Synthetic Compound Words Examples

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

A sword swallower

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In morphology, a synthetic compound is a type of compound that parallels a verbal construction, with the head derived from a verb and the other element functioning as an object. Also known as a verbal compound. Contrast with root compound.

Synthetic compounding is a type of word formation in which compounding and derivation are combined.

According to Rochelle Lieber, "The thing that distinguishes synthetic from root compounds, and therefore that drives the interpretation of synthetic compounds, is the fact that the second stem of a synthetic compound is by definition a deverbal derivation, and in deverbal derivations, we often have more than one argument available for co-indexing. Further, those arguments, by virtue of being verbal arguments, have distinctive thematic interpretations which contribute to the interpretation of any co-indexed stem" (Morphology and Lexical Semantics. Cambridge University Press, 2004).

Examples and Observations

"In the literature on Present-day English (PE) word formation, compound nouns of the form [Noun + Verb-ing] (e.g., city-planning, housekeeping, letter writing) and compound nouns of the form [Noun + Verb -er] (e.g., dishwasher, taxi driver, watchmaker) are often called 'synthetic compound nouns.' The possible grammatical relation between the first Noun and the second Verb in these constructions has constituted an important topic of discussion. For example, Bloomfield (1933: 231-232) claims that synthetic compounds embody the verb-object relationship, and Marchand (1969: 15-19) also defines synthetic compounds in terms of the verb-object relationship. To state simply the most generally held view, PE synthetic compounds are based on the verb-object relationship and exclude the subject-verb relationship (Adams 2001: 78-79; Liever 2005: 381)." (Akiko Nagano, "Subject Compounding and a Functional Change of the Derivational Suffix -ing in the History of English." Studies in the History of the English Language V, ed. by Robert A. Cloutier, et al. Walter de Gruyter, 2010)

Compounding and Derivation

"Consider the following English nominal compounds of which the head is a deverbal noun:

(22) sword-swallower, heart-breaker, church-goer, money-changer, typesetter

These compounds pose some analytical questions. First, some of the nominal heads such as swallower and goer do not occur as words of their own. These are possible, but not established English words. Thus, these words show that possible words can function as building blocks in word-formation. One might also argue that these words are derived by attaching the suffix -er to the verbal compounds sword-swallow, heartbreak, etc. This alternative analysis is inadequate because verbal compounding is not a productive process in English, and hence does not license the possible words sword-swallow or heartbreak. What we see here is that the use of one word-formation process, nominal compounding, implies the use of another word-formation process, deverbal nominalization with -er, which provides possible words like swallower and breaker. These words are then used as the heads of nominal compounds. The term synthetic compounding is traditionally used to indicate that this kind of word-formation looks like the simultaneous use of compounding and derivation."​ (Geert Booij, The Grammar of Words: An Introduction to Morphology, 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, 2007)

Synthetic Compounds and Root Compounds

"Synthetic compounds can easily be confused with root compounds formed from a deverbal noun whose base can be used intransitively. For instance, in addition to truck driver we could coin motorway driver meaning 'one who drives (regularly) on motorways.' (This construction has primary stress on motorway, so it is clearly a compound.) However, this is not a synthetic compound; rather, it is a root compound, whose head is a derivative of drive used intransitively. With the handful of verbs which must be used transitively, it is all but impossible to form such root compounds. For instance, while we can say omelet maker we could not say pan maker meaning 'one who makes (e.g. omelets) in a pan.' This is because make is very difficult to use intransitively."​ (Andrew Spencer, "Morphology and Syntax." Morphologie/Morphology, ed. by Geert Booij, Christian Lehmann, and Joachim Mugdan. Walter de Gruyter, 2000)

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Nordquist, Richard. "Synthetic Compound Words Examples." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 28). Synthetic Compound Words Examples. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Synthetic Compound Words Examples." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 7, 2023).