Compound nouns

A noun is a word used to identify people, places, or things. A compound noun has the same function but is made up of two or more words. It could be a noun plus another noun, or a noun plus a verb, adjective, adverb, or preposition, or a prepositional phrase. Or it can be a verb plus an adjective, adverb, or preposition. 

cat food

=

cat (noun) + food (noun)

homework

=

home (noun) + work (noun or verb)

swimming pool

=

swimming (verb) + pool (noun)

software

=

soft (adjective) + ware (noun)

onlooker

=

on (preposition) + looker (noun)

offspring

=

off (preposition) + spring (verb)

dry-cleaning

=

dry (adjective) + cleaning (verb)

drawback

=

draw (verb) + back (adverb)

mother-in-law

=

mother (noun) + in-law (prepositional phrase)

tennis shoe

=

tennis (noun) + shoe (noun)

The first part of the compound noun tells us the type or purpose; the second part specifies what the object or who the person is.

The first word describes or modifies the second word.

policeman

=

police (type) + man (who)

swimming pool

=

swimming (purpose) + pool (what)

A compound noun can be written as a single word, hyphenated, or as two words. Most of them are written as one word, but there are no rules. When it’s an established compound noun, your dictionary or spellcheck will provide guidance. But new compound nouns are continuously created – try writing them as one word and if that doesn’t read well, keep them as two words.

Pronunciation

There’s a difference between a compound noun and an adjective plus a noun. In a compound noun, the emphasis is usually on the first syllable.

A greenhouse is a place where you grow plants. (compound noun)

A green house is house that’s painted green. (adjective plus a noun)

©Andrea Paulsen

What do sand and news have in common?

They are uncountable nouns.

“Switch the TV on. The news is starting in a few minutes.”

Often wondered why the word “news” is used with a singular verb? It’s got an “s” at the end, so it sounds like a plural noun. But it’s actually an “uncountable noun”. Uncountable nouns have no plural form and always take a singular verb.

Uncountable nouns are substances or abstract concepts or qualities that cannot be quantified without adding an explanation, or a measurement. Like water or money or information.

You can’t count water; you can count bottles of water. Same with money; you have to add a denomination and an amount: U$500.

You can’t use “a” or “an” with uncountable nouns. To express quantities, you can add words or phrases like any, some, a lot of, much, a bit of, a great deal of, etc:

Have you got any money?
I have some information for you.

Or you can use an exact measurement like a cup of, a bag of, a litre of, a handful of, a pinch of, etc.

If you want to know the quantity of an uncountable noun, you ask “How much?” or “How many …?”

I have no time for this now.
Q: How much time do you have?

I don’t think we have enough water for everyone.
Q: How many bottles do we have?

Other examples of uncountable nouns:

Advice, air, art, beauty, butter, coffee, currency, electricity, evidence, fear, furniture, gas, happiness, knowledge, love, luggage, music, news, power, research, rice, safety, sand, sugar.

© Andrea Paulsen

Adjectives – when to use “more” and “most”

Adjectives are words that are used to describe or modify nouns or pronouns. Comparative adjectives do exactly that, they compare one noun to another. Superlative adjectives show a further level of comparison.

Add “er” or “est”

Some examples:

Absolute

Comparative

Superlative

bright

brighter

brightest

fast

faster

fastest

happy

happier

happiest

friendly

friendlier

friendliest

But you cannot add “er” or “est” to all adjectives. It only works for adjectives with one syllable and those ending with “y”.

Add “more” or “most”

 Some examples:

Absolute

Comparative

Superlative

beautiful

more beautiful

most beautiful

difficult

more difficult

most difficult

exceptional

more exceptional

most exceptional

 

One rule to remember

Use one method only – never both.

For example, don’t say: It’s much more hotter  today than yesterday. “More hot” is also wrong, because you can escalate hot by adding “er” and “est”.

