Compound Nouns (1 of 10): Introduction

By | September 30, 2020

tree bark.jpg

In the previous 10 posts, I looked at stative verbs – that is, a grammar-based aspect of the English language. Now, let’s move on to vocabulary – but I’d like to look at nouns – specifically, compound nouns.

The first question you may have is … what’s a compound noun? A compound noun takes the form ….

(n) + (n)

…. where the first noun functions as an adjective. For example,

computer virus.

The word ‘computer’ is certainly a noun; so is the word ‘virus’; but computer here is actually an adjective, meaning, ‘about computers’. Similarly, we say …

computer program

computer component

computer language

computer expert

computer studies

computer development

… and others – in fact, so many terms that you might think the noun ‘computer’ is more often used as an adjective.

One of the aspects of the Chinese language which I really like is the way it logically creates such compound nouns. For example, in Chinese, the word for what you can see in the above picture is …

tree skin (‘shu-pi’).

It is indeed the skin of a tree. That’s exactly what it is, so the name is perfectly logical. But in English, we don’t say ‘tree skin’. We say ‘bark’ or ‘tree bark’. Why? I don’t know. We just have that word.

But don’t be misled. English has many compound nouns – just not as many as in Chinese. Compound nouns make up a huge amount of vocabulary in English, so in the next nine posts, we will be learning and practising them.

I’ll end with a general knowledge question. The drug used against the disease malaria is called ‘quinine’, but where does it come from? I’ll give you the answer in the next post.

Author: Andrew

Andrew Guilfoyle Cambridge CELTA, Cambridge DELTA, Cambridge CELTA teacher-trainer, M.Ed