lately; probably something with some MicroSoft Word update... Said: Rursus () 20:04, 6 October 2008 (UTC)

And this "English disease" I never heard. Said: Rursus () 20:06, 6 October 2008 (UTC)

Examples of common longer compounds in English[edit]

The business world seems to produce a lot of very long compounds, an example or two might enhance this good article. I'm thinking of things like:

  • a diskdrive failure recovery methods manual,
  • our board member relationship-building weekend retreat program will include..., or
  • the frontline management conference keynote speaker's address (the possessive clitic helping to identify the compound).

I suspect there would be reliable sources that discuss trends in technical or jargon English regarding such compounds. Alastair Haines (talk) 22:40, 16 November 2008 (UTC)

Syllabic abbreviation[edit]

Should this article link to Syllabic abbreviation or include content from it? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 01:05, 16 December 2008 (UTC)

Recent trends (?)[edit]

Is this a good chapter at all? Some of its content seems to belong to how the Germanic languages treat compound nouns (namely that it is considered erroneous in e.g. Swedish to split it into two or more words). The rest has to do with syllabic abbreviation, a totally different area. Some coherency, please! —Preceding

unsigned comment added by Andailus (talkcontribs) 20:25, 28 January 2009 (UTC)

What's the distinction between compounding and spelling?[edit]

In the entry for the Danish language we have this word kvindehåndboldlandsholdet translated as the female handball national team. Now if we were to write the femalehandballnationalteam (since English doesn't have the affixed article, this will have to be two words) what would be altered save the spaces? There are a few fun examples (or funexamples) floating about Wikipedia, and I must mention two, first the ever recurring (and meant as a joke) Donaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitänsmütze from German and the less known, but every bit as jocular Vaðlaheiðarvegamannaverkfærageymsluhússlyklakippuhringurinn from Icelandic. But is it really not just a question of spelling, i.e. inserting spaces or not? Granted, the inflection of some languages demands one word, but is there any reason except for historical/traditional ones, that English could not produce such words. It is, after all, just like history, "just one damn thing after another". :-) Cheers (talk) 18:50, 14 April 2009 (UTC)


So what does the word 'lentokonesuihkuturbiinimoottoriapumekaanikkoaliupseerioppilas' mean? Invmog (talk) 16:40, 12 May 2009 (UTC)

Airplane jet turbine engine auxiliary mechanic non-commissioned officer student, according to Compound (linguistics)#Formation of compoundsAnomalocaris (talk) 16:44, 19 September 2013 (UTC)


Dubiosity in Recent trends: the section tells that the trend to split words ("orddelingsfeil", word split errors) essentially is a new trend to create new compounds in Nordic languages, and then all logics is lost to me: since when is a new erroneous habit to split compounds erroneously a new way of word formation based on compounding? The contents of the section is kind of funny and enjoyable, the Swedish reknowned counterpart is "fryst kycklinglever" (frozen chicken liver) vs. "fryst kyckling lever" (frozen chicken is alive!), but these aren't word formations by compounding. The examples are grave semantic errors and very unintended. The content of the section doesn't belong to this article. ... said: Rursus (bork²) 21:51, 4 July 2009 (UTC)

I just changed it from "the English way of compounding words" to "the English way of spelling compound words". —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 17:28, 6 September 2009 (UTC)


Also, compounds are pronounced continuously as one word in at least German and north Germanic languages, whereas English pronunciation may just reflect the way it is written.

I believe it's not that English pronounces compounds as separate words, nor even that German pronounces compounds as single words; it's that German pronounces non-compounds as separate words. Speech inside a prosodic unit isn't really broken into staccato, but a language may have particular phonological processes that work on the word level, and may distinguish single compound words from series of words. English uses only stress for this (and compounded words often retain secondary stress, making the distinction less salient), while German has final obstruent devoicing. You could make the case just as easily that English pronounces all words in a prosodic unit "continuously as one word". — ˈzɪzɨvə (talk) 00:27, 30 November 2009 (UTC)

Greek o, Latin i[edit]

