Compound Adjectives in English
Compound adjectives in English usually consist of an adjective, adverb or noun and either present participle (-ing) or past participle (-ed). We can talk about four types of compound adjectives in English:
1. Adjectives based on present participle (long-lasting relationship)
2. Adjectives based on past participle (middle-aged woman)
3. Number + noun (four-miles journey)
4. Well, badly, ill, highly, poorly, etc + past participle (well-behaved dogs)
Adjectives based on the present participle
The present participle is a verb ending in -ing. It can be used to form a verb tense or an adjective.
Let’s look at some examples of adjectives based on present participle.
Meaning: pretty, handsome
Mary was a good-looking woman in her early forties.
Meaning: refers to people or an area with English as a native language.
Ever since I moved to an English-speaking country, my English has become more fluent.
Meaning: reducing the length of time you need to do something.
I found some great time-saving recipes on YouTube.
Meaning: food that smells and looks good.
Thomas served some mouth-watering food at his party.
Meaning: refers to something that makes you think.
We watched a thought-provoking film last night.
Meaning: that lasts a long time.
Let’s make a toast for our long-lasting friendship.
Meaning: that moves fast.
They have some fascinating fast-moving trains in Japan.
Meaning: something that influences many people.
Covid-19 pandemic produced far-reaching consequences all around the world.
Meaning: a person who works hard.
Karen has always been a hard-working student.
Adjectives based on the past participle
Meaning: dried on the sun.
I always put sun-dried tomatoes into my pasta dishes.
Meaning: with lots of light.
The brightly-lit shop windows were filled with luxury goods.
Meaning: a person between 45 and 65 years of age.
Mike was a friendly, middle-aged man.
Meaning: a rabbit with red eyes.
They grew some beautiful white red-eyed rabbits.
Meaning: a person or a thing that is not modern or fashionable.
Paul is a very old-fashioned person when it comes to music.
Meaning: willing to consider new and different ideas or opinions.
If you plan a career in science, you must be an open-minded person.
Meaning: having good judgment.
We should ask a level-headed person for advice.
Meaning: an angry person who snaps easily and frequently.
After not being able to sleep for two days, Brian became a short-tempered husband and dad.
William was browsing some high-priced appliances on the Internet.
Maureen was a tall, long-haired lady in her early 50s.
Number + noun adjectives
We usually have a ten-minute break after the second school class.
Adriana adopted a five-year-old dog.
We live on the third floor of a five-storey building.
You can read it in a day. It’s only a hundred-page book.
I’ll never learn to sit on a three-foot chair. It is so unstable.
It was a three-hour flight from London to Madrid.
Remember not to add -S to the compound adjectives with numbers
It was a two-week holiday (not
Well, badly, ill, highly, poorly, etc. + past participle
Betty was a well-known writer of crime novels.
Meaning: in a bad light.
It was an old, poorly-lit house.
Colin was a highly-respected doctor in the country.
It was a well-paid job, although a bit dangerous.
Badly behaved children don’t need an arm around the shoulder.
Meaning: not well equipped, lacking important resources.
The Prussian Army was an ill-equipped army that wasn’t capable of dealing with Revolutionary France.
Other compound nouns
When it comes to compound nouns in English, we can also talk about adjective combinations such as
noun+noun (part-time job, bullet-proof coffee),
adjective+noun (long-distance journey),
noun+ adjective (world-famous actor), and
adjective+adjective (fat-free yoghurt).
When to use a hyphen?
This is a simple one. It depends on whether the noun it modifies comes before or after the adjective.
India is a densely-populated country.
India is densely populated.
However, if you are still in doubt about whether to use a hyphen with a compound adjective, the best thing to do is to turn to a good dictionary.
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