Updated June 8, 2009                                                                                                                       





a blackboard



a brother-in-law



a build-up



a checkup



a chocolate lover



a civil war



a computer game



Central America



a driver’s license



a fishing village



a foreign tourist



a grandmother



a greenhouse



a haircut



a local official



a luxury apartment



a million dollars



a musical instrument



a national park



a non-smoking zone



a paper towel



a password



a printout



a scenic spot



a school teacher



a snowman



a speed limit



a stone lion



a student dormitory



a summer vacation



a sunset



a toy rabbit



a traditional story



a travel agency



a waterfall



a watermelon



a white mouse



a wooden box



air pollution



an apartment building



an income



an office worker



an output



an upgrade



an urgent letter



a boyfriend



a car park



Chinese art



coal mining



a college student



current affairs



decision making



drug trafficking



an old dog



global warming



half a day









a hotspot



human nature



international trade



modern art



natural gas



a newspaper



next year



one point three billion people



orange juice



outer space



a good man






Oxford Road



Peter Smith



a post office



public transportation



a shopping center



South America



South-East Asia



a supermarket



a swimming pool



the blue sky



the brain drain



the Communist Party



the construction industry



a financial center



the Olympic Games



the SARS crisis



the Security Council



the Yellow River



thirty years old



a traffic jam



two thousand years



Wall Street



a washing machine



a health inspector






long hair



the Health Minister



transportation costs



     an English teacher



     an English teacher



Study the different types of items that were in the test to see where you made most of  your mistakes.

I have classified the test items into ten different “types”

Almost all the test items consisted of  “X Y” where Y is a noun. Sometimes X and Y are joined, sometimes not. Don't worry too much about the use of hyphens to join words; this is variable between British and American English and besides, we are concerned here about speaking, not writing. Consider a hyphenated word as “half joined”.

One example of a compound adjective (“well-dressed”) was included in the test but this is not representative of all compound adjectives. (Compound adjectives are very often hyphenated.)

Remember that  “stressing” a word means, basically, saying it a little louder than the surrounding words.

It should be noted that the main stress sounds a little different, depending on whether it is on the first word or the second word. When the first word is stressed, as in  orange juice”, the word “orange” is spoken quite emphatically; but when the second word is stressed, as in “an old dog”, the word “dog” is not stressed as emphatically as the word “orange” in the previous example. Furthermore, when we say these common adjective + noun combinations as in “an old dog”, there is also a very slight stress or emphasis put on the word “old”, but it is much less than that on the word “dog”.

The central idea here is the difference between Types 1 and 2. If this idea is clear to you, the explanations for the other types should be easier to understand.



Type 1: Typical compound Nouns STRESS ON FIRST WORD

Type 2: Adjective + Noun (not joined) STRESS ON SECOND WORD

Type 3: Adjective + Noun (joined) STRESS ON FIRST WORD

Type 4: Special Compound Nouns: Noun + Noun STRESS ON SECOND WORD

Type 5: Names: “The X Y”, Stress on X 

Type 6: Names: “The X Y”, Stress on Y

Type 7: Names of People and Roads (including Avenues and Lanes): “ X Y”, Stress on Y

Type 8: Names of Streets: “ X Street”, Stress on X

Type 9: Adjective (implied contrast) + Noun    STRESS ON FIRST WORD

Type 10: Example of a Compound Adjective STRESS ON SECOND WORD

Some recordings of these different types of stress patterns can be found at:


Type 1

Typical compound Nouns STRESS ON FIRST WORD


The first, and main group of words in the test is Compound Nouns composed of two nouns. These words act like single-word nouns but they are composed of more than one word. They are often, but not always, “set expressions” that can be found in the dictionary. There are thousands of these in English. (Sometimes you can make your own compound nouns but non-native English speakers should be a little careful when doing this because your newly-coined compound noun might not fit into the normal pattern and therefore might sound inappropriate.)

The most common compound nouns are of the form WORD 1 + WORD 2, (sometimes there are three or more words.) where WORD 1 = a noun and WORD 2 = another noun. But there are also many kinds of compound noun where WORD 1 is an adjective or another kind of non-noun word. Almost always, WORD 2 is a noun. 

Sometimes these two words are not joined, sometimes they are joined to make a single word, such as “bedroom” and sometimes the two words are hyphenated, such as “air-conditioning”. (Often the same compound noun is hyphenated in British English but not in American English.)

