How to Use Compound Words Correctly (Almost) Every Time

Does grammar matter? Syntax? Sentence structure? How about spelling?

Yes, it’s true, we here at TVWriter™ are big on breaking writing rules. This intro attests to that. But most of us here also believe that rule-breaking works most effectively when the writer knows the rule but puts their own spin on it. Which is why we’ve devoured every word of the following article.

Oops, wrong kind of “compound.” This article is NOT about Michael Corleone!

by Meghan Moravcik Walbert

Compound words are sprinkled throughout the English language—endless combinations of little words that partner up to form new, bigger words. How they come together in the written language can vary, though, and you may find yourself pausing to wonder: Is this a long term, long-term, or longterm problem? That’s because there are three different types of compound words, and it’s not always obvious whether a compound should be written as one word, two words, or hyphenated.

What even is a compound?

Whenever we’re dealing with grammar, I think it best to start with the basics—just in case your grade-school English lessons are escaping you at the moment. So, you form a compound word when you join two or more words together to make a new word that has its own meaning. Bed + room = bedroom. After + life = afterlife.

However, not all compound words are smooshed together into one word. There are three categories of compound words:

  • Open compounds: These compounds retain the space between words. (Ice cream, dining room, coffee mug, school bus, sweet tooth.)
  • Closed compounds: These compounds combine to form one word, sans a space. (Ballroom, parenthood, baseball, lifetime, jellyfish.)
  • Hyphenated compounds: The words are joined with hyphens. (Father-in-law, well-known, first-rate, merry-go-round, double-check.)

Author: LB

A legendary figure in the television writing and production world with a career going back to the late ’60s, Larry Brody has written and produced hundreds of hours of American and worldwide television and is a consultant to production companies and networks in the U.S. and abroad . Shows written or produced by Brody have won several awards including - yes, it's true - Emmys, Writers Guild Awards, and the Humanitas Award.

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