Combining Nouns with Hyphens

In a previous post we explained four common ways to combine nouns. Today we will explain the special case of combining nouns with hyphens.

There are three main ways to do this.

1: Noun phrase as adjective

In most cases, nouns are combined with a hyphen only when the whole noun phrase is being used to describe another noun.

Noun phrase = noun + noun, where the first noun describes the second noun. This is type 2 from the previous lesson.

That’s difficult to understand from the explanation, so here are two examples.

Examples

business card (this answers the question “What type of card is it?”)

lunch meeting

When the noun phrase is used to describe another noun, the noun phrase is hyphenated.

Examples

a business-card directory (this answers the question “What type of directory is it?”)

the lunch-meeting agenda

2: Two equal nouns

When both nouns have equal importance, they are hyphenated to show that they are both being used as nouns. Unlike the example above, neither noun is being used to describe the other noun.

Examples

philosopher-king = a king who is also a philosopher

city-state = a city that also has the status of a national state, such as Athens, Carthage and Rome in the ancient world, and Monaco, Singapore and Vatican today.

3: Number + noun

A noun is combined with a number. The number + noun combination modifies (describes) another noun.

This is easiest to show with examples!

Examples

a six-lane highway = a highway that has six lanes

a five-day workweek = a workweek that is five days long

Important note: The noun that is hyphenated with the number is always singular.

i.e. six-lane highway NOT six-lanes highway


Have questions? Feel free to contact us at contact@beccacademy.com or via LinkedIn and we’ll be happy to answer any questions you have about the English language.

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