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Intructor: Nguyen Ngoc Vu Student: Luu Thi Mai Vy

HCM, 30/12/2009

Compound words


It is undeniable that learning a new language is not easy at all and to acquire it fully and

effectively is more difficult. During the learning process, learners may confront with many troubles. However if we know the differences and similarities between our mother tongue and the target language, perhaps it can minimize our difficulties. Thats why when learning English; Vietnamese should try to know much about the connection between the two languages. Of course, this requires a lot of effort, time and devotion. Only in one paper no one can list all, thats why my document just focuses on the aspect Compound words in English and Vietnamese. I hope that after reading this document, you can certain knowledge about compounds words in two languages. Seeing how they are different from each other or how similar they are can help you to avoid some errors during your learning.


Literature review
As we know both English and Vietnamese words are made up of morphemes. And the

definition of a morpheme varies from each point of view depending on which aspect a linguistic has chosen when doing a research. According to Richards, Platt and Weber, a morpheme is the smallest meaningful unit in a language. It is considered to have 2 kinds of morphemes: free morpheme and bound morpheme. Their functions in English and Vietnamese may be different to some extent. Therefore, when talking about compound words or compounds, there are many cases we should take into account in order to have complete understanding of the meaning. But firstly, what is compounding? It is the process of combining two or more existing words to form a new one. The result of this process is a compound. So a compound is a combination of two or more words that function as a single unit of meaning. It may relatively true in both English and Vietnamese. However, when making a comparison between them, we may see a striking

Compound words

difference in terms of semantic, syntax and phonology. To get more details, lets delve into characteristics of the compounds in each language.


Compound words in English

Generally, compounds in every language have some features in common. However, as we know, each language is a unique one, thats why English compound has its own characteristics. When examining features of English compound, there are three fields which are taken into consideration: the phonological feature, the syntactic feature and the semantic feature. Like any other word, compound word also has stress. The elements of compound words are stressed, which is a signal of phonological feature. Some compounds are differentiated from grammatical structures by their patterns of stress. It is the primarysecondary pattern which enables us to contrast compound nouns like bluebell, redcoat and blackboard with the grammatical structures of a modifier plus a noun, as in blue bell, red coat and black board. Lets take black board and blackboard as an example. A black board is any board that is black, and equal prosodic stress can be found on both elements. A blackboard may be like any other black board, but is a thing that is constructed in a particular way, of a particular material and serves a particular purpose and this word is clearly accented on the first syllable. So, sound patterns may help us to indicate whether the word group is a compound or whether it is an adjective+ noun phrase. As a compound, it usually has a falling intonation and it is not the case to a grammatical structure. However, there is another way which is easier for us to make this distinction. While grammatical structure can be divided, compound words are considered as solid blocks. Because indivisibility is its

Compound words

syntactic feature, they cannot be divided by the insertion of any other elements. Lets compare two sentences: (1) She is a sweetheart. ( a compound noun) (2) She has a sweet heart. (a grammatical structure) In sentence (1), we cannot insert anything between sweet and heart because sweetheart is indivisible. On the contrary, in sentence (2), we can: She has a sweeter heart than her sister. She has a sweet, kind heart. She has a very sweet heart So it is about syntax, what about semantic features? Maybe this is a special characteristic of compound words. This feature also causes many troubles for learners. Considerably, compound words have specialized meanings. In other words, some of them have idiomatic status. For example, the meaning of an egghead is by no means closely related to that of egg and head, in contrast, an egghead is an anti-intellectual epithet, directed at people considered too out-of-touch with ordinary people and too lacking in realism on account of their intellectual interests. From this illustration, it is obvious that knowing the meaning of each element of a compound word does not make it possible to figure out the meaning of the whole combination in some cases. So, we must pay attention to this feature. Till now, I have pointed out three features of English compounds; lets continue by figuring out how many types it consists. In term of formal classification, there are three types:

