Some nouns are constructed from two words joint together, as in 'football', 'playground', 'gatekeeper'. These are sometimes labeled closed compound or solid compound nouns (Wiktionary, Oxford dictionaries, Collins).

It is possible to create even longer compound nouns such as 'football playground gatekeeper", but this isn't a closed compound anymore. Contrast this with German, in which compounding to a single long word is more common (in the past this could be used to create extremely long words... though nowadays they are usually separated in writing).

I'm looking for examples of English closed compound nouns built from more than two words, but I can't think of anything. Does it occur at all?

Update: after finding no such word, and getting some feedback here, I suspect that English closed compounds are always constructed from exactly two words (?) (Well, except for ManBearPig, that is...)

For example, this reference puts the first and second words in two columns of a table, and there's no third column.

However, I found no such explicit rule anywhere.

What I'm looking for is either (1) a rule similar to the above, in some reliable source; or (2) a counter-example (strictly closed compound nouns, no spaces or hyphens, three or more words).

(If I don't find either one, I will suggest that as a new English language rule!)

  • 1
    In humor, South Park had ManBearPig--and part of why it is funny is because you don't see three words stuck together like that. I would think that the Wikipedia article on compound words would have probably listed a three-part example if there were a common one that was considered a "real word". Mar 23, 2016 at 16:15
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    It seems like whenever we have to put more than three words together, we use a space or a hyphen. For example, "mother-of-pearl" or "daughter-in-law". I can't think of any compound nouns built from more than two words, where all of them are "real" words - that is, "gamesmanship" doesn't quite count, because "-ship" is just a suffix, not a standalone noun.
    – stangdon
    Mar 23, 2016 at 16:23
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    We do it all the time; we simply have different typographic and orthographic conventions. Speed-limit sign. Jump rope contest.
    – TimR
    Mar 23, 2016 at 17:12
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    @JavaLatte - True about the nouns! "Word of mouth" is a good example, although I don't know about "never hyphenated" - apparently the AP stylebook says it should be hyphenated.
    – stangdon
    Mar 23, 2016 at 18:22
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    @stangdon - apparently about one in four people do hyphenate it. I didn't know that... books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – JavaLatte
    Mar 23, 2016 at 19:11

3 Answers 3


Such words are rare but do exist.
For example, consider whatsoever or longshoreman, or if you prefer other forms of transportation, aircraftman or highwayman.
The first is listed as a pronoun, but that seems likely to count as a noun for this question.
There are also adjectives such as workmanlike, adverbs such as hereinafter, etc.

See also this EL&U question I found after writing this answer.

  • Thanks! Apparently there are some three-word compounds in English after all. The ELU answer provides several additional examples. I should have remembered "plainclothesman" from Isaac Asimov's "Elijah Bailey" series. Apr 30, 2016 at 19:24

Words are what come out of your mouth. Virtual words can appear on the written or typeset page. English nominals can be comprised of nouns jammed together. We do it all the time. In our virtual representation of these nominals (in handwritten or typographic form) we use doo-dads like hyphens and spaces, but those are not essential differences.

tight rope walker
speed limit sign
jump rope contest
may day parade queen
turnpike toll booth
printer cartridge refill kit
contact lens cleaning solution
contact lens cleaning solution discount coupon
contact lens cleaning solution discount coupon rebate check
contact lens cleaning solution discount coupon rebate check special offer
contact lens cleaning solution discount coupon rebate check special offer request form

  • I like your contact lens development :) but I don't think it's the same thing. Contact lens is a compound noun, sure, but it's not a word. Football is a word, it's created by compounding two words, and it isn't equivalent to "foot ball". If you don't differentiate these cases, then you can also claim that any sentence is a word. And I'm still looking for single-word compound noun built from more than two word... Mar 23, 2016 at 20:00
  • Your remark, that you can "claim that any sentence is a word" if you accept my examples as compound nouns, doesn't hold water. There's not a single verb in any of my examples. And who's to say that printercartridge or contactlenssolution aren't valid compound words? They're just not written or typed that way, conventionally; but there's nothing in the grammar of the English language to prevent that from happening. You're allowing mere typographic convention to govern your sense of the language.
    – TimR
    Mar 23, 2016 at 20:17
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    I respectfully disagree, but it doesn't matter. This is not what I was looking for. Mar 23, 2016 at 20:32
  • When you say in your question "but this isn't a single word anymore", on what are you basing that statement?
    – TimR
    Mar 23, 2016 at 20:43

Taken from Wikipedia,

English is capable of agglutinating morphemes of solely Germanic origin, as un-whole-some-ness, but generally speaking the longest words are assembled from forms of Latin or Ancient Greek origin. The classic example is antidisestablishmentarianism.

For English it is uncommon to join full words to form new ones. You can easily find examples of affixment such as undesirable, but agglutination of more than two words is, if not inexistent, very, very uncommon.

I recommend you watch this very good explaining video from Tom Scott.

  • Thanks for the interesting links, but I'm looking for compound nouns, not just long words. I edited the question title to clarify. Mar 23, 2016 at 16:13
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    The examples you give are different: they build on one root and add prefixes and suffixes. Those prefixes and suffixes can be added to any word where they make sense. That makes a long word, but still build on a single root (desire, establish). That's different from building words from two roots like foot + ball; languages like German and Finnish can go on but English does seem limited to two roots. The way the Wikipedia article confuses these two concepts is rather unhelpful. Mar 23, 2016 at 16:20
  • That's what I tried to explain, being flexible enough to include cases in which there is agglutination in English, but stating that it was rare if not impossible to exist more than two full words, or, as @Gilles called, roots combined together Mar 23, 2016 at 16:23
  • 'For English it is uncommon to join full words to form new ones.' Is this really what you mean to say? Compound words are very, very, very common. Apr 26, 2016 at 20:58

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