Baseball, fireworks, and apple pie

Just need a coffee.

I might make myself look like a fool in this post, but that hasn’t stopped me before 🙂

What do baseball, apple pie, and fireworks have in common?

Summer? American symbols? All reasonably enjoyable?

Right. Right. Right. And they are all compound words!

Compound words are used frequently in the English language, but after thinking a bit more about them I wasn’t exactly sure when a compound word was written as one word or two. What was the rule or pattern that determines if a compound word is one word or two?

Let’s go back a bit and first define what a compound word is. I tell my students that it’s a word that is made when you take two words or more, stick them together, and make a new word.

So, foot + ball = football. Football is the name of a sport that uses helmets and pads and that word is written as one word, football.

Other examples of one word compound words are: catfish, eyeballs, schoolbook, and railroad just to name a few. These are all words that are made up of two free morphemes (Foreman & Foreman, p. 161).

Understanding what compound words are and how they are made can help students with decoding. “Teachers of younger students might begin by having their students look for meaningful word parts in compound words like sunshine and rainbow” (Foreman & Foreman, p. 189). Seeing two separate words in the compound word will help the reader decode the word.

But a compound word can also be written as two words.

For example, post card, outer space, ice cream, and high heels are all compound words made up two separate words.

That’s simple enough. Compound words can be written as one and two words. Using our knowledge of compound words can help us decode the words by recognizing the free morphemes.

But I started thinking more about the why and the reason of the difference between the two. Why are some compound words written as one word while others are written as two? Was there a rule or pattern that I didn’t know about? Could I could uncover this pattern to help me better understand if I wanted to write and spell compound words? For example, I wanted to write the word playthings? Should I write it as play things, or playthings? Besides memorization, was there a rule or pattern that compound words follow to help me decide how it is written?

After doing a Google search, it seems to me that the difference between one and two word compound words is quite arbitrary! (Please share any information or theories you might have!) I couldn’t find a good explanation about why some compound words are written as one versus two, but I was instructed to consult a dictionary to decipher which one to use! Now I don’t have a problem looking words up in the dictionary, that’s a strategy to use to learn or check how it is spelled, but as the only strategy people have available I felt our language can be pretty unpredictable (and therefore confusing) at times.

(Please don’t even get me started on hyphenated compound words.)

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