What Are Compound Adjectives And How Do You Use Them?

If you know your grammar, you’re probably already familiar with adjectives. To put it simply, adjectives are words that modify or describe nouns and pronouns. While there are many different types of adjectives, most of them are only a single word such as angry, slow, or goofy. However, some adjectives are made from multiple words working together such as short-term, world-famous, or under-the-table. These adjectives are called compound adjectives, and although they might look a bit strange, they are perfectly capable of doing all of the jobs that other adjectives do.


What is a compound adjective?

A compound adjective is an adjective that is made up of multiple individual words. Usually, the words are connected by a hyphen or hyphens when used as an adjective. Words like absent-minded and happy-go-lucky are examples of compound adjectives.

Besides the potential use of hyphens, compound adjectives act the same as any other adjectives: they are used to modify nouns and pronouns, and they often appear directly before the word that they modify.

Sometimes, a writer may not use hyphens when using a compound adjective. Instead, they may use quotation marks or italics to indicate they are using multiple words together as a compound adjective. For example,

  • Nobody liked Jake and his “holier than thou” attitude.

Proper nouns are also used without hyphens as compound adjectives. However, they often use capital letters:

  • We went to the Red Hot Chili Peppers concert.
  • The movie had a Lord of the Rings feel to it.

List of compound adjectives

You can usually recognize compound adjectives by the presence of hyphens. The following list shows just some example of compound adjectives:

  • double-sided, wishy-washy, top-of-the-line, 700-word, eight-hour, fat-free, never-ending, Spanish-speaking, middle-aged, gender-neutral, out-of-the-way, born-again

Where do you include a compound adjective in a sentence?

Compound adjectives can be used anywhere that other adjectives can. So, they can either come directly before nouns/pronouns or can be used as predicate adjectives together with linking verbs.

  • Reading this book is an eye-opening experience.
  • Even though the car was 10 years old, it still looked brand-new.

Not sure what predicate adjectives are? Then read this article.

Compound adjective examples in a sentence

The following sentences all use compound adjectives.

Example #1

  • The manager hired extra workers for the party so that staff wouldn’t be short-handed.

Example #2

  • The bold politician was very popular with blue-collar workers.

Example #3

  • The company swore that it only used grass-fed beef.

Compound adjective best practices

Compound adjectives don’t have any special rules or exceptions; they behave the same as any other adjective. Usually, it is best to use a hyphen or hyphens with compound adjectives so that a reader knows they are being used together as a single adjective rather than as separate words. Going further, if two (or more) words are being used separately and not as a compound adjective, don’t use a hyphen. For example,

  • I sat next to the middle-aged man on the bench.
  • The books in the middle aged poorly compared to the ones on the ends.

In particular, we don’t use hyphens when an adjective is being modified by an adverb:

  • She was really happy.
  • He became extremely tired.
  • We were cautiously optimistic.

Choose the best word with Grammar Coach™

We’ve got an adjective for you: polished! And that’s what your writing will be when you edit it with Thesaurus.com’s Grammar Coach™. This writing tool uses machine learning technology uniquely designed to catch grammar as well as spelling errors. Its Synonym Swap will find the best nouns, adjectives, and more to help say what you really mean, guiding you toward clearer, stronger, writing. The Thesaurus.com Grammar Coach™ platform makes writing papers, essays, emails, and a whole lot more a whole lot easier.

Get the best grasp on superlative adjectives by reading about them here.

Previous What Are Predicate Adjectives And How Do You Use Them? Next What Are Demonstrative Adjectives And How Do You Use Them?