Most compound nouns are pronounced with the stress on WORD 1. (This is especially true if the two words are joined.) We stress WORD 1 in order to emphasize or specify which WORD 2 it is. WORD 2 is usually the “general class” of thing that is being talked about and there are often (but not always) other members of this general class. For example: orange juice, apple juice, pineapple juice ... Since there are other members of the class of things, we stress the first word in a similar way to stressing the two words when we speak about a contrast. (See Example of a contrast situation under Type 2.)

What kind of …?

Look at the compound noun, “bedroom”. A bedroom belongs to the class (or group) of things called “rooms”. That is, “bed” tells us which room. A “bedroom” is firstly a room – What (kind of) room? – a room for beds. Notice that we can substitute the word, “What …?” (or, “What kind of …?” or  “Which …?”) for the stressed word. This substitution can be used for all the stressed words on this page, no matter what type.

Notice that either NOUN 1 or NOUN 2 can be a verbal-noun (a gerund) such as in #10, a fishing village and #52, decision making. A verbal-noun is an activity. Don't confuse the adjectives ending in “ing” with the verbal noun. For example, a “growing boy” belongs to Type 2 but “growing pains” belongs to Type 1. Therefore, if someone says, “a swimming pool”, the meaning is, “a pool that is swimming” ! (正在游泳的池)

Check the following list of Type 1 test items to see how many of them you got correct.

Here is a list of the compound nouns from the test: 2 a brother-in-law, 5 a chocolate lover, 7 a computer game, 9 a driver’s license, 10 a fishing village, 14 a haircut, 20 a non-smoking zone, 22 a password, 25 a school teacher, 26 a snowman, 27 a speed limit, 31 a sunset, 34 a travel agency, 35 a waterfall, 36 a watermelon, 39 air pollution, 40 an apartment building, 42 an office worker, 46 a boyfriend, 47 a car park, 49 coal mining, 50 a college student, 52 decision making, 53 drug trafficking, 57 handwriting, 58 healthcare, 64 a newspaper, 67 orange juice, 73 a post office, 75 a shopping center, 79 a swimming pool, 81 the brain drain, 83 the construction industry, 90 a traffic jam, 93 a washing machine, 94 a health inspector, 98 transportation costs, 99 an English teacher. (= a teacher of English) 

Many lists of groups or "sets" of these compound nouns can be found at: Once you become familiar with a few "members" of a set, you will more easily remember to get the stress pattern correct for any new members of the set that you come across.


1b: Compound Nouns from Phrasal Verbs

Although these are not as “typical” as the noun + noun compound nouns in 1a, I have grouped them under Type 1 in order the simplify the number of “Types”.

A phrasal verb (sometimes called, a “two-word verb”) is composed of a verb + an “adverb of location”. Examples of  “adverbs of location” are: in, out, up, down, away, through. Examples of some phrasal verbs are: to throw away; to print out; to check up; to break through. When we speak the phrasal verb, the stress is usually on the adverb of location. For example: “Now, I'm going to print it out.” When we say the phrasal verb without putting the object between the two words, the stress is almost equal between the two words but is usually still on the adverb of location. For example: “Now, I'm going to print out the document.”

Many phrasal verbs can be converted to a compound noun by simply joining (or hyphenating) the two words and changing the stress to the first word. For example: a throwaway; a printout; a checkup; a breakthrough. This stress is quite strong.

The examples of these in the test are: 3 a buildup; 4 a checkup; 23 a printout

A list of some of these, with recordings, can be found at:

Sometimes the words are reversed, with the adverb first and the verb second. Notice that the stressed word is still the first word.

Examples in the test of the adverb first and the verb second are: 41 an income; 43 an output; 44 an upgrade


1c: Prefixed Nouns 

This is a relatively small group of compound words composed of a PREFIX + NOUN, (usually a Greek or Latin prefix). Usually these prefixes are not used alone but they have a meaning, from their original languages (Greek or Latin). The prefix is stressed more than the noun. 

Type 1c could be considered as a special subgroup of Type 3 because the prefix usually has an adjectival meaning. (In fact,  “supermarket” could be included under Type 1c because  “super” is a prefix, although the word  “super” can also stand alone as an adjective.

Some examples of Type 1c that are not in the test are: ultrasound; a subway; a co-worker; an antibody; and, an autograph.

There is one example of this in the test but the prefix is an English word, “over” (meaning “excessive” or  “additional”): 70 overtime.  