The exceptions: Irregular adjectives

When you cannot add “er” or “est”, nor use “more” or “most”:

Absolute

Comparative

Superlative

good

better

best

bad

worse

worst

much

more

most

little

less

least

far

further

furthest

©Andrea Paulsen

Less or fewer

Rule of thumb: Use fewer if you can count it. Use less if it’s not quantifiable. The opposite of both is more.

Examples

Her diet is paying off. She weighs less than she used to, although she lost fewer kilos this month than last.

He drinks less than he used to. He had fewer beers last night than the night before.

It’s raining less than last year. Every month, there are fewer rainy days.

Fewer cars on the road mean less stress and fewer accidents.


Exceptions

Money, time, weight, and distance. Although you can count them, we tend to think of them as singular units.

Examples

He has less than fifty dollars in his wallet.

She has worked at our company for less than a year.

The suitcase weighed less than 20 kg, yet the airline charged me for excess baggage.

My office is less than 10 kilometres from home.

She completed her degree in less than three years.


The tricky one: Percentages

Examples

Fewer than five percent of our employees take leave between Christmas and New Year.  (Employees can be counted.)

She ate less than twenty percent of her porridge and gave the rest to the dog.


Much versus many

Like less and fewer, use much for things you can’t count, and many for the ones you can.

Less means not as much. Fewer means not as many.

©Andrea Paulsen

What’s the difference?

Similar words with different meanings

Principal

Principle

Head, main or most important person

Fundamental truth, law or standard

The principal called the student into his office and explained to him the principle of time management. 

 

Compliment

Complement

An expression of praise or admiration

Something that contributes to something else and emphasises its quality

He complimented her on her dress, telling her that the colour complemented her eyes. 

 

Loose

Lose

Not firmly fixed in place, not fitting tightly

Misplace something

If your pants are too loose you might lose them.

 

Lie

Lay

A horizontal or resting position of a person or animal

Put something down

You lie down on your bed, but you lay a book on a table.

 

Affect

Effect

Have an effect on, make a difference

A result of an action (noun)
Cause something to happen (verb)

 

Then

Than

A point in time

Use for comparison

 

Historic

Historical

Important in history

Something that happened in the past

 

Partake

Take part

Eat or drink something

Join in an activity, to participate

You take part in the Comrades Marathon and then you partake of food and drink after the race.

 

Titled

Entitled

Having a title

Having a right to something

In his book titled The advantages of being the boss, the author explains why he thinks people in leadership are entitled to certain privileges.

 

Defuse

Diffuse

Make a situation less tense or dangerous

Spread something over a wide area or among many people

 

Stationery

Stationary

Pens, paper, envelopes, and other office supplies

Not moving

 

Emphasise/emphasize

Empathise/empathize

Stress a word or phrase when speaking

Understand or share the feelings of another

 

Regards

Regard

Best wishes

View or consider something, in respect of something

Closing greeting in emails:
Kind regards

With regard to (NOT “regards”)

 

Each other

One another

A reciprocal pronoun between two people

A reciprocal pronoun between more than two people

When you address two people:
Be kind to each other.

When you address a group:
Be kind to one another.

 

Advice (noun)

Advise (verb)

Guidance, instruction, recommendation

Recommend, counsel, instruct, inform

You advise somebody by giving them advice on something.

 

Aspire

Inspire

To have hope or ambition to achieve something for oneself

To instil the desire in someone else to achieve something; (also: to breath in)

 

Wait for

Wait on

“Wait for” something or somebody means waiting for something to happen or somebody to arrive.

“Wait on” somebody means acting as a servant, ie a waiter in restaurant. You can’t “wait on” something.

 

Definitely

Definitively

Without doubt, certain, for sure

Decisively and with authority, conclusively

 

Adverse

Averse

Preventing success or development, harmful, unfavourable

Against, having a strong dislike of or opposition to something

 

Mediator

Intermediary

A mediator assists and guides parties in resolving a conflict. For example, in legal disputes.

An intermediary is a go-between who negotiates an agreement between parties. For example, in buying and selling.

Both are neutral parties acting on behalf of others.

 ©Andrea Paulsen