I was looking for an article explaining Greek and Latin compounds, but this article does not mention them. I found the article Classical compound via Google after not finding it here: in the very least, it should be mentioned in the article that words of Greek and Latin origin are called as such and not just linked to in the "see also". --Squidonius (talk) 03:06, 1 September 2011 (UTC)

Verb–noun compounds[edit]

I'm not sure who wrote that, in the Romance languages, the verb appears in the third person singular present indicative, but anyway that is not correct. It's very clear that, in the Romance languages, the verb is in the second person singular imperative (and the same is true for English, by the way). This becomes obvious whenever the second person singular imperative is different from the third person singular present indicative. In Spanish, this happens only in a few cases when the second person singular imperative is irregular; e.g. haz from the verb hacer (the third person singular present indicative is hace), thus: hazmerreir (from haz + me + reir) = 'laughingstock' (lit. "make me laugh"). But, in Italian, this happens with all the verbs in -ere, which have the third person singular present indicative ending in -e and the second person singular imperative regularly ending in -i, thus: reggipetto and reggiseno (from the verb reggere = 'to hold, support'), both meaning 'bra' (lit. "breast-holder" or "breast-supporter"), and countless other examples. Pasquale (talk) 18:00, 3 July 2014 (UTC)

Verb-verb compounds in English and other Germanic languages[edit]

I'm surprised no mention is made of verbs like sleepwalk or playfight, which certainly seem like verb-verb compounds to me. Other Germanic languages have such compounds too, like Dutch slaapwandelen. CodeCat (talk) 22:55, 3 July 2014 (UTC)

I'm no expert, but they don't seem like verb-verb compounds to me. While sleep can be a verb, it can also be a noun. So, sleepwalk is to walk (verb) during sleep (noun). Similarly to playfight is to fight (verb) as a form of play (noun). Klbrain (talk) 20:36, 6 September 2016 (UTC)

The linguistics article “Compounds (linguistics)” could benefit from a couple alterations. The lead section although interesting doesn’t capture the intention of the article. The article seems rather wordy and long, this is most likely because the topic “compounds” is such a broad topic. I would suggest having a general page introducing main categories and point with links to pages that have a more detailed explanations and examples. Finally, I think the article would be more creditable with more references. There is so much information presented and several examples yet only four references used. --Maebaran (talk) 01:18, 19 September 2014 (UTC)

General Comments[edit]

This article gets particularly confusing around the portion where it addresses examples from other languages. There are already portions of examples present in the "Subclasses" section, and although they seem to be well developed, combining the examples would probably help to clear up some confusion. Perhaps the addition of a table may help? The article is also a little wordy, especially around the "Syntactic classification" section, with the portion on verb-verb compounds in particular being rather cramped, example and word wise. Rrrrrllllleeeee (talk) 02:37, 19 September 2014 (UTC)

number of components[edit]

In Finnish, although there is theoretically no limit to the length of compound words, words consisting of more than three components are rare. Even those with less than three components can look mysterious to non-Finnish such as hätäuloskäytävä (emergency exit).

That last is a bad example; it must have at least three components, as ä or y cannot occur in the same morpheme with u or o (see vowel harmony). The passage previously said:

In Finnish there is no theoretical limit to the length of compound words, but in practice words consisting of more than three components are rare. Even those can look mysterious to non-Finnish, take hätäuloskäytävä (emergency exit) as an example.

Tamfang (talk) 23:14, 13 January 2015 (UTC)

Romance verb-noun compounds[edit]

In Spanish, for example, such compounds consist of a verb conjugated for the second person singular imperative followed by a noun (singular or plural): e.g., rascacielos (modelled on "skyscraper", lit. 'scratch skies'), sacacorchos ('corkscrew', lit. 'pull corks'), guardarropa ('wardrobe', lit. 'store clothes').