Type 2  

Adjective + Noun (not joined)   STRESS ON SECOND WORD

The second type of test item was of the following form: ADJECTIVE + NOUN; for example, “a good man”. (These two words are not joined.) 

Almost always, the NOUN is stressed more than the adjective when the adjective is used simply to describe the noun. That is, the stress is on the second word (except when talking about a contrast situation or an implied contrast situation, as in Type 9)

One way to understand why the noun is stressed more than the adjective is this: there are many more possible examples of  “good + Y”, where Y is a noun, than there are examples of “X + man”, where X is an adjective. For example, tens of thousands of things can be described as “good” but there are probably only a few hundred adjectives to describe a man. Therefore, it is more logical to emphasize the noun, Y since it is the one that has many more possible choices. In order to emphasize the noun clearly, we say it with more stress than on the adjective. (Another example: “a black dog”. Think of how many things you could describe as “black” thousands, and compare that number to the adjectives that could be used to describe a dog a few dozen.)

Here is the list of  ADJECTIVE + NOUN items that were in the test: 6 a civil war, 8 Central America, 11 a foreign tourist, 15 a local official, 18 a musical instrument, 19 a national park, 33 a traditional story, 38 a wooden box, 45 an urgent letter, 51 current affairs, 54 an old dog, 55 global warming, 60 human nature, 61 international trade, 62 modern art, 63 natural gas, 65 next year, 68 outer space, 69 a good man, 74 public transportation, 96 long hair


 Adjective + Noun, as a compound noun

Note that some of these, due to frequent use, have become set expressions (usually found in big dictionaries) which have a set meaning and can therefore be called ‘compound nouns’. However, compound nouns composed of ADJECTIVE + NOUN are not as common as (what I call) ‘typical compound nouns’, which are composed of NOUN + NOUN. 

However, we are here concerned with pronunciation, i.e., stress placement, not whether the word combination has become a set expression or not. The best guide for how to stress all word combinations is to look at what kind of word the first word is, rather than whether the word has become a compound noun (set expression) or not. In other words, don't say that compound nouns always have the first word stressed because this is not true if the first word is an adjective. Instead, say that NOUN + NOUN combinations usually have the first word stressed and ADJECTIVE +NOUN combinations usually have the second word stressed. Whether the word combination has become a compound noun or not is not important when considering which word has the word stress. 

Nevertheless, it might be interesting to look at a few adjective + noun combinations that have now become set expressions, i.e., compound nouns. The following are the words in the test that have become set expressions: a civil war, a musical instrument, a national park, current affairs, global warming, human nature, modern art, natural gas, outer space, public transportation.


Example of a contrast situation

When we usually use an adjective + noun, the adjective is simply describing the noun. For example: What's that? ” “It's a big dog. In this example, we are not emphasizing that the dog is not small; we are simply describing the dog. 

But in the following sentence, the speaker is focusing on what the dogs are not; i.e., the speaker is contrasting two dogs. 

I've got a big dog but she's got a small one (= a small dog).” When we contrast two words, we say those two words with stress.

Notice that “I've” and “she's” are also contrasted but not quite as much as “big” and “small” because the contrast between the two words “big” and “small” is the central idea of the sentence.

All the usual stress patterns shown on this page, except for Type 10, can change when the speaker is contrasting or if the contrast is implied as in Type 9.


Included in Type2 are: colours, numbers and adjectives of nationality


The examples in the test are: 37 a white mouse, 80 the blue sky, 88 The Yellow River.

Note that 88, The Yellow River belongs to this group, and is also mentioned as an example of Type 6.  



Numbers are usually NOT given the primary stress (except in contrast situations) but are often given a secondary stress. This means, they have a little stress but not as much as the things that are counted. For example, “one point three billion people” has the main stress on the word “people” but the word “billion” is also stressed a little, although not as much as the word “people”. This is called, “secondary stress”.  

Sometimes newsreaders stress words such as “billion” or “million” but when they do this, their meaning is to emphasize that the number is unusually big. In other words, it is an implied contrast situation. For example: “The plane cost 1.3 billion dollars” (not 1.3 million dollars, as one would expect). However, just because a number word is big does not necessarily mean that it should always be stressed.

The examples from the test are: 17 a million dollars, 56 half a day, 66 one point three billion people, 89 thirty years old, 91 two thousand years.


Adjectives of Nationality

These words are never stressed unless there is a special reason to do so (for example, when contrasting).