Compound words

compound nouns, compound verbs, and compound adjectives. Each type has three forms: the closed form, in which the words are mixed together, such as redhead, notebook, makeup;the hyphenated form, such as six-year-old, daughter-in-law, mass-produced and the open form, such as post office, real estate, middle classNow, I will examine each of them in turns. Compound nouns can be formed by a combination of words and they normally have two parts. The first part tells us the kind of an object or a person, sometimes its purpose while the second one indentifies that object or person. You can look at this table below: The first part police boy bed dining The second part man friend room table

So in these examples, we can see that the first modifies and describes the second. Two of them may be written in a number ways. Sometimes they are joined together as one word: policeman, boyfriend. Sometimes they are joined using a hyphen: dining- table, check-in and sometimes they appear as two separate words: fish tank, full moon. However, there is no rule for us to write this compound, if we come across a complete new compound now and are not sure how to write it; perhaps a dictionary is the best policy. Compound nouns can also be formed using the following combinations of words:

Compound words

Noun + Noun Noun +Verb Noun + Adverb Verb + Noun Verb + Adverb Adjective + Noun Adjective + Verb

Bedroom, water tank, motorcycle Rainfall, haircut, train-spotting hanger-on, passer-by washing machine, driving license, swimming pool Lookout, take-off, drawback Greenhouse, software, redhead dry-cleaning, public speaking Onlooker, bystander

Adverb + Noun

Adverb + Verb

Output ,overthrow, upturn

As we know, compound nouns often have a meaning that is different from the two separate words, and stress usually falls on the first syllable, which helps us to distinguish it with an adjective with a noun, as mentioned in features of compounds. A greenhouse = place where we grow plant A green house= house painted green Besides, many common compound nouns are formed from phrasal verbs. Examples: breakdown, hangover, stand-in, drop-out, takeaway

Compound words

One important point cannot be omitted when talking about compound nouns is its plural and possessives. For hyphenated forms, the pluralizing s is usually attached to the element that actually being pluralized: daughters-in-law, half-moons. Or we can remember the general rule: adding the pluralizing s to the base element in the term regards less of the base elements placement. So the point is that if we know the base, there is no difficulty at all. How about the possessive? We just simply attach an apostrophe s to the end of the compound itself: my daughter-in-laws car. Yet, to create the possessive of pluralized and compounded forms, we should avoid the apostrophe s form and use an of phrase instead: the meeting of the daughters-in-law. Otherwise, it may be confusing and a little weird: the daughters-in-laws meeting. Thats all about the compound noun; now lets take compound verbs into account. A compound verb is usually composed of a preposition and a verb such as overrate, underline... although other combinations also exist, for examples highlight, blacklist. This table below may help us understand more about its formation:

Compound words






Underline, outrun



Downsize, upgrade



foulmouth, finetune, highlight



manhandle, sidestep, browbeat



Out-Herod, out-fox

There is a tendency to dismiss the hyphen of the compound verbs, thats why some of them are hyphenated. In addition, we should pay attention to some compound verbs idioms. These are compound verbs with two verbs (e.g. make do).These too can take idiomatic preposition (get rid of). There are also idiomatic combinations of verb and adjective (e.g. come true, run amok) and verb and adverb (make sure), verb and fixed noun (e.g. go ape); and these, too, may have fixed idiomatic prepositions (e.g. take place on). So compound verbs are not simple as we thought at all, its diversity may cause confusion. Similarly, compound adjectives are also very complicated. It is defined as a modifier of a noun and consists of two or more morphemes. The left-hand components may limit or change

Compound words

the modification of the right-hand one, as in the dark-green dress, dark limits the green that modifies dress. The table below shows the formation of compound adjectives. Adjective + Adjective Noun + Adjective Noun + Past participle Adjective + Noun+ ed Adjective + Verb + ing Adverb + past participle Verb + preposition Dark-blue, red-hot Snow-white, pitch-dark Man-made, lion-hearted Long-eared, blue-haired Slow-moving, good-looking Well-educated, ill-bred Stick-on (label), stand-by (fare)

