Compounding

Compounding text - mp3

LB:"Compounding is when we take two words in English and we put them together to make a brand-new word. For example, you can take the word race and the word car and you can put it together and you have a race car. But interestingly you can also combine those two words together in the opposite order, car plus race. And then you have ... "

AA: "Car race."

LB:"Car race, which is a kind of ... "

AA: "Race."

LB:"Isn't that interesting? So a race car is a kind of car and a car race is a kind of race. One of the rules, I guess, of the meaning of compounds in English is that the core meaning is the word on the right."

AA: "So what are some other examples?"

LB:"Well, there are all kinds of compounds in English. The most common ones are when we combine two nouns -- so race car, housekeeper. One of the things that's confusing about compounds is the spelling, because sometimes it's written as two words; for example, race car. Sometimes it's written as one word; for example, housekeeper. And sometimes it's written with a hyphen. I actually would have to check this myself, but I think the word baby-sitter is written with a hyphen.

"Now the point is, even native speakers of English don't always know how to spell compounds and they have to consult a dictionary. So I would give my students exactly the same advice. "Now let's move away from the written language and talk about the spoken language. There is a unique feature of compounds which is that the first word is normally the one -- well, always the one that is stressed. So notice, for example, that we say RACE car, HOUSE keeper, BLACK bird, MAKE up, BABY sitter. You see how the first -- we've talked on this program about word stress before. In a compound the first word is the one that gets stressed, and that's one of the things that actually identities it as a compound. What if you have, for example -- well, where does the president of the United States live?"

AA: "In the White House."

LB:"In the WHITE House, and it's stressed on the first word. But I live in a white HOUSE. So there's a difference between a compound which is a unit that has a meaning of its own, like White House, which is the residence of the president of the United States, as opposed to a house that happens to be white. Another famous example of that is blackbird, which is a specific type of bird, and a black bird as opposed to a blue bird or a red bird, you see?

AA: "Uh-huh."

LB:"So what we have to do in the classroom -- first of all, explain to students what I just explained to you, and then do what we call ear training. I can propose a couple of activities that teachers can do that can help students to learn compounds. One of them is a simple matching activity where you have two columns. And what the students have to do is take a word from the first column and match it with a word in the second column and create the compound and then practice saying it correctly. So, a simple matching activity.

"But there's another activity that is really fun, and that is to take these -- you know how we were talking about the difference between 'White House' and 'white house' or 'blackbird' and 'black bird'? You take those phrases and you try to create -- this is kind of for advanced students -- but try to make one sentence that contains both of those. So as an example: 'I saw a white house on my way to the White House?' Can you hear the difference?"

AA: "Uh-huh."

LB:"Or I saw a black bird, but I'm not sure if it's a blackbird.' I've done this and it's a lot of fun. You see students, you know, they're pounding on the desk trying to figure out where the stressed word is and so on."







About the author

Mark McCracken

Author: Mark McCracken is a corporate trainer and author living in Higashi Osaka, Japan. He is the author of thousands of online articles as well as the Business English textbook, "25 Business Skills in English".

Copyright © 2010 by Mark McCracken, All Rights Reserved.