The examples in the test are: 48 Chinese art, 85 The Olympic Games, 100 an English teacher (= a teacher from England) 

Note that 85, The Olympic Games belongs to this group, and is also mentioned as an example of Type 6. “Olympic” is similar to an adjective of nationality because there was a place called “Olympia”.


Type 3

Adjective + Noun (joined)   STRESS ON FIRST WORD

Type 3 consists of ADJECTIVE + NOUN but the two words are JOINED TO FORM ONE WORD. These words have the stress on the first word.  (These could be considered as a special subgroup of Type 1.)

The examples of Type 3 in the test were: 1 a blackboard, 12 a grandmother, 13 a greenhouse, 59 a hotspot and, 78 a supermarket.

In general, if you see two words joined to represent a noun, when the first word is a noun or an adjective, the first word is stressed. The same is mostly true when the first word an adverb (of location) such as “in”, “out”, “under” etc. or another type of word. For example, "income". But this is not always true. For example, "midnight" has stress on the first word but "afternoon" has stress on the second word.


Type 4

Special Compound Nouns: Noun + Noun   STRESS ON SECOND WORD

Type 4 is a special group of compound nouns. Unlike Type 1, which is [Noun + Noun], these ones are [Noun + Noun], with the second noun stressed. These are similar in meaning to Type 2 (adjective + noun) but the first word is a noun instead of an adjective. This first noun is called, "an attributive noun" when used this way. These nouns precede another noun and they describe the noun they precede, just as an adjective describes a noun. The two nouns of Type 4 are never joined.

All the examples in the test that belong to Type 4 are: 21 a paper towel, 28 a stone lion, 29 a student dormitory, 30 a summer vacation, 16 a luxury apartment, 32 a toy rabbit, 76 South America, 77 South-East Asia.  I have further divided these into separate groups, as you will see below.


First, let's look at the use of the word, “of”

The word “of” can often be part of the meaning of many Type 4 combinations. This is because it either means “belonging to”, “part of ” or “composed of ”, all of which are adjectival in meanings. 

Consider this example: “my mother’s face” = “the face of my mother”. We see that the noun following “noun’s”  (in this case, “mother’s”) is stressed. In other words, a possessive noun is like an adjective and, just as with adjectives, the noun following it is stressed.

Following from this;  although we don't really say  “a summer’s vacation in English nor do we say “a vacation of (the) summer (season)”, we do say “a summer vacation”, which means the same as “a summer’s vacation” or “a vacation of (the) summer (season)”. (Or, in British English, “summer holidays”.) In other words, for simplicity, sometimes the possessive noun has been shortened to simply the noun: “summer’s” has been simplified to “summer”.

Similarly, “a student dormitory” = “a dormitory (belonging to) students” or,  “a dormitory (composed) of students”. In other words, what was originally “a students’ dormitory” has been simplified to “a student dormitory”.

(However, notice that test item #9, “a driver’s license” belongs to Type 1 because a “driver’s license” is a specific kind of license; it it not usually spoken with the meaning that it belongs to the group of things called, “driver’s things” or, “things belonging to a driver”.)  

The word “of” also fits into compound nouns such as: “a paper towel” = “a towel (made) of paper”.

The word “of” fits into the meaning of the examples in 4a, 4b and 4c, below.


Here are the main kinds of Type 4 compound nouns:

4a: The first word is a material of which the second word is made

Examples: a cotton shirt; a leather belt; a brick wall

Note these differences: Type 4: “a paper cup”  (a cup made of paper) but, Type 1:  “a paper factory” (a kind of factory, not a factory made of paper!)  

Examples of 4a in the test are: 21 a paper towel, 28 a stone lion

4b: The first word is a (common) place, group, organization or thing  

Here, we are talking about a particular aspect of, part of, activity or thing ( the second word) belonging to the place, group, organization or thing (the first word).

Examples: a company picnic; company profits; the class leader; the office manager; a car headlight; the garden path; the kitchen sink; a park bench; the hotel lobby; the forest animals; the ocean floor; the desert heat; the city center, a government official, the Party Chairman, 

For the above examples, we can say, “the (second word) of the (first word)”, for example, “the manager of the office”. Or, we can say, “the (first word)’s (second word)”, for example, “the hotel’s lobby”. Notice that many of these can begin with the word “the”.

The example of 4b in the test is: 29 a student dormitory We see here that  “student” is used, not  “students”. This is another feature of all compound nouns; they only have singular nouns as the first noun. For example, in Type 1, “a car park” is not for one car only and, “orange juice” is usually not the juice from just one orange.


