Compound adjective

This lesson helps us understand what a compound adjective is, how it is formed, and how it is formed.

What is a compound adjective in English?

Compound adjective definition: A compound adjective is a combination of two or more words, usually two, that functions as one word and modifies a noun or pronoun, and works as an adjective.

The words in a compound adjective are joined using one or more hyphens. The number of hyphens used in a compound adjective is the number of words put together minus one.

  • a good-looking man = a man that looks good
  • a three-year-old kid = a kid who is three years old

Examples of compound adjectives:

  • These cookies are not sugar-free.
  • You have become a money-centric person.
  • It’s a never-ending chase. It’ll take us nowhere.
  • Tom is a self-centric person who has a strange-looking roommate.
  • The painting at the entrance looks very eye-catching.
  • Everyone envies him as he is a self-made millionaire.
  • My sister makes mouth-watering donuts.
  • This company is still following old-fashioned techniques.
  • It is a blue-collar job.
  • Going to Auli was a last-minute decision.
  • Delhi is one of India’s densely-populated cities.
  • They are using you as a money-making machine.
  • One of the tasks was to write a 10-page essay on ‘love’.

Noun + adjective

These are compound adjectives that are formed using a noun and an adjective.

  • World-famous
  • Sugar-free
  • Money-centric
  • People-centric
  • Kids-friendly
  • Family-friendly
  • Sugar-free
  • Fat-free
  • Gluten-free
  • Smoke-free
  • Air-tight
  • Accident-prone
  • Brand-new
  • Tech-savvy
  • Self-centric
  • Self-reliant


  • This cake is gluten-free.
  • I hate to admit that I am not a tech-savvy person.
  • It is a family-friendly restaurant.
  • She won’t help you as she is a self-centric person.

Noun + past participle

  • Money-driven
  • Man-made
  • Career-oriented
  • Lion-hearted
  • Heart-broken
  • Self-made


  • It is a money-driven world we live in.
  • My friend Mangesh is a self-made man.
  • Jon is a highly career-oriented person.

Noun + present participle

  • Confidence-building
  • Nerve-wracking
  • Mouth-watering
  • Spine-chilling
  • Money-making
  • Record-breaking
  • Mind-boggling
  • English-speaking
  • Flesh-eating
  • Time-consuming
  • Time-taking
  • Time-saving
  • Light-emitting
  • Blood-sucking
  • Record-breaking
  • Eye-opening
  • Ear-splitting
  • Mind-reading
  • Pleasure-seeking


  • The movie that we watched the other day was spine-chilling.
  • Getting the license I have is a time-taking process.
  • It was an eye-opening speech.
  • This actually looks very eye-catching.

Adjective + present participle

  • Strange-looking
  • Odd-looking
  • Good-looking
  • Easy-going
  • Tight-fitting


  • That’s an odd-looking creature.
  • You are a good-looking person, and everyone here loves you.
  • You are such an easy-going person.

Adjective + past participle

  • Narrow-minded
  • Open-minded
  • Short-sighted
  • Short-tempered
  • long-sighted
  • One-handed
  • One-legged
  • Two-legged
  • Old-fashioned
  • Kind-hearted
  • Red-handed
  • Red-colored
  • Cold-blooded
  • Long-lived
  • Short-lived
  • Deep-dried
  • Shallow-fried
  • Hard-nosed
  • Dry-eyed
  • Open-hearted
  • Middle-aged


  • We all are open-minded. You can open up to us.
  • It was not a suicide; it was a cold-blooded murder.
  • Jon is right-handed.
  • I am a little old-fashioned when it comes to dating women.

Adverb + past participle

  • Highly-liked
  • Highly-coveted
  • Highly-respected
  • Poorly-managed
  • Oddly-decorated
  • Perfectly-managed
  • Well-lit
  • Well-behaved
  • Well-known
  • Well-established
  • Well-spoken
  • Densely-populated
  • Brilliantly-executed
  • Rarely-seen
  • Happily-married
  • Quick-witted
  • High-spirited


  • What a perfectly-managed function that was!
  • I am a happily married man.
  • Delhi is a densely-populated city.
  • That was a brilliantly-executed plan.

Adverb + present participle

  • Never-ending
  • Forward-thinking


  • Learning about yourself is a never-ending process.
  • The ministry is working on a forward-thinking policy.

