Good news! There is an easy way in English to form a compound adjective, i.e. an adjective made of two –sometimes three– words.
You have probably already seen some and there are different types of words that can be used to make a compound adjective but here, you will learn how to make a compound adjective using a number and a noun.
How it helps and when you may need it:
It is a good, useful way to avoid longer sentences. Remember that in English, sentences are usually quite short. They are more direct than in many other languages.
How to form a compound adjective with a number and a noun:
Take a number, add the singular noun you need, hyphenate them and there, you have your adjective!
Say you want to talk about a hotel that has a rating of five stars.
Take the number: five
Add the noun in the singular form: star
Hyphenate them: five–star
Now when you want to talk about that hotel, you can say it is a five-star hotel.
Careful! Remember to keep the noun in the singular form even if the number makes you feel there should be an s for the plural because, as you know, it is now an adjective and there is no s at the end of adjectives in English! Also, remember to add a hyphen between the number and the noun.
You can combine any number with a noun in the same way. Look at more examples:
- a building with 6 floors → a six-floor building
- a note of 50 euros → a fifty-euro note
- a drive that lasts 20 minutes → a twenty-minute drive
- a walk that takes 5 minutes → a five-minute walk
- a flight that lasts 10 hours → a ten-hour flight
- a delay of 2 hours → a two-hour delay
- a spreadsheet with 25 columns → a twenty-five-column spreadsheet
- a teenager who is 15 years old → a fifteen-year-old teenager
There you are! Can you find more examples? Great! Future readers of this blog post will find your examples useful, too, so please share them in the comment box at the bottom of the page. Thank you! 🙂
an one-night stand
Good find, Marianne! It is a one-night stand (a and not an because the initial sound for the word one is w, a consonant sound).
For those who don’t know its meaning, it actually has two meanings: it can be a show – a play for instance – that lasts only one night at a specific place or it can be a sexual relationship that lasts one night only.
a three-course dinner
Yes! Thank you for your contribution Marianne 🙂
A thirty-two-storey building
Yes, good example Cleone, thank you! 🙂
A one-armed man
That’s a good example, too. Thank you 🙂
What about a one-thousand-meter road?
Yes, it works nicely, too! We could also say “a one-kilometer road” for the same road 😉
Thank you Igor
What are your thoughts on either three-calendar days or 10-calendar days? I’ve had several discussions about this with various colleagues and there always seems to be a disagreement.
I apologize I should’ve been more clear. There is always a debate on whether a hyphen should be placed at all. So, 10 calendar days versus 10-calendar days OR another example three calendar days versus three-calendar days.
That is a great question Shannon! My understanding –and the rule I recommend in my classes and apply in my translations– is that you write out the numbers from 1 to 9 and use numerals from 10 onwards. With the example you gave, we get: three-calendar days and 10-calendar days.
However, I would say it seems this ‘rule’ is not always followed and the usage seems to vary.
Thank you very much for bringing this up and thus giving me the opportunity to address that point. 🙂
Thank you for responding. To clarify , the correct way to use the hyphen in these instances would be: three-calendar days (if the number is 1-9), and then 10-calendar days (10 or above). Some of my colleagues believe that there should be no hyphen at all which would it write as: 10 calendar days or three calendar days.
I want to make sure that how I’m doing it is correct. I’ve insisted that the former is in fact the right way.
Hi Shannon, your new comment made me think about that phrase differently so I did a little research and asked a highly knowledgeable friend/colleague. Your question has become a puzzle! The thing is the words “calendar days” can be regarded as a word. Dictionaries list “calendar day” as a noun and a synonym of “civil day”. If we consider “calendar day” as a noun, then your colleagues who believe there should no hyphen are right. The number in front of “calendar day” is just to specify how many “calendar days” we are talking about.
My friend/colleague found this parallel:
“To celebrate this unprecedented anniversary, events and initiatives will take place throughout the year, culminating in a four day UK bank holiday weekend from Thursday 2nd to Sunday 5th June.”, which would suggest that there are no hyphens.
However, I now wonder if both are acceptable. Without a hyphen as suggested above, or with a hyphen as a compound structure as described in my article.
Maybe someone reading this could add to the discussion and give us more detailed information on the use –or not– of a hyphen in this instance?
Shannon, I am well aware my answer is not clear-cut but I never claim I am sure of my answer when I’m not! It wouldn’t be fair or appropriate. However, I hope the reasoning behind my comments are somehow useful in any case.
Thanks again for your much appreciated input Shannon! 🙂
I’m a former Americn journalist as well as a 25-year ESL veteran teacher and when I’m faced with a delima like this, I do a Google search first to see if there are thousands of examples found. “3-calendar days” does not show up in the sear results with a hyphen. I then usually check Lynguee.fr, a highly respected translation app which searches translated documents uploaded to the internet. It shows “3 calendar days” without a hyphen. I’m satisfied with Yolaine’s answer that calendar day is a compound noun. If we hyphenatze “3-calendar days”, that means there are three calendars. I hope you will feel confident now in using this expression without a hypen.
All the best, Ellen Baker Dubois with BusinessEnglishAllure.com
Thank you ever so much for your input Ellen. Actually the American Press Stylebook has a section on the use of hyphens that is highly interesting and that shows that there are instances where it can be used or not without changing the meaning of the word whilst it sometimes changes the meaning of the word we are using, which means we should always be very clear about what we precisely want to say.
Shannon, if I may, I’d suggest you have a look at the AP Stylebook as well. 🙂