Two kinds of adjective compounds are characterized by the hyphen. Almost are hyphenated to avoid ambiguity while only some are solid. The fact that when we need to use a hyphen contributes to the transparence of a sentence. So be careful with a compound adjective in some cases. When a compound adjective consists two or more adjectives which work together to modify the same noun, we should hyphenate these terms to avoid confusion. o Incorrect: Her fifteen minute presentation proved decisive to the outcome of the case. o Correct: Her fifteen-minute presentation proved decisive to the outcome of the case.

However, remember no hyphen is required when combining an adverb and an adjective:

Compound words


o o

Incorrect: The remarkably-hot day turned into a remarkably-long week. Correct: The remarkably hot day turned into a remarkably long week.

Furthermore, we should not place a hyphen in a compound adjective if the adjectives are capitalized, such as when they are part of a title. It is the same case when the first element is comparative or superlative like better drained soil, lower income group

So we have just gone through three types of compounds in English. Now lets consider another new one: derivational compounds. What are they? They are compound in which the derivational suffix is attached to the combination as a whole, not to one of its elements: kindhearted, old- timer On the whole compounds tend not to undergo derivational processes that are why there are only a few cases. In these cases, it only can form a compound noun and a compound adjective. We apply one of the following patterns: Noun + noun+ -er: footballer, eye-opener... Adjective +noun+-Ed: short-sighted, absent-minded Noun +Noun +-ed: heart-shaped, war-minded Number +noun+-ed: three-fingered, two-headed...

In English, there is a special compound; it is repetitive compounds which can be subcategorized into: reduplicative compounds, ablaut compounds and rhyme compounds. According to Arnold (1986:130), reduplicative compounds are the compounds in which the second element is the prober repetition of the first element with intensifying effect such as hushhush, pooh-pooh, pretty-pretty And ablaut compounds, as Arnold defined, are twin forms

Compound words


consisting of one basic morpheme, sometimes a pseudo-morpheme which is repeated in the other constituent with a different vowel. Some examples are chit-chat, tittle-tattle, knickknackThe other are twin forms consisting two elements which are conjoined to rhyme, which is called rhyme compounds ( Arnold, 1986:130). So we can see that the three compounds have much in common and have a slight difference in its formation. These compounds only occupy a small part of English compounds which are so diverse and various. Now, lets discover how similar or different our Vietnamese compared with English compounds.


Compound words in Vietnamese

Like English compounds, Vietnamese compounds are made up of two or more single

words. To some extents, both are more or less different. However, when talking about compounds in Vietnamese, it is advisable to consider its origin. Many compounds have one element borrowed from Chinese which is Sino-Chinese. In fact Vietnamese has two types of compounds: coordinated compounds (t ghp ng lp) and subordinated compounds (t ghp chnh ph). In term of coordination, there are generalizing compounds and reinforcing compounds. According to Thompson, both of them contain two apparent heads paralleling. However while the former is syntactic compound coordinated phrases and composed of bases denoting different items of reality, the latter is nonsyntactic and composed of bases denoting identical items. Lets look at some examples: Generalizing compounds: Bn gh= furniture, bn-table, gh-chair => tables and chair Qun o: clothes, qun-trousers, o-tunic=> trousers and shirt

Compound words


Bt a= dishes, bt-bowl, a-plate=> bowl and plate Giy bt=stationary goods, giy- paper, bt- writing instrument+> paper and pencil Reinforcing compounds: bin mt=vanish, bin-disappear, mt=lose kn chn=choose carefully, kn-choose, chn-choose tm kim-search, tm-search, kim-search bi v=because, bi-on account of, v-because Obviously, these compounds cannot be seen in English. Besides, we should notice that coordinated compounds in Vietnamese are sometimes idiomatic which is one of the features of English compounds. For example: B con (be related): b grandmother, con child=> childs grandmother ng b con vi ti= hes related to me B con i ch ri. My grandmothers gone to market (said by a child to its parent) However, unlike English idiomatic compounds, we find it easy to identify the right meaning of this compound in a specific situation, so it does not cause much trouble. Another problem we cannot leave out is the order of the elements in coordinated compounds. These components can permute each other without changing the meanings. We never see it in English.