Distinguishing Between Type 1 and Type 4

It can sometimes be difficult for learners of English to recognize the difference between a Type 1 and a Type 4b. Simply going by the rule, “The first word is a (common) place, group, organization or thing” does not always mean that the word combination belongs to Type 4b. For example: Type 1 “an office worker” but, Type 4b “the office manager”. Similarly, some Type 1 compound nouns do include the meaning of  “of”, like most Type 4. Here are a couple of hints to help you see the difference between these two: 

i) The meaning of  “an office worker” is, “a kind of worker” and, as your vocabulary increases, you will discover that this example belongs to a group of similar compound nouns, for example, “a construction worker” and, “a factory worker”. If you already knew how to pronounce these two compound nouns (there are also others in this set) and then saw, for the first time, “an office worker” in a book, you would probably correctly assume that it fits into the same pattern as the others. Overall, as your vocabulary increases, you will have less trouble guessing the stress pattern of  word combinations that you come across for the first time. Or, to be more specific, as your knowledge of  “sets of compound nouns” increases, you will have a more accurate understanding of what a compound word means when you first see it in writing because you will recognize that it belongs to set of compounds that you already know.  It is only by knowing that a set of compounds exists of the form, “a/an X worker” that you understand that it means “a kind of worker”, not, “an office's Y”.

Similarly, “orange juice” is Type 1 because it belongs to the set of compounds called “fruit or vegetable + juice”. We can see that “orange” is the material that the juice is composed of or made of , so why isn't this an example of 4a,  ( “The first word is a material of which the second word is made”)? Well, nobody knows for sure but I'm guessing that it was originally spoken as “orange juice” but the stress pattern changed over time. This seems to have happened to several compound nouns and it is one aspect of this study that makes it so complex. Imagine life in England a thousand years ago. Maybe oranges where unknown until someone introduced them from some warmer country, such as Spain. At first, people probably said,  “This is an orange” and  “This is orange juice”, meaning  “a part of the orange” just as one could also say, “This is orange peel” and  “These are orange seeds.” The making of a drink from the juice of oranges and other fruits was probably not common in the early days. But over time, as people learned how to make different kinds of fruit juice drinks, a new class of things came into common use in spoken English, the “fruit juices” (meaning the drinks). Then, people began pronouncing it as  “orange juice” in order to fit the normal stress pattern when there are several possibilities for the first word.

ii) The meaning of  “the office manager” is usually, “the office’s manager” or “the manager of the office”. The situation in which it is used will probably tell you the meaning. We see here that Type 4b often is used with the word “the” preceding it, meaning that there is only one. For example, the office has only one manager. In contrast, Type 1 compound nouns usually begin with “a” or  “an”, unless we are referring to a specific one (for example, “What's the password?” )

iii) If you really don't know if a compound noun is Type 1 or Type 4b, it would be better to stress the first word because the vast majority of NOUN + NOUN combinations are spoken that way.

Changing The Stress Pattern for Different Usages or Meanings

Unlike most 4b examples, some combinations such as, “the office manager” are pronounced as either, “the office managerOR “the office manager”, depending on the exact meaning or the emphasis of the speaker. For example: “Let me introduce you to the people in the office. First, this is Mary Johnson, the office secretary. And this is John Brown, the office manager.”

Here we see that the set of compound nouns is, “the/a office something”. However, sometimes a person says, “I’m an office manager” meaning, “I manage an office, not a company, shop, hotel or some other thing.” This is a case of Type 1 and it refers to a profession or job just as in, “I’m the/an accountant.”

The set of Type1 compound nouns for this is: a shop manager, an office manager, a warehouse manager, a site manager, a project manager, a hotel manager, a resort manager ...

Some people do say, “Hello. I’m John, the office manager.” His meaning is, “I manage the office, not some other part of the company.” But if he says, “Hello. I’m John, the office manager” then he means, “In this office, my job is being the manager, not some other job.”

To repeat: this example of two possible ways to say the same thing is not very common most NOUN + NOUN combinations fit into one clear Type. Just go by the general rules on this page and you will be correct most of the time. There is one consolation with these word combinations that can be spoken in two different ways   you would not be wrong whichever way you chose to say them!


