Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Compound adjectives

English is a very creative language in the sense that new words are invented every day, and one easy way to create a new term is to make compound nouns or adjectives. Thus, an animal with cold blood is a cold-blooded animal. Cold-blooded is a compound adjective made up of an adjective and a noun, to which the suffix-ed has been added. This word ending in -ed may look like a participle but in fact it is not, because in order to be a participle, the root has to be a verb, not a noun.
A few more examples:
A man with dark hair and blue eyes is a dark-haired, blue-eyed man.
A person with long legs is a long-legged person.
As you can see, all these examples are formed by adding -ed to an adjective-noun combination. But this is by no means the only one possible. Keep reading to find others.
Frogs are cold-blooded animals
Image by Drriss

A compound adjective is a combination of two or more words that works as an adjective. These words can be adjectives, nouns, adverbs or participles, and they can be hyphenated or not. A hyphen is a punctuation mark in the form of a short line (-) that is put between two words to join them.
These compounds can be written as one word (waterproof), two separate words (brick red) or they can be hyphenated (snow-white). The compounds that are used more often tend to appear in one word. Those that combine occasionally but keep their individual meaning tend to use a hyphen. And those that come in two words keep their independent identity. But British and American English don't always use the hyphens in the same word combinations, so, when in doubt, check a good dictionary!

Sometimes, more than two words can be found forming a compound (up-to-date, state-of-the-art,..) These expressions are only found hyphenated when they precede the noun they qualify, but not when they follow linking verbs. Examples:
If you are a fashion lover, read these tips to stay up to date.
I like to follow the latest up-to-date trends.
His house is state of the art. It is full of the latest gadgets.
I love state-of-the-art technology.

State-of-the-art technology
Let's have a look at the different combinations that we can find:
Noun + adjective
Trustworthy, blameworthy, duty-free, tax-free, seasick, watertight, waterproof, colour-blind, worldwide, knee-deep, self-conscious, and other compounds that are equivalent to the construction "" : brick red (as red as brick), stone-cold (as cold as a stone), paper-thin (as thin as paper)
  • A combination of two qualities: bitter-sweet, deaf-mute.
  • A combination in which the first element takes the suffix -o: socio-economic, Anglo-Saxon, Franco-German, Anglo-American. In this case, all the combinations are hyphenated.
  • A combination in which the first adjective qualifies the second adjective: dark-blue, red-hot, Roman-Catholic.
Evergreen, oversensitive, all-American
Noun+present participle
Self-defeating, self-denying, heart-breaking, breath-taking, law-abiding, 
Noun+past participle
Self-taught, hand-made, thunderstruck, home-brewed, heart-felt, brightly-lit, open-minded, well-behaved
Adjective or adverb+present participle
Forthcoming, everlasting, neverending, easygoing, good-looking
Adjective or adverb+past participle
Far-fetched, well-meant, widespread, new-laid, long-awaited
Number+ noun
Second-hand, first-rate. Notice that adjectives using numbers, like any other adjectives, are not found in the plural. Thus, a boy who is twelve years old is a twelve-year-old boy, or a tree which measures three metres is a three-metre-tall tree. These expressions with numbers are always hyphenated.
Adjective+ noun
Apart from the common formation that we have seen at the beginning of this post, in which the noun takes the suffix -ed, there are other possibilities such as last-minute, deep-sea, ...
Verb+adjective or adverb
Feel-good, buy-now, pay-later

And remember that new combinations are always possible. You can create your own adjective!

Let's watch this video about two beautiful brown-eyed girls. Notice that the song by Van Morrison is called "Brown Eyed girl". Why doesn't it have a hyphen? Because you don't need it in titles! Enjoy!

Choose the correct  adjective from the ones given
Complete the sentences with a compound adjective
Choose the appropriate compound adjective
For advanced students
Match the compound adjectives with their definitions

Monday, February 4, 2013

Groundhog Day: an American tradition

On February 2nd, a curious ceremony takes place in several American States: a group of men dressed in tuxedos and wearing tall hats go to a groundhog’s den and wake him from his hibernation. As the poor creature gets out of his burrow, the men watch his behaviour. Two things can happen:  If he gets frightened by his shadow and he goes back to the protection of his lair, that means that there will be still several more weeks of cold winter weather. However, if he decides to stay, the forecast is that spring will come early.
Groundhog Day
The most famous groundhog in America is Punxsutawney Phil, from Gobblers Knob, Pennsylvania. According to his followers, Phil is the true and only weather forecasting groundhog, and the others are just impostors. They also sustain that there has only been one Phil and that he goes on living thanks to some secret recipe punch that he drinks during the summer: just a sip gives him seven more years’ life. Of course, this must be taken with a pinch of salt, as it is known that a groundhog lives only for seven or eight years.

This tradition of weather forecasting was introduced in America by German immigrants, who in their homeland used to watch the behaviour of hedgehogs on Candlemas for their predictions. They also had some proverbs about the weather:
“If Candlemas is mild and pure,
Winter will be long for sure.”
“If Candlemas brings
wind and snow,
Then spring will very soon show.
But if it's clear and bright,
Then spring won't come so right.”

For the translation of these proverbs see this page.

But why was the religious festivity of Candlemas chosen as the day of the prediction? Candlemas was celebrated on February 2nd, which is right in the middle of the winter, between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, and thus it is the right time to make a guess whether the long-awaited spring is near.

Unfortunately, our little friend Phil is not very reliable, as only about 40% of his predictions turn out to be true. Anyway, each year this tradition draws thousands of people to the home of this cute rodent and puts a warm smile upon our faces in the long dreary winter.

In the following video we can learn a bit more about the habits of these animals (also called woodchucks) that are related to squirrels. Then you can answer the questions below. Happy Groundhog’s Day!

For more information, visit
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