In a-stem verbs, the second person singular imperative is indistinguishable from the third person singular present indicative, which is how I've always (mis)understood this element; se llama ‘sacacorchos’ porque saca los corchos. Can we have a Romance example where these forms are dissimilar? —Tamfang (talk) 07:16, 14 January 2015 (UTC)

Historically speaking, second person singular imperatives in Latin ended in a long vowel, the characteristic vowel of the verb's declension. The third person singular present indicative ended in the same vowel, except with -t and shortened. Only in one conjugation are the two different (number 3).
  • 1. conjugation: amā, amat; 2. monē, monet; 3. cape, capit; 4. audī, audit
In Vulgar Latin, the final t was lost, making the two forms both end in a vowel, and the final vowel, because it was unstressed, became short, and (only the original?) short i of the third conjugation became e. So, the two forms are likely to be identical in most Romance languages, except maybe Sardinian and Romanian, which had different developments for short vowels. The idea that the noun comes from an imperative seems rather bizarre. I think it's far more likely that it comes from a third person singular, or simply from the root of the verb, which, as we can see here, is basically identical to the 3rd sg., but I don't have a source for this. — Eru·tuon 19:27, 14 January 2015 (UTC)

Can someone explain this S?[edit]

What is the extra S doing in compounds like communications protocol and systems programming? I hate constructs like that, because my brain cannot parse them.

  • Can it be plural form? I find that absurd. In all examples I can think of, you would say leaf blower, potato farmer, grape juice and paper clip factory, not leaves blower, potatoes farmer, grapes juice or any combination of paper(s) clip(s) factory, regardless of the plurality of leaves, potatoes, grapes, papers or clips typically involved. This adheres nicely with the principle stated in the article (about germanic languages), that any inflection is on the last part of the compound, which then inflects the compound as a whole. To me, putting any other part, say, in plural form is plain absurd.
  • Can it be epenthesis aka de:fugenlaut aka sv:foge-s aka no:fuge-s? I guess salesman would be an example of that. A better known example in English is speedometer. That's admittedly not with an S, but S is actually the most common epenthesis letter in Nordic languages. As a native Nordic speaker, I have no problem with this interpretation of the S in salesman, but systems programming? No way! This use of S is reserved for making compounds that are pronounced together as one word easier to pronounce.
  • Can it be genitive? No, that is spelled with an apostrophe in English, and I have seen compounds like that, in English texts, systematically without.

-- (talk) 22:11, 21 May 2015 (UTC)

In origin, it's probably either the genitive or the plural suffix, but the use is inconsistent as you mention yourself. That's not really surprising though; similar things happen in Dutch and German as well, where you can have a compound with the singular, plural or genitive. People often form compounds whichever way they feel is most natural, but it's hard to explain why one form is preferred over another (I'm a native speaker and I couldn't say). Things become much clearer if you look at the older Germanic languages though. The genitive singular type of compound is used much more in North Germanic than in West Germanic, and it was as good as absent from East Germanic (Gothic). In Old Norse and Icelandic, you find some compounds with the bare stem, some with the genitive singular, and some with the genitive plural. There are also still some examples of genitive singular endings other than -s in Swedish, such as -o in kronofogde or läroverk (this -o originates from the Old Norse ōn-stem genitive singular ending -u). In Icelandic, which retains a functional case system with multiple inflection types, this is still regular. CodeCat (talk) 23:06, 21 May 2015 (UTC)
Thanks for the insightful answer! Reading some good Old Norse, I suppose the loss of that flexible grammar may have created a need for compound words as a replacement. Example: Heimskringla (from Norse: kringla heimsins, literally the circle earth's), is perhaps the equivalent modern way to express both definiteness of the circle and our planet in genitive. But for modern words like communications protocol, that are not easily traceable back to Norse (except Bluetooth of course), I would put my money on your first explanation, that people just speak whichever way they feel like, which can happen when many speak the same language. -- (talk) 23:09, 26 May 2015 (UTC)

Yet another example: Linguistics article. In this case, linguistic article would not have unambiguously been a compound noun in English, because the adjective-noun sequence is also syntactically valid as separate words (not that it makes much semantic difference). But inflecting the adjective as if it was a noun rules this out. Multiple consecutive nouns are always a compound noun. -- (talk) 23:09, 26 May 2015 (UTC)

In English, it's not unusual to use the plural form to form nouns denoting a collective activity or field of study. "Communications" is a noun by itself, as are "linguistics", "mathematics", "physics", "economics", and so on. CodeCat (talk) 22:57, 26 May 2015 (UTC)