Notes regarding, “a college student”

The word combination, “a/the college library” belongs to Type 4b but “a college student” belongs to Type 1 because the library is part of  the college, it belongs to the college, but the student simply goes to the college and is not a part of the college's infrastructure or organization. Although it is possible, in theory, to fit “a college student” into Type 4b by thinking of the student as just another part of the college, English chooses to fit it into Type 1 because the meaning of  “a college student” answers the question, “What kind of student?” the meaning does not answer the question, “A college’s what?” or “What part of the college?” (See the note on “What?”, under Type 1.)  

Another way to consider this is: languages like to keep things in regular patterns, as much as possible. There is a known set of  compound nouns, “a + noun + student”, and in this set the noun is always stressed, telling us what kind of student. For example: a music student, an engineering student, a law student, a primary school student, a high school student, a university student. “A college student” is another member of this group and fits the same stress pattern. As mentioned above (for “an office worker”), the key is knowing that the Type 1 set exists. 

I have already mentioned that Type 4b can often be (or usually is) preceded by the word “the”. The word combination, “a college student” could, in theory, fit into the existing set of compound nouns, “a college Y”, where Y is stressed.  Examples of this set are: a/the college library, a/the college bookshop, a/the college football team, a/the college president, a/the college dining room ... However, we know that there is not just one student at the college so we don't normally say,  “I'm the college student.” Therefore, knowing that the set of compound nouns, “a or an X student” (with X stressed) exists, it seems more likely that “a college student” fits into this set.

4c: The first word is a time word

Many compound nouns that fit into the Type 4 pattern have, as the first word, a word that represents a time (of the day, of the year, of one’s life etc.).  

Examples:  a spring shower; winter clothes; an afternoon nap; morning tea; Christmas Eve; childhood memories; the evening meal; a midnight snack.

(However, daytime, night-time, summertime (or, summer-time), etc. belong to Type 1. Notice that these are joined or hyphenated and such words do not fit into Type 4.)

The example of 4c in the test is: 30 a summer vacation

4d: The first noun represents an adjective   

This is a relatively unusual situation in English of NOUN 1 + NOUN 2, where the first noun represents an adjective (usually because English does not have a suitable adjective.) Sometimes these nouns are things that are typical examples of an adjective. For example, the word “giant” is actually a noun, meaning “a very large person”. The word “giant” has come to be used as an adjective, meaning “very big”. In the case of these 4d compound nouns, the second word is stressed, just as in the case of Type 2, ADJECTIVE+ NOUN.  

(The idea of the first noun representing an adjective is also represented in Types 4a, b & c, for example, in 4a where the first word is the material of which the second word is made. We say, ‘a paper cup’ because there is no adjective to mean, ‘made of paper’. But the concept of the first word being a representative example of an adjective is particularly striking for the Type 4d examples. )

Sometimes the first noun was originally an adjective but it became shortened to the noun because the noun is easier to say. Examples of this are: “science fiction” where “science” = “scientific”; and “luxury apartment” where “luxury” = “luxurious”. Another example is seen when we change the compass direction adjectives (e.g., southern) to the noun (south). Note that the latter is usually used for names of places. An example of this is: “South America” where “south” = “southern”.

Common Examples of 4d.

Some common examples of a noun being used to represent an adjective are: “a luxury apartment”, “a toy rabbit”, “a model worker”,  “a model train”, “a baby bird”, “a giant tree”, “science fiction”, “a student teacher”, “a pet dog”, “a veteran reporter” and  “a boy soldier”. 

In the above examples, “luxury” = “luxurious”, “toy” = “not real”, “model” = “exemplary” or is similar to “toy”; “baby” = “small”, “immature” or “very young”; “giant” = “very big”; “science” = “scientific”; “student” = “not yet fully trained”; “pet” = “much loved”; “veteran”  =  “very experienced”; and  “boy” = “young and male”.

Note these differences: Type 4: a toy gun (not a real gun); Type 1: a toy factory (a kind of factory, a real factory); Type 4: a baby elephant (a young elephant); Type 1: baby food (a type of food); Type 4: “a boy friend” where “boy” represents the adjectives “young and male”. This simply means an everyday friend who is a boy; Type 1: “a boyfriend”. This means “a romantic partner who is (young and) male”.

This type of compound word can be difficult for learners of English unless they learn a lot of their pronunciation by listening to native speakers of English.

The examples of 4d in the test are: 16 luxury apartment; 32 toy rabbit; 76 South America; 77 South-East Asia.

An interesting feature of Type 4d is that the thing is both a NOUN 1 and a NOUN 2. For example, a toy train is both a toy and a train; a pet dog is both a pet and a dog. 


