5 Compound-Word Corrections

By Mark Nichol

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Writers sometimes confuse a two-word phrase for a closed compound noun consisting of those two words, or vice versa. Here are five cases in which a noun phrase or a verb phrase was mistaken for a compound word or the other way around.

1. “Eating McDonald’s food everyday for four weeks turned this filmmaker into a bloated, depressed wreck.”
Everyday is an adjective (“It’s not an everyday occurrence”). “Every day” is a phrase consisting of an adjective and a noun (“That’s not something you see every day”). In this sentence, the usage is adjective-plus-noun: “Eating McDonald’s food every day for four weeks turned this filmmaker into a bloated, depressed wreck.”

2. “Seen as both godsend and a major let down, it remains the city’s artistic center.”
“Let down,” consisting of a verb and an adverb, is employed in such sentences as “He was let down.” As a closed compound, it’s a noun: “That’s a real letdown.” In this sentence, it should be in noun form: “Seen as both godsend and a major letdown, it remains the city’s artistic center.”

3. “Resistance from the state legislature could doom the governor-elect’s promise to rollback the hike.”
A rollback is a thing (“The rollback proposal failed in committee”); to roll back is to perform an action (“The state will roll back the price hike”). This sentence refers to an action, not a thing, so the compound must be changed to a verb phrase: “Resistance from the state legislature could doom the governor-elect’s promise to roll back the hike.”

4. “California gave a record $100 million loan to bailout schools.”
As in the previous example, what is in context an action is styled as a noun. The sentence should read, “California gave a record $100 million loan to bail out schools.” Better yet, close the sentence with the preposition: “California gave a record $100 million loan to bail schools out.”

5. “International organizations continue their pull out as rebels attack a train.”
If the sentence read that the organizations continued to pull out, the two-word verb phrase would be correct. But pulling out is an action, so it’s a pullout: “International organizations continue their pullout as rebels attack a train.”

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9 Responses to “5 Compound-Word Corrections”

  • Festus

    Thanks for clarify this, it’s much clear now.

  • Bernadette Fox


    I wanted to let you know how much I enjoy receiving your Daily Writing Tips. I am subscribed to quite a few grammar and English newsletters and yours have definitely been the best and most informative, in my opinion. Thank you for your time and I will continue to be a loyal subscriber.

    My Best,

  • John White

    “Setup” and “backup” are inching their way into verbhood as well, as in, “Follow these instructions to setup your printer,” and “Remember to backup your data at least once a day.”`

  • Dale A. Wood

    Reply to John White:
    Oh, “setup” is horrid! Many times I think that the language of computer science, and that of computer networks, is independent of the English language. This is especially apparent in the way in which C.S. people create compound words willy nilly. They want to treat English like it is German, Turkish, or Finnish.

    It looks like we are stuck with “backup” instead of “back-up”.
    That other word should be “set up” or “set-up”, but so many people do not pay attention.

    We also have organizations like the Associated Press, with little knowledge of proper nound, that have put a blessing onto “words” like “website”, which should be “Web site” because “Web” is short for “World Wide Web”, which is a proper noun.

    After all, we still have these: “Web server”, “Web browser”, “Web computer”, “Web host”, “Web management”, “Web protocol”, “Web router”, and “Web switch”. Why not stick with the system, and use “Web site”? Of course, the reason is that people in the general press do not know that there is a system, and they do not care, either, whenever someone tells them about it.

    There might be some hope now and then. I have seen some old books, magazines, etc., mostly produces in Britain, that included “no-one”. In more modern works, this seems to have disappeared, replaced either by “no one” or “nobody”.


  • Dale A. Wood

    Sorry, I have been having trouble with “s” and “d”, which are on adjacent keys on my keyboard.

  • Dale A. Wood

    How about the people who take well-established compound words and split them in two? For example: {no where, no body, super model, mini skirt, mini bus, any where, any thing, for ever, wrist watch, dry dock, and battle cruiser}

    I was motivated to look up “battlecruiser” and its history, and I found that this word was established by the Royal Navy in 1895, so it is well-over a century old. Battlecruisers have been possessed by the Royal Navy, the Imperial German Navy, the Imperial Japanese Navy, the U.S. Navy, the Italian Navy, the Royal Australian Navy (just one, the HMAS “Australia”, which was discarded after WW I), the Turkish Navy, the Austro-Hungarian Navy (which hasn’t existed since 1918), and the French Navy.

    The word “drydock” is even older than “battlecruiser” is.

    I have even seen where writers used the word “battleship” to mean any “ship of war” or “warship”, in contrast to the real fact that a battleship is a specific type of heavily-armed warship. The last battle between battleships was between the U.S. Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy in October 1944, and the last navy to have any battleships on active service was the U.S. Navy up through about 1992, with four of them. You can now see these four as memorial ships in Camden, New Jersey (across the river from Philadelphia), Norfolk, Virginia, Los Angeles, and Pearl Harbor (the USS “Missouri”).

    So, battleships do not exist anymore as active warships in any navy, and the technology to produce any new ones does not exist anymore, either. We would have to create that technology all over again, but it is far better to spend that money on building new aircraft carriers, submarines, destroyers, and possibly cruisers.


  • Uma

    Till now I usually broke up or joined words by instinct in much the same way I use/not use ‘the’. Now I will be able to explain the correct usage. Thank you.

  • Ryan

    Listen, I hate it when words are misspelled. All I want to do when a word is spelled incorrectly is correct it. Even adults make writing mistakes, and I just want to dig myself into a hole when my best friend makes a spelling mistake. Just so you know, “a” goes before a consonant and “an” goes before a vowel.

  • The dog

    (Reply to Uma)
    ‘Till is spelled wrong. Just so you know. 🙂

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