The Oxbridge Editing Blog 7th November 2023

What Are Compound Words? A Guide to Understanding and Using Them

7th November 2023
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English is a rich and complex language, with many nuances and subtleties that can make it challenging to master. One of the interesting features of English is the use of compound words. These words are formed by combining two or more existing words, creating a new word with a distinct meaning. In this blog post, we will explore what compound words are, the different types of compound words, and how to use them effectively in your writing.

Understanding Compound Words

Compound words are words that are formed by combining two or more existing words. The resulting word often has a meaning that is different from the individual words that make it up. For example, the compound word “notebook” is made up of the words “note” and “book,” and it refers to a book for taking notes.

The Types of Compound Words

There are three types of compound words:

  1. Closed Compounds: These are compound words that are written as a single word, without any spaces or hyphens. Examples include “notebook,” “toothpaste,” and “bedroom.”
  2. Hyphenated Compounds: These are compound words that are written with a hyphen between the individual words. Examples include “long-term,” “well-known,” and “high-quality.”
  3. Open Compounds: These are compound words that are written as separate words, with a space between the individual words. Examples include “post office,” “ice cream,” and “real estate.”

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Using Compound Words Effectively

Compound words can add variety and interest to your writing, but it’s important to use them correctly. Here are some tips for using compound words effectively:

  1. Pay attention to spelling: The spelling of compound words can vary, so it’s important to check a reliable dictionary if you’re unsure. For example, the word ‘bookshelf’ is a closed compound word, and it is spelled as one word, not ‘book shelf’ or ‘book-shelf.
  2. Be mindful of context: The meaning of compound words can change depending on the context, so be sure to use them appropriately. For example, the open compound word ‘ice cream’ usually refers to a frozen dessert, but in a different context, ‘ice’ and ‘cream’ could be two separate words referring to a cold substance and a dairy product, respectively. 
  3. Use hyphens consistently: If you’re using hyphenated compound words, be consistent in your use of hyphens.


Compound words are a fascinating aspect of the English language, and they can add richness and variety to your writing. By understanding the different types of compound words and using them correctly, you can enhance your writing and communicate more effectively.

If you need help with the use of compound words or other aspects of your writing, we are here to assist you. Get a bespoke quote for our editing and proofreading services today.