Type 5

Names: “The X Y”, Stress on X

This type is a name and is usually of the form, “The X Y” with stress on X to specify it because there are several different possibilities for X. For example: the Defense Minister; the Education Minister; the Health Minister. (Type 5 has the similar idea of specifying which Y, which is a basic feature of Type 1.) 

Note that we must use the word the in these names.

‘X’ can be a name word or it can originally be a common noun or adjective‘Y’ is often one of the following words: Party, Council, Department, Minister, Ministry, Dynasty, Age, Era, Scandal, affair, crisis, …  

Examples: The Ice Age, The Stone Age, The Bronze Age, The Iron Age, The Watergate Scandal, The Monica Lewinsky Affair ...

Examples of adjectives used in names are:  The Communist Party; The Republican Party, the Pre-Christian Era, the Elizabethan Era (These could arguably belong to the category of adjective (implied contrast) + noun, as in Type 9, below.)


The name of a dynasty is stressed more than the word “Dynasty” in order to differentiate it from the other dynasties. However, when we describe other nouns using these names, these names then become adjectival in meaning and so we stress the noun, unless contrasting.

For example: “He lived during the Qing Dynasty.” (Or: The Tang Dynasty; The Ming Dynasty etc.) 

Examples of these names used to describe a noun: Qing architecture; Tang poetry; Ming porcelain

In the test, the following are the examples of this kind: 82 the Communist Party, 86 the SARS crisis, 87 the Security Council and, 97 the Health Minister.


Type 6 

Names: “The X Y”, Stress on Y

This type is a name and is usually of the form, “The X Y” with stress on Y to emphasize it because there are several different possibilities for Y and because X is frequently an adjective.  ( Type 6 could be considered to be a subgroup of Type 2.) 

Y is often one of the following words: Sea, Ocean, Mountains, River, Desert, Games, Union

Note that we must use the word the in these names.


i) the Olympic Games (the Olympic spirit; an Olympic medal; an Olympic record; an Olympic event). “Olympic” is similar to an adjective of nationality because there was a place called “Olympia”.

ii) The Asian Games (Asian people; an Asian country; Asian food; an Asian language etc.)

iii) The European Union (European people; a European country; European food; a European language etc.)

iv) The Red Sea, The Black Sea; The Yellow Sea; The Coral Sea (coral is a noun); The Mediterranean Sea

v) The Atlantic Ocean; The Pacific Ocean; The Indian Ocean

vi) The Himalayan Mountains; The Rocky Mountains; The Blue Mountains (in Australia); 

vii) The Yellow River; The Yangze River; The Nile River; The Mississippi River

viii) The Sahara Desert; The Gobi Desert

ix) The United States; The United Nations; The United Kingdom  ( a united workforce; a united effort; a united people

x) The Soviet Union (the Soviet Navy...)

xi) The Great Lakes

And, of course, in China we have The Great Wall.  “The Summer Palace” could be considered as belonging to this group of names, as well as belonging to Type 4c.

The examples in the test were: 85 The Olympic Games; 88 The Yellow River (These are also listed as Type 2 examples.)


Type 7

Names of People and Roads (including Avenues and Lanes): “X Y”, Stress on Y

These are also names, but are not preceded by, “The”. The second word is a surname or the word “Road”, “Avenue”, or “Lane”. This type is similar to Type 2 (Adjective + noun, not joined) because the second word specifies which member of the group represented by the first word. For example, there are many people named “Peter” this is the “group of people called Peter”. In order to specify which Peter, we say,  “Peter Smith” “Peter who?”-->“Peter Smith”. (There are many more people with the first name “Peter” than there are people with the surname “Smith”.)

Similarly, we say “Oxford Road” because there are several “Oxford” places or things: Oxford City, (perhaps Oxford Shire), Oxford library, Oxford university, Oxford hospital, etc. Originally (hundreds of years ago), roads probably only connected towns and cities and were not common within towns and cities. Furthermore, they were probably named after these towns and cities and the word “road” was stressed to differentiate the word from these other things named after the towns and cities. 

It is true that, today, there are many more examples of “X Road”  than there are examples of “Oxford Y” and today we more or less use the words “road” and “street ” interchangeably. But hundreds of years ago, there were probably more cases of “Oxford Y”  than “X Road” and at that time it was considered more important to specify which Y by stressing it. Therefore, the historical habit of pronunciation has persisted for the names of roads.