Compound words


Perhaps this is a prominent characteristic of Vietnamese compounds. We can write qun o or o qun. Ri may or may ri, thay i or i thayHowever the ability to change the order freely is not always reasonable and precise. There are some rules we should remember. If the permutation changes the original meanings, we cannot apply it such as cm nc nc cm, i li li i. Sometimes, it is the traditional customs that make the order unchangeable like value the men above women such as cha m (not m cha) nam n (not n nam) ng b (not b ng) and some other examples are tng t, n chi, n mc, vua quan In case, we find it difficult to read aloud or pronounce the words, we maintain the order, for instance, sa cha is easier to read than cha sa. Thats all about the coordinated compound, how about the subordinated one? It can be said that subordinated compounds are likely to be similar to English compounds. Unlike coordinated compounds, subordinated compounds contain two constituents, one of which is a bound. In other words, one element is the head and the other is a modifier. In this case, English and Vietnamese compounds are alike. The modifier is also used to name a feature of the thing identified by the head or to point out something which is related to the thing identified by the head, for example, bn hc ( like dining-table in English) sn bay ( like airport) However, the position of the head is not the same, it is opposite. In Vietnamese, the head always stands first but in English, the head follows the modifier such as vn cau and areca garden. Relatively, we can divide subordinated compounds into two types: attributive compounds and descriptive compounds. The compound which has a modifier to supplement the nuance of the head is call descriptive compound. Now look at some examples and we can understand more: xanh l, xanh um, xanh l, xanh bic, xanh r

Compound words


sng vu, sng v, sng hp, sng mng thng , thng ut, thng tp, thng tut This illustration shows that with one base morpheme, we can have many compound words by adding a modifier. And these words convey the same meaning or describe something at different levels. Likewise, the attributive compounds are composed of one head and one modifier. The diffirence between them is that the function of the modifier. In this case, it is used for specializing or classifying the base. For specialization: Xe p, xe my, xe la, xe b Da chut, da gan, da b, da hu For classification: Nh n, phng n, toa n, bn n, thc n Lnh tnh, vui tnh, nng tnh, trc tnh, bn tnh However, as I mentioned before, there are some Sino-Chinese in Vietnamese. When we borrow these Chinese and add them to Vietnamese, this process is like the process of affixation in English. Despite the same process, the products are completely different. In Vietnamese, the products are compounds but it is not the case in English, for example, nhc + s nhc s ( a

Compound words


compound) but music + ian musician ( not a compound). So lets take some examples of attributive compounds with Sino-Vietnamese: For specialization: X vin, hi vin, on vin, ip vin Nhit k, cao k, vn k, ampe k For classification: i b, chy b, cuc b, qu b, ng b Quc ca, quc k, quc huy, quc tch, quc trng We all know that Vietnam used to be dominated by Chinese, thats why our language is influenced by Chinese a lot, which proved by the number of Sino- Chinese. You can see the appendix to get more examples. (See appendix)

Another point which Vietnamese and English compounds have in common is reduplication. It is the process of creating a new word by repeating a whole or part of a word. Obviously, Vietnamese reduplicative compounds are more varied and diverse than English ones. Vietnamese has several different types of reduplicative patterns including both, total, partial, initial, final, rhyming and alliterative patterns. The resulting reduplicants can be either initial (preceding the base) or final (following the base).

