Monday, April 22, 2013

Compound it! from Tara

Dear Word Spy,

If a word that is made up of two words is called a compound word, what would you call a word that was made up of three or more individual words? For example, ‘sportsmanship’ is made up of sports, man and ship.

My other question is, in a compound word, does ‘a’ count as a word? For example, would a word such as ‘workaday’ be considered as a compound word with three words? 

Thank you for you time and help. Tara M

Dear Tara,

This is quite a complex question! you have certainly been thinking about words.

A compound word can be made up of more than two words, so it could have three. But the word "ship" in "sportsmanship" is not exactly a separate word - it is more a kind of ending or suffix, that turns "sportsman" into an abstract noun or idea of "sportsmanship" - like "friendship" or "hardship."  In a word like "shipmate" or "starship" the word "ship" is part of the compound word, because it actually means "ship". 

It's the same with the word "a" inside "workaday" - it's a way of making the compound word "workday" into an adjective, "workaday" so "a" is  not really a separate word with a separate meaning in this case.

Agh. Sorry this is already a bit complicated.  Most compound words in English only have two words in them - in fact I cannot think of an English word that is made up of more than two (that's a challenge for all you word spies out there!) Other languages do have long compound words made up of several words - German is famous for it. For example, Höchstgeschwindigkeitsbegrenzung  which means maximum speed limit. (!)

yours, brain reeling, but thanks for the question,

The Word Spy

No comments:

Post a Comment

Leave your question for the Word Spy ...