Compound words

A compound word is a word that is made from two other words put together, for example, “lumber” plus “yard” = “lumberyard”. English has thousands of compound nouns, but there are also some compound adjectives, adverbs and verbs. Here are a few examples:

  • Adjective: childlike, postwar, secondhand, lifelike, monthlong, citywide, overanxious
  • Adverb: henceforth, anyway, overall, nonetheless (3 words!)
  • Verb: freelance, proofread, upgrade

Pronouncing compound words

The important thing to know about pronuncing compound words, is that you should follow the pronunciation and spelling patterns of the individual words. You should not try to apply spelling patterns to the whole compound word together. Here are some examples of errors that could happen if you try to say a compound as a single word rather than two words together:

Silent final -e
An [-e] at the ends of words is silent, but a silent [-e] can be found in the middle of a word, if it is part of a compound. For example “hedgehog” is the two words “hedge” plus “hog”. The [-e] at the end of “hedge” is still a silent final [-e]. So you should NOT say “hed-ge-hog”!

Y as a consonant
When the letter “Y” is in front of a vowel, it is a consonant. However, in a compound word such as “layout”, the “Y” is not a consonant, it is just part of the vowel of the first word “lay”. You should NOT say “la-yout”!

False digraphs
Normally, when the letters “T” and “H” are together, they work as a pair (diagraph) to represent the /th/ sound. However, in the middle of a compound such as “foothold”, it might look like there is a “TH”, but it is not. You should say “foot-hold” and NOT say “foo-thold”.

So, you need to keep your eye open for compound words, in order to pronounce them correctly. There are some compounds that are hyphenated (written with a dash mark), such as “mass-produced”, and those are easy to see, but a compound that is written as one word could trick your eyes.

There are only just a few compounds that have a pronunciation which is a little bit different from the original two words, such as “vineyard” and “breakfast”.

Don’t let your eyes be tricked — be on the lookout for compound words, and remember to use the spelling and pronunciation patterns of the individual words.

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About Pronunciation Coach
I am a language teacher, with over 20 years of experience teaching ESL & Spanish.

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