Initial reduplication: b "be big" > b b "be very big" (base: b, initial reduplicant: b-)

Compound words


khn "fetid" > khn khn "smelly" (base: khn, initial reduplicant/affix: khn-)

Final reduplication: mp "be fat" > mp mp "be chubby" (base: mp, final reduplicant/affix: -mp) khc "to weep" > khc lc "to whimper" (base: khc, final reduplicant/affix: -lc)

Total reduplication involves copying the entire word base:

vng " yellow" > vng vng "yellowish" vui "be joyful" > vui vui "jovial, fun" ni "to talk" > ni ni "to keep talking and talkin

If we notice, we can see that the tones of these reduplicative compounds follow the rules below:

Register tones Upper Lower Ngang,sc, and hi Huyn, nng and ng

For example, nh "small" with the hi tone when reduplicated appears as nho nh "smallish" with a ngang-toned reduplicant both syllables are in the upper tonal register.

In addition we can easily see their functions. With the upper tone, its effect is to increase the intensity. And to decrease the intensity, the lower tone is used. Below are some examples:

Compound words


Examples of reduplication increasing intensity: au au ing: hurt hurt horribly mnh mnh m: strong very strong rc rc r: flaring blazing

Examples of reduplication decreasing intensity: nh nh nh: soft soft (less) xinh xinh xinh: pretty cute o : red somewhat red xanh xanh xanh: blue/green somewhat blue/green

So besides the differences, compounds in English and Vietnamese have something in common. I hope that this comparison may be useful for everyone who is really interested in learning English and Vietnamese.


Teaching implication
I think comparing compounds in English and Vietnamese, somehow brings benefits to

the learners, especially Vietnamese. Firstly, we can see that in English compounds, the hyphen plays a certain part. Sometimes if we forget it, it may cause ambiguity and confusion to the readers as some examples above. Because Vietnamese compounds are rarely hyphenated, Vietnamese leaners have a tendency to miss the hyphen and underestimate its function. Thats why teachers have a responsibility to remind learners of this point. Secondly, stress is vital in English. It can be said that similar word with different stress lead to different meaning.

Compound words


Therefore, when learning English, knowing how to pronounce is very important. Especially in order to distinguish a grammatical structure and a compound, it requires exact pronunciation. To help learners avoid misunderstanding, teachers can provide them with some rules about stress in compounds: in compound nouns, stress falls into the first element such as BLACKbird, GREENhouse; but in compound adjectives and compound verbs, the second element is stressed, for examples: bad-TEMpered, old-FASHioned, overCOME, overFLOW. The next point teachers should consider is Sino-Vietnamese words. Perhaps, these words cause more trouble in translation. It may be considered one of the difficulties that learners meet. As we know Vietnamese is monosyllable, but it doesnt mean that it is made up of monosyllabic words. Often, two syllables go together to form a single word. It is different from English, to some extent. For instance, it is clear that my bay does not mean 'machine flies'; it is a single word meaning 'aeroplane'. H cnh does not mean 'come-down wing' (which is the literal meaning of the two monosyllables); it is a single word that means 'to land. My bay is a 'compound word' made up of two native Vietnamese elements. Similarly, h cnh is a compound word made up of Sino-Vietnamese forms that have their ultimate origin in Chinese. So if teachers can give learners a basic knowledge about the difference about compounds between English and Vietnamese, to some extent, they can lessen the errors during learning process. Finally, the last thing teachers had better draw learners attention is about the idiomatic feature in compounds. Guessing the meaning of a word in a context is a good way of learning, but in addition to this, learners should be careful when coming across idiomatic compounds.


T o sum up, language is a diverse tool for human to communicate. Because of this

diversity, it is inevitable that learners may meet some difficulties. Therefore, teacher plays an

Compound words


important part in assisting students to learn more effectively. Although compound is just a part in the system of a language, without understanding, a learner cannot complete his or her study successfully. Perhaps, this document cannot mention all aspects about compounds but I hope that this may bring some knowledge which you can apply to your teaching as well as your learning.



