When reading or writing in English, you will notice that two or more words put together can mean a totally different thing.

For example, you may understand the words “old” and “school” when you encounter them separately, but when you put them together, you create a compound word that describes something traditional or old-fashioned. 

Learning compound words is a great way to expand your vocabulary. In this post, we’ll explore some of the most common compound words in the English language, along with their meanings.

What Are Compound Words?

Compound words are words that are formed by connecting two or more words together to create a new meaning. They are written in three ways: 

  • Open compound words: These are spelled as two separate words.
  • Closed compound words: These are joined together to form one word. 
  • Hyphenated compounds: These are two or more words connected by a hyphen. 

The challenge is knowing how to spell the words that you need. One way is to simply memorize them, but there are also some qualities that can help you remember how to write them.

Open Compound Words 

Open compound words are usually formed when a modifying adjective is attached to a noun, creating a new noun. Take note that it is not simply an adjective describing a noun in a sentence, but instead, the compound is taken as a whole new word. 

For example, let’s take the noun school

  • high school: means a completely different thing than just an adjective describing a school;
  • new school: is a description of a school that is new, not a compound word;
  • old-school: this is a hyphenated compound word that describes something out-of-date, traditional, or old-fashioned (notice the two other hyphenated compound words in this sentence). 

To form open compound words, we separate the modifying adjective from the noun with a space. 

For example: 

  • dining room 
  • living room
  • new moon
  • real estate
  • coffee table 
  • paperback book 
  • racing car
  • mountain bike 
  • jogging pants 
  • P.E. uniform 
  • foster mom 
  • high school
  • school bus
  • ice cream
  • cream cheese 

Open compound words are also formed when an adverb ending in -ly is combined with another word:

  • newly discovered
  • highly contagious 

Closed Compound Words 

Closed compound words are two or more words that are joined together as one word. Initially, they may not have been joined together, but over time, many of them have come to be accepted as “real words” in English. 

For example:

  • notebook
  • moviegoer 
  • sunflower 
  • makeup 
  • haircut
  • newspaper

Hyphenated Compound Words 

Compound adjectives are the ones that usually come with hyphens. But remember, you only hyphenate them when they come before the noun they modify. If they appear after the noun in the sentence, remove the hyphens. 

For example: 

  • That was a well-thought-out plan.
  • The plan was well thought out. 
  • He made sure to make politically-correct statements. 
  • His statements were all politically correct. 

Compound nouns that come with hyphens include:

  • mother-in-law
  • father-in-law
  • sister-in-law
  • brother-in-law
  • attorney-in-fact

How to Spell Compound Words 

The best way to learn how to spell compound words is to memorize them, or consult a dictionary. Here is a list of some of the most common compound words and their spellings: 

Family members

  • stepfather
  • stepmother
  • stepbrother
  • stepsister
  • grandfather
  • grandmother
  • great grandfather
  • great grandmother
  • mother-in-law
  • father-in-law
  • sister-in-law
  • brother-in-law

Parts of the Home

  • living room
  • bedroom 
  • dining room
  • bookshelf
  • bedside
  • nightstand
  • cupboard
  • bathroom
  • sunroof
  • teaspoon 
  • tablespoon
  • teacup
  • coffee mug
  • shot glass 

Body Parts

  • armpit
  • shoulder blade
  • backbone
  • eyelashes
  • eyebrows
  • earlobes
  • fingernail 
  • toenail

People and Their Professions

  • policeman
  • chairman
  • fireman
  • stuntman
  • busboy
  • cabdriver
  • caveman
  • fisherman
  • cowherd
  • cowboy
  • mailman
  • milkman
  • taxpayer
  • teammate
  • waterboy 


  • bathrobe
  • business suit
  • wedding dress
  • nightgown
  • tennis shoes 
  • rubber shoes 

Vehicles and Related Words

  • airplane
  • airport
  • jet plane
  • spaceship
  • mountain bike
  • race car 

Food and Related Items

  • ice cream 
  • ice cream cone
  • snow cone
  • white wine
  • red wine
  • milkshake
  • cheesecake
  • apple pie 
  • pancake
  • French fries
  • hamburger
  • chocolate chip cookies
  • custard cake
  • hotdog
  • watermelon
  • pineapple
  • Tupperware 
  • strawberry
  • blueberry
  • blackberry
  • meatloaf
  • grilled cheese sandwich

Business Establishments

  • supermarket
  • grocery store
  • convenience store 
  • bookstore
  • car rental 
  • online store 
  • barber shop
  • hair salon 

Animals and Insects

  • butterfly
  • dragonfly
  • firefly
  • praying mantis
  • grasshopper
  • angler fish
  • Persian cat
  • golden retriever
  • German shepherd
  • cocker spaniel
  • Yorkshire terrier
  • catfish
  • stingray
  • goldfish
  • sunbird
  • tailorbird
  • kingfisher
  • starfish
  • jellyfish
  • brittle star
  • hermit crab


  • baseball
  • basketball
  • football
  • volleyball 
  • pickleball
  • table tennis
  • lawn tennis
  • tennis racket
  • badminton racket
  • softball 
  • video game 
  • virtual reality 
  • golf cart
  • golf balls 
  • baseball mitt
  • baseball bat
  • Chinese checkers

Spelling Open and Closed Compound Words

Familiarize yourself with the correct spelling of compound words so you will always know whether to spell them as one word, separate words, or hyphenated words.

If you’re uncertain, always consult a dictionary, style guide, or a trusted Internet source. 

Did you find this post helpful? Let us know in the comments below!


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