I have noticed many compound adjectives with an "ed" ending, such as "snowed-under" or "three-legged". It looks a bit weird since I have also saw words like "high-price" and "high-quality" in some essays.

Is there any difference between those with and without an "ed" ending? Is there a principle about it? Or is it just somewhat idiomatic?

  • Where did you find "snow-undered"? You can be snowed under, but not snow undered. – gone fishin' again. Aug 4 '18 at 6:52
  • Sorry, I got it wrong. – user79929 Aug 4 '18 at 7:12
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    You can't be "high-qualitied", because "quality" is an adjective already. We only add -ed to verbs (much-needed) and nouns (red-haired) to make them into adjectives. – Peter Shor Aug 4 '18 at 11:31
  • Since there are adjective like "three-stoery", which is not followed by "ed", can I say "I have a red-hair child"? Or is it just idiomatic that some should be followed by "ed" while the other shouldn't? – user79929 Aug 4 '18 at 11:41
  • You can't say "red-hair child", or at least native English speakers say this very rarely. So it seems to be idiomatic. – Peter Shor Aug 5 '18 at 11:52

The past participle of the verb can be used adjectivally, whether alone, in combination with some agent, or with a preposition, or with an adverb:

The door was newly painted.

The sweater was moth-eaten.

The game was rained-out. Too many rained-out games lately.

They ate some slow-cooked BBQ brisket.

The commodities trading floor is a very fast-paced environment.

The sweater had been eaten by moths. It was raining so heavily the game had to be cancelled. The BBQ brisket had been cooked very slowly.

You will also see compound nouns used as adjectival modifiers:

This new margarine tastes as good as the high-price spread.

Her young son plays slow-pitch baseball.


The difference comes from whether we considering a verb or a noun; the action that resulted in something, or the thing itself. It does get a bit more complicated because we're using these constructs as modifiers

a high-pitched voice

his voice had a surprisingly high pitch

but to focus just on the noun/verb concept:

I can choose the tone of my voice, I can choose a pitch (noun). I can pitch (verb) my voice.

When we are using the word pitch as a verb its past tense is pitched. So describing the sound we can say

Her voice was high pitched

we are hearing the result of a speaker pitching their voice.

Similarly snow can be a noun or a verb. We can say

Snow (noun) has fallen.

It has snowed.

Note that snow in this usage is an impersonal verb, there is no actual subject in the sentence; it is a kind of place holder.

However (as Peter Shor has observed) there is another way in which the -ed may used, as a direct addition to a noun. Examples:

Brown-eyed girl

Broad-leaved plant

These are pseudo-participials, which are derived from nouns. I refer to this question in our sister site at the quotation from Downing and Locke, mentioned there.

Such pseudo-participials are often modified, as the modification represents some non-essential feature. We don’t say *a leaved plant, *a haired girl, because plants normally have leaves and girls have hair. Not all leaves are big and not all girls’ hair is dark, however, allowing the formation of big-leaved and dark-haired: a dark-haired girl. In a camera’ed bystander, by contrast, no modifier is needed because carrying a camera is not an essential feature of a bystander.

(p 436)

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    But you can be white-haired and red-haired, and hair is not a verb. – Peter Shor Aug 4 '18 at 11:27
  • @ Peter Shor - very good point. It was interesting to find the additional information. – djna Aug 5 '18 at 8:13
  • It seems a bit idiomatic. Is it correct to say "a high-priced product", "a high-price product" or both? – user79929 Aug 5 '18 at 12:08
  • I'm not sure what you mean by idiomatic. Less formal? Slang? I think the modifier-noun-ed construct is quite normal. An example from Shakespeare: Portia in the Merchent of Venice uses the phrase "green-eyed monster". A different construct "monster with green eyes" sounds clumsy in comparison. – djna Aug 6 '18 at 5:08
  • As for high-price and high-priced: both can be used. I'm not able to articulate the different contexts in which I would use each. "I can tell the difference between butter and the high-price spread." Seems fine, but for some reason I would use "high-priced" instead, and I can't say why! – djna Aug 6 '18 at 5:12

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