(the following is from Jackendoff’s ‘Compounding in the Parallel Architecture and Conceptual Semantics’)


N-N compound schemata (or constructions)

Argument schema:  [N1 N2] = [Y2 (..., X1, ...)]     ‘a N2 by/of/... N1

Modifier schema:   [N1 N2] = [Y2"; [F (..., X1, ..., ", ...)]]     ‘an N2 such that F is true of N1 and N2

Below is a list of the (most prominent) basic functions for English compounds, with examples.  This list is not far off others that have been proposed in the literature.  With one exception, these seem rather plausible as functions that are readily available pragmatically.  (Reminder:  X is the meaning of N1, Y is the meaning of N2, except in the last two cases.)

CLASSIFY (X1, Y2), ‘N1 classifies N2’:  beta cell, X-ray.   This is the loosest possible relation, in which the meaning of N1 plays only a classificatory role.


Y2(X1), ‘(a/the) N2 of/by N1’:  sea level, union member, wavelength, hairstyle, helicopter attack, tooth decay.  This is the argument schema.  It is sometimes reversible, with the extra coercion shown in (21b):  X1(Y2), ‘an N2 that N1’s things’:  attack helicopter, curling iron, guard dog; also ‘an N2 that people N1’:  chewing gum, drinking water.


BOTH (X1,Y2), ‘both N1 and N2’:  boy king, politician-tycoon.  (“Dvandva” compounds)


SAME/SIMILAR (X1, Y2), ‘N1 and N2 are the same/similar’:  zebrafish, piggy bank, string bean, sunflower.  This is not reversible, because the function is symmetric; asymmetry arises only through profiling.


KIND (X1, Y2), ‘N1 is a kind of N2’:  puppy dog, ferryboat, limestone.  Reversible:  seal pup, bear cub (there are other possible analyses as well, perhaps promiscuously)


SERVES-AS (Y2, X1), ‘N2 that serves as N1’:  handlebar, extension cord, farmland, retainer fee, buffer state.


LOC (X1, Y2), ‘N2 is located at/in/on N1’:  sunspot, window seat, tree house, background music, nose hair, donut hole.  Reversible:  ‘N1 located at/in/on N2’, or, reprofiled, ‘N2 with N1 at/in/on it’:  raincloud, garlic bread, inkpad, stairwell, icewater, water bed.[i]


LOCtemp (X1, Y2), ‘N2 takes place at time N1’:  spring rain, morning swim, 3 a.m. blues.  A special case of LOC (X1, Y2).


CAUSE (X1, Y2), ‘N2 caused by N1’:  sunburn, diaper rash, knife wound, surface drag


COMP (Y2, X1), ‘N2 is composed of N1’:  felafel ball, rubber band, rag doll, tinfoil, brass instrument.  Reversible:  ‘N1 is composed of N2’, or, reprofiled, ‘N2 that N1 is composed of’:  wallboard, bathwater, brick cheese, sheet metal.


PART (X1, Y2), ‘N2 is part of N1’:  apple core, doorknob, fingertip, stovetop, mold cavity.  Reversible:  ‘N2 with N1 as a part’:  snare drum, lungfish, string instrument, ham sandwich, wheelchair.  If N1 is a mass noun, this relation paraphrases better as ‘N2 is composed in part of N1’:  gingerbread, cinnamon bun, cheesecake, noodle soup.  Reversible:  ‘N2 that forms part of N1’:  stew beef, cake flour, lunch meat.[ii] 


MAKE (X, Y, FROM Z), ‘X makes Y from Z.’  This creates two families of compounds, depending on which two arguments are mapped to N1 and N2

                a. ‘N2 made by N1’:  moonbeam, anthill, footprint, horse shit.  Reversible:  ‘N2 that makes N1’:  honeybee, lightbulb, musk deer, textile mill

                b. ‘N2 made from N1’:  apple juice, olive oil, grain alcohol, cane sugar,  cornstarch.  Reversible:  ‘N2 that N1 is made from’:  sugar beet, rubber tree.[iii]


PROTECT (X, Y, FROM Z), ‘X protects Y from Z.’  This is the one function in the group that does not seem especially “basic.”  It too creates two families of compounds.

                a. ‘N2 protects N1’:  chastity belt, lifeboat, safety pin

                b. ‘N2 protects from N1’:  mothball, flea collar, cough drop, mosquito net, sun hat



The basic functions and the action modalities can fill in F in (20b) to build compound meanings, as in (22).


(22)         window1 seat2 = SEAT2" ; [LOC (", AT WINDOW1)]

                felafel1 ball2 = BALL2"; [COMP (", FELAFEL1)]


 (Additional schemas are described in the paper for more remote cases.)

Taxonomy of NPN from Jackendoff, ‘Construction after Construction’


 [i] These cases verge closely on ‘X with Y as a part’, below.  It is not clear to me whether they are distinct.

 [ii] The difference between COMP and PART can be illustrated by the ambiguity of clarinet quartet.  On the COMP reading it means ‘quartet of four clarinets’; on the PART reading it means ‘quartet of which a clarinet is a distinctive member’, e.g. a clarinet and three strings.

[iii] This relation differs from PART in that Z is no longer identifiable as such in Y.  However the distinction is slippery.