Compound Adjectives

Monday, July 1, 2013

The richness of your vocabulary combined with an effective use of adjectives and adverbs creates descriptive imagery when speaking or writing. One unrestricted way to enhance this ability is through the use of compound adjectives.

- Carlo didn't know it but he was swimming in crocodile-infested waters.

By definition, a compound adjective is an adjective that contains two or more words. In general we put a hyphen between two or more words (before a noun) when we want them to act as a single idea that describes something. In the sentence above, crocodile-infested is used to describe the kind of water Carlo was swimming in. We use a hyphen to connect the word crocodile with infested to show that it is one adjective (or one idea).

So, how do you correctly form compound adjectives?

1) Compound adjectives with numbers
The easiest compound adjectives to recognize are the ones which include numbers: two-car garage, seven-day forecast, 250-page thesis

2) Unlimited combinations are possible. Here are suggested patterns:

a. Adj / adv / noun + present participle (good-looking, hard-working, record-breaking, for example)

b. noun + past participle (tongue-tied, doctor-approved, sun-dried, for example)

c. noun + adjective (worry-free, caffeine-free, world-famous)

d. adj + noun (deep-sea, full-length, last-minute)

Two things to note:

1) Don't use a hyphen when combining an adverb and an adjective, or two adjectives together. This does not create a compound adjective. No hyphen is required because it is already clear that the adverb/adjective modifies the adjective rather than the noun.

- It's a very humid day today. (adverb followed by an adjective)
- I fed my gentle old horse some ripe red apples. (adjective followed by an adjective - If you can use the word “and” between the two adjectives, then a hyphen isn't necessary.)

2) As a general rule, the words in a compound adjective are hyphenated when they come before a noun (a densely-populated city) but not when they come after (New York City is densely populated.)

I hope you have benefited from this information-filled post.

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