Adjective +noun

  • Blue-collar
  • Full-length
  • Short-term
  • Long-term
  • Last-minute
  • First-place
  • Real-time
  • Same-sex
  • Four-seater
  • Ten-page
  • 3-bedroom
  • First-grade


  • It is a blue-collar job.
  • I don’t do long-term investments.
  • We recently bought a four-seater couch.

When to use a hyphen to compound an adjective?

Remembering all the compound adjectives with no hyphen used is almost impossible. The right thing to do is to understand or learn the way to identify if a hyphen is needed to bring the words together.

The trick is simple: if the conjunction ‘and’ can be used between the words, there is no need to use the hyphen.

You are a fat looking guy.

Is the hyphen needed? Exercise what you have just learned. Try using the conjunction ‘and’ in the middle of the words and see if the sentence makes sense.

‘You are a fat and looking guy.’

Does it make sense to you? It actually does not. The present participle ‘looking’ alone does not modify the noun ‘guy’. The words ‘fat’ and ‘looking’ need to be hyphenated. “You are a fat-looking guy.

It was a short muscular dog.

Use the same technique and see if a hyphen is needed to compound the words ‘short’ and ‘muscular’.

“It was a short and muscular dog.”

The sentence perfectly, still, makes sense after the conjunction ‘and’ is used in between the words ‘short’ and ‘muscular’. It means that we can’t use a hyphen here and bring the words together into a compound word.

Don’t pluralize the last word of a compound adjective!

If the last word of a compound adjective is a number, don’t pluralize it. Use it in the singular form. Using it in the plural is a common mistake both natives and non-natives make.

  • What you are looking at is a 50-years-old building. ❌
  • What you are looking at is a 50-year-old building. ✅
  • This is a three-buildings block. ❌
  • This is a three-building block. ✅
  • That was a 180-pages report. ❌
  • That was a 180-page report. ✅
  • He is just coming from a 12-hours shift. ❌
  • He is just coming from a 12-hour shift. ✅

Compound adjectives are not always hyphenated

We often use a phrase or a clause as a compound adjective when the entire part modifies a noun in a sentence. These expressions are not always hyphenated. Sometimes, the writer uses quotation marks or italicizes the entire expression to indicate that it is being used as a compound adjective.

She had an ‘I know nothing about it’ look on her face when asked the question about neuroscience.

In this sentence, the entire clause ‘I know nothing about it; works as an adjective. It describes the noun ‘look’. Notice that we have used quotation marks to highlight the compound adjective.

I bought him an ‘out of my budget’ gift the other day.

The compound adjective is a phrase in this example. It modifies the noun ‘gift’ and tells us what kind of a gift the speaker is talking about.

It is actually fun to use these ‘more than a word ‘ adjectives.

In this example, we have chosen to do both: use quotation marks and italicize the compound adjective to highlight it. This is a choice that the writer has.

I love your ‘never give up’ attitude.

In this example, we have chosen to do both: use quotation marks and italicize the compound adjective to highlight it. This is a choice that the writer has.

More examples:

  • She had an ‘I know nothing about it’ look on her face when asked the question about neuroscience.
  • People who have an ‘I can do anything’ attitude succeed easily in life.


What are the characteristics of compound adjectives?

A compound adjective is a group of words, at least two, that are often brought together with a hyphen or hyphens and function as one adjective. Some examples of compound adjectives are as follows: 1) well-behaved 2) know-it-all 3) money-centric 4) well-spoken

What are the types of compound adjectives?

A compound adjective can be formed using the following combinations:
1) Noun + adjective (world-famous)
2) Noun + past participle (heart-broken)
3) Noun + present participle (mouth-watering)
4) Adjective + present participle (odd-looking)
5) Adjective + past participle (long-lived)
6) Adverb + past participle (well-behaved)
7) Adverb + present participle (never-ending)
8) Adjective +noun (full-length)

What is an example of a compound adjective in a sentence?

Here are some examples of a compound adjective in some sentences:
1) That was a perfectly-executed plan.
2) It was a 6-legged creature.
3) He is not ready for a white-collar job.
4) She is a blood-sucking monster.

Now, we know what a compound adjective is and everything about it. Feel free to share your question, doubt, or feedback in the comment section, and also, share the post with the people that need it.

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Ashish found his first love—the English language—a few years back. Since then, he has been immersed in the language, breaking down the language and teaching it to passionate English learners. He has a flair for listening to the English language (podcasts, sitcoms, stories), observing the nuances, and making it easy for English learners. He is known for breaking down complex English topics and making them easy to be understood.

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