Compound Adjectives in English

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Have you ever noticed some English words with hyphens between them? For example:

  •  a well-known author
  •  an English-speaking country
  •  a three-hour movie
  •  a part-time job
  •  a middle-aged woman

These are called compound adjectives – meaning an adjective that has two or more words.

In this lesson, you’re going to learn some of the most compound adjectives with example sentences.

Compound Adjectives with Numbers

  • three-second
    There’s a three-second delay.
  • ten-minute
    Let’s take a ten-minute break.
  • two-hour
    She attended a two-hour seminar.
  • five-day
    He went on a five-day trip.
  • six-week
    We took a six-week course.
  • one-month
    The penalty for cheating is a one-month suspension.
  • two-year
    I have a two-year contract with my cell phone provider.
  • four-year-old
    I have a four-year-old son.
  • twelve-storey
    We live in a twelve-storey apartment building
  • twenty-page
    He handed me a twenty-page report.

Common Error: adding -S

Don’t use -s at the end of compound adjectives with numbers:

  • Let’s take a ten-minutes break.
  • Let’s take a ten-minute break.

Adjective / Adverb + Past Participle

  • narrow-minded = not open to different ideas/thoughts
    I can’t stand narrow-minded people who are intolerant of new ideas.
  • well-behaved
    They have three well-behaved children.
  • old-fashioned
    We had lunch in an old-fashioned restaurant with décor from the 1950s.
  • densely-populated
    This densely-populated area has the highest crime rates in the country.
  • short-haired
    He was dancing with a short-haired woman.
  • widely-recognized
    She’s a widely-recognized expert in technology.
  • high-spirited = with a lot of energy
    The students gave a high-spirited musical performance.
  • well-educated
    A lot of well-educated people are still having trouble finding jobs.
  • highly-respected
    Our speaker tonight is a highly-respected scholar.
  • brightly-lit
    We live on a brightly-lit street in the city center.
  • absent-minded = forgetful, not thinking
    His absent-minded comment hurt his sister’s feelings.
  • strong-willed = strong desires, stubborn, does not desist
    She’s a strong-willed woman who won’t stop until she gets what she wants.
  • quick-witted = intelligent, clever, fast at thinking and discovering things
    The quick-witted detective solved the crime before anyone else had a clue.
  • middle-aged = around 40-50 years old
    A lot of middle-aged men are dissatisfied with their lives.
  • kind-hearted = friendly
    A kind-hearted stranger helped us find the train station.

Adjective / Adverb / Noun + Present Participle (-ING)

  • good-looking = attractive, beautiful, handsome
    Who’s that good-looking guy over there?
  • long-lasting
    This long-lasting makeup will keep you looking lovely day and night.
  • record-breaking
    The athlete’s record-breaking performance won him the gold medal.
  • never-ending
    Learning a language seems to be a never-ending process.
  • mouth-watering
    There was a variety of mouth-watering desserts at the wedding reception.
  • thought-provoking
    It was a thought-provoking novel.
  • slow-moving
    I was stuck in slow-moving traffic for over an hour.
  • far-reaching
    The new law will have far-reaching effects in the economy.
  • time-saving
    These time-saving techniques will help you work more efficiently.
  • forward-thinking
    Some forward-thinking politicians are proposing reforms to the educational system.

Other Compound Adjectives

  • ice-cold
    There’s nothing better than drinking an ice-cold lemonade on a hot summer day.
  • last-minute
    I hate it when my boss wants to make last-minute changes to a publication.
  • full-length
    The director produced his first full-length movie in 1998.
  • world-famous
    We had dinner at a world-famous Italian restaurant.
  • fat-free
    These fat-free cookies are delicious!

When to use a hyphen?

Use a hyphen when the compound adjective comes BEFORE the noun it modifies, but not when it comes AFTER the noun.

This is a world-famous museum.
This museum is world famous.

We walked into a brightly-lit room.
We walked into a room that was brightly lit.

It was quite a thought-provoking book.
The book was quite thought provoking.

Learn more: 100 common adjectives in English

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