Arnold, I.V. (1986). The English Word. Moscow. Compound Words. Retrieved Nov 14, 2009, from http://www.getitwriteonline.com/archive/042703CompWdsHyph.htm Compound Words. Retrieved Nov 15,2009, from english http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/compounds.htm Dip Quang Ban, and Hong Vn Thung.(1991). T ghp. Ng Php Ting Vit.(4858).Vietnam: University of Education. English Compound. Retrieved Nov 15,2009, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_compound Introduction to Word-Formation. Retrieved Nov 15,2009, from http://vietnamesegrammar.group.shef.ac.uk/grammar_en.php?ID=80&LANG=_en Laurence C.Thompson(1965). Compounds. A Vietnamese reference grammar(126-133).USA: University of Washington Press.

Compound words


Lexical Reduplication. Retrieved Nov 15,2009..http://vietnamesegrammar.group.shef.ac.uk/grammar_en.php?ID=11&LANG=_en Richards,J.; Platt, J. and Weber,H.(1987). Longman Dictionary of Applied Linguistics. Longman. Structural formation of words. Retrieved Nov 15, 2009, from http://dohongnam.com/vn/grammar/unit01.html T Minh Thanh.(2003).Compound words. English Morphology. Vietnam: University of Social Sciences and Humanities. T Trong Ting Vit. Retrieved Nov 15.2009, from http://ngonngu.net/index.php?p=207 Vietnamese Morphology Retrieved Nov 15, from http://wapedia.mobi/en/Vietnamese_morphology


Sino-Chinese words: Prefix Gloss Examples bn nguyt "semicircular, semi-monthly" (bn- + -nguyt bn- "half" "moon"), bn o "peninsula" (bn- + o "island") kh knh "respectable" (kh- + knh "to respect"), kh- "ability" kh quan "satisfactory" (kh- + quan "to behold")

Compound words


lo- familiar (added to surnames)

lo Thinh "ol Thinh, good old Thinh" (lo- + Thinh surname) phn cch mng "counter-revolutionary" (phn- + cch

phn- "counter to, mng "revolution"), against" phn chin "anti-war" (phn- + -chin "to fight") phi ngha "unethical" (phi- + ngha "righteousness"), phi- "not" phi chnh ph "non-governmental" (phi- + chnh ph "government") siu th "supermarket" (siu- + th "market"), siu- "above, better" siu ng "outstanding" (siu- + ng "level") tng a xit "hyperacidity" (tng- + a xit "acid"), tng- "over, high tng can xi "hypercalcernia" (tng- + can xi "calcium") th- ordinal (added to numerals) th mi "tenth" (th- + mi "ten"), th bn mi ba "forty-third" (th- + bn mi ba "forty-three")

Suffix Gloss -gia "profession" -gi agentive

Examples chnh tr gia "politician" (chnh tr "politics" + -gia), khoa hc gia "scientist" (khoa hc "science" + -gia)

tc gi "author" (tc "to create" + -gi),

Compound words


hc gi "scholar" (hc "to learn" + -gi) -ha forms causative verb -hc "field of study" -k "measuring device" -khoa "field of study" a xt ha "to acidify" (a xit "acid" + -ha), m ha "to americanize" (M "USA" + -ha) ngn ng hc "linguistics" (ngn ng "language" + -hc), ng vt hc "zoology" (ng vt "animal" + -hc) nhit k "thermometer" (nhit- "warm" + -k), p k "manometer" (p "get close, approach" + -k) nha khoa "dentistry" (nha- "tooth" + -khoa), dc khoa "pharmacy" (dc- "drug" + -khoa) ho s "artist" (ho "to draw" + -s), -s "expert" vn s "writer" (vn "literature" + -s) gio s "professor" (gio "to teach" + -s), -s "master" lut s "lawyer" (lut "law" + -s) quan st vin "observer" (quan st "to observe" + -vin), -vin agentive phi tr vin "coordinator" (phi tr "to coordinate" + -vin)