Compound adjectives

Formation and pronunciation

A compound adjective is formed from two different words, and occasionally three. They are usually written with a hyphen (e.g. good-looking, well-known), and the stress is usually the same on both parts of the compound.

Describing people

Many compound adjectives describe a person’s appearance, character, and situation.

This is William. He isn’t well-known (= famous), he isn’t well-off (= rich), and I’ve never heard anyone say he was good-looking (= handsome/attractive).
But he’s a very nice man – kind, friendly and very easy-going (= relaxed). In this picture he’s wearing a short-sleeved shirt and a brand-new (= completely new) hat.

‘Well’ and ‘badly’

These adverbs combine with many past participles to form compound adjectives. You can use ‘well’ or ‘badly’ in front of the adjective (except well-known, which has no opposite).

a well-directed film a badly-paid job (= a low salary)
a well-made pair of shoes a badly-behaved child (= acting in a bad way)
a well-written story a badly-dressed young man (= wearing horrible clothes)

A ‘five-minute’ walk

It is common to combine a number and a singular noun to form a compound adjective.
It’s a fifteen-minute drive to the centre. (= a drive of fifteen minutes)
He works in a four-star hotel. (= a hotel with a rating of four stars)
I gave her a five-pound note. (= a note with a value of five pounds)
The winner was a ten-year-old girl. (= a girl who is ten years old)
There was a two-hour delay on our flight. (= the plane was two hours’ late)

Common compounds

She had a full-time job in a bank, but after the baby was born she changed to a part-time job and just worked in the mornings.
The hotel is north-west of here, about ten miles away, (also north-east, south-east, and south-west)
Most of the population are right-handed, but about 10% are left-handed.
On trains and planes you can buy a first-class ticket if you are happy to pay a lot more.
Mary bought a second-hand BMW. (= the car was not brand-new, but was a new car for her)
Note: As with compound nouns, you can often combine different words with one part and form many different compound adjectives.