The four compass directions are: north, south, east, west. Can the English language make combinations of these? Something like south-west or east-north-east to have more options for directions to indicate. And how should these be spelled out - with dashes or space-separated or simply merged?

In my native Danish language we have several versions, all compactly merged with no spacing in-between, for example:

Sydvest = South-west (equally much south and west)

Østnordøst = East-north-east (both east and north, but more east than north)


2 Answers 2


We learned the names of the 32 wind directions in the Boy Scouts, but in practice, it is extremely rare ever to see more than the basic eight— north, northeast, east, southeast, south, southwest, west, northwest — and most people will not know the others unless they have a maritime background. Precise directions are nowadays more usually indicated by numerical degree values.

In older materials you will sometimes see the intermediate directions hyphenated (e.g. south-east), but this is uncommon nowadays.

Compass Rose with direction abbreviations,  GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

Going clockwise from North, the points are

  1. N - North
  2. NbE - North by east
  3. NNE - North-northeast
  4. NEbN - Northeast by north
  5. NE - Northeast
  6. NEbE - Northeast by east
  7. ENE - East-northeast
  8. EbM - East by north
  9. E - East
  10. EbS - East by south
  11. ESE - East-southeast
  12. SEbE - Southeast by east
  13. SE - Southeast
  14. SEbS - Southeast by south
  15. SSE - South-southeast
  16. SbE - South by east
  17. S - South
  18. SbW - South by west
  19. SSW - South-southwest
  20. SWbS - Southwest by south
  21. SW - Southwest
  22. SWbW - Southwest by west
  23. WSW - West-southwest
  24. WbS - West by south
  25. W - West
  26. WbN - West by north
  27. WNW - West-northwest
  28. NWbW - Northwest by west
  29. NW - Northwest
  30. NWbN - Northwest by north
  31. NNW - North-northwest
  32. NbW - North by west
  • 4
    +1 All the Quarters that they know, I'th' Ship-mans Card. Jun 30, 2017 at 15:07
  • 4
    I was taught 16 directions in geography class at secondary school, so I became familiar with East Southeast, etc. YMMV though.
    – Muzer
    Jun 30, 2017 at 15:44
  • 2
    Sometimes, especially in Mark Twain, I have seen directions with the word "and" thrown in there. For instance: ' How's she heading? ' / 'Nor'-east-and-by-nor' -- east-by-east, half-east, sir.' Jun 30, 2017 at 15:53
  • 2
    I always hear the ones like NNW that you labeled with hyphens here said as "North by Northwest" rather than "North-Northwest". Maybe this is just less formal, or just a regional thing, but Alfred Hitchcock famously named a movie this way. Jun 30, 2017 at 17:35
  • 1
    And Hitchcock got it from Shakespeare (King Lear). You can't get a much better authority in Englush than that. @DarrenRinger
    – user207421
    Jun 30, 2017 at 23:00

Yes, and they are called intermediate (intercardinal or ordinal) directions and are located halfway between the cardinal directions (north, east, south, and west):

  • Northeast (NE), 45°, halfway between north and east, is the opposite of southwest.
  • Southeast (SE), 135°, halfway between south and east, is the opposite of northwest.
  • Southwest (SW), 225°, halfway between south and west, is the opposite of northeast.
  • Northwest (NW), 315°, halfway between north and west, is the opposite of southeast.

The intermediate direction of every set of intercardinal and cardinal direction is called a secondary-intercardinal direction, the eight shortest points in the compass rose that is shown to the right—i.e., NNE, ENE, ESE, etc.

16 point Compass Rose

This Wikipedia article - "Points of the compass" may be of much interest to you. It lists the 32 cardinal points and 128 Quarter-Points, their traditional wind point, azimuths, and abbreviations.

32 point Compass Rose

  • 3
    I wanted to list all the 128 points but thought a person who's really interested can click the link and read the article. Jun 30, 2017 at 16:00

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