The word “Square”, as in “Tiananmen Square” probably can also be explained by the same logic as for “Road”. However, I cannot explain why “Avenue”, “Lane” also follow the pattern of “Road”. Possibly the reason is that these two words, just as with the word “Road” are less frequently used in names than “Street”.

The examples in the test are: 71 Oxford Road, 72 Peter Smith


Type 8

Names of Streets: “ X Street”, Stress on X

Strangely, as mentioned above, when we have a road name, we stress the word ‘Road’ as in Oxford Road but for street names, we stress the first word, as in example 92, Wall Street. The reason for this, as explained under Type 7, is probably based on the historical usage of the word, “road”, connecting two well-known places. 

We stress the name of the street, in this example, “Wall ” because there is no city or town called “Wall” and therefore no group of  “Wall things” (as there are “Oxford things”.) In addition, streets are not commonly named after towns and cities. 

There are many different names of streets. So “Wall Street” means, “What Street?” --> “Wall Street” (not some other street such as, “Main Street” or “Adams Street”)  

The example in the test is: 92, Wall Street


Type 9

Adjective (implied contrast) + Noun    STRESS ON FIRST WORD

This type is ADJECTIVE + NOUN but the stress is on the adjective because it is a situation of IMPLIED CONTRAST. (See “Example of a Contrast Situation”, under Type 2.) If the adjective + noun is a compound noun (= a set phrase), this type of compound noun could be considered to be a subgroup of Type 1, typical compound nouns.

One example in the test is 24 (a scenic spot), in contrast to the idea of, “a not especially scenic spot” (although we don't usually say that in English). Other examples, not included in the test are, “a disabled person” (in contrast to “a normal person”), “a blind man”, “a black man”, “a white man”, and a “medical center” etc.  

These compound nouns, as set phrases, are nearly always spoken with the stress on the adjective because they nearly always have this implied contrast meaning. However, it is also possible to stress the adjective of a simple adjective + noun combination (as in Type 2) when we are not using a set expression (a compound noun). This is done when the speaker implies a contrast, without actually saying it. For example: “We are seeking a peaceful solution to the problem.”, (as opposed to a military solution). 

Other examples are: the modern age (as opposed to previously or another age); the nuclear age (as opposed to the time before nuclear technology). These are similar in form and meaning to Type 5 except that they are not (yet) official names.

The concept of Type 9 can be difficult for learners of English to understand or recognize. For example, 84 a financial center, looks like a simple case of Type 2, adjective + noun. But in the word combination, ‘a financial center’, the word “financial” is specifying what kind of center, not really describing the center. Another way to look at this is that originally, ‘financial center’ meant, ‘financial activities center’ or a center where financial activities take place here, ‘financial’ is used as an adjective and the noun ‘activities’ is stressed, as usual.  The words ‘financial activities’ have been contracted to ‘financial’ but it retains the stress in order to keep the original meaning: What kind of center? > a financial center.

A more general way of looking at this is to realize that in English we have many different kinds of ‘center’ and it is best to specify or emphasize which kind of center. And there are many more cases of ‘X center’ than there are cases of ‘financial Y’, therefore X should be specified, i.e., stressed.

Similarly, we have: a primary school, a high school, a technical college.

[However, we say ‘international trade’ because we don't mean ‘international activities trade’ and we are usually not contrasting it with ‘domestic trade’   we are simply describing the trade. In other words, ‘international trade’ fits into Type 2. Another way to look at it is to realize that there are many more kinds of ‘international things’ than there are kinds of trade (= trading). (For example, an international conference, an international competition, an international phone call, an international hotel, international relations, an international airport ...) The same applies for the word ‘commercial’   unless there is contrast in the meaning, it is not stressed. For example: ‘commercial law’, ‘a commercial bank’.]

The examples of this type in the test are: 24 a scenic spot; 84 a financial center


Type 10

Example of a Compound Adjective   STRESS ON SECOND WORD

A compound adjective is an adjective that is composed of two or more parts. Most compound adjectives are hyphenated.

Certain words can be used to modify “-ed” adjectives. One of these is “well”. The word “well” is never stressed when used this way (unless contrasting).

The test example is: 95 well-dressed.



The above are the major types of two-word combinations (with a noun meaning) that can cause trouble to learners of English. There are other types of word combinations that were not included in the test, especially some types of compound adjectives.  

I am sorry that this is complex, but that is the nature of language! There are many nuances to language use and, of course, there are those apparently illogical exceptions to “rules”. 

The main problem for (Chinese) learners of English is knowing where to put the stress on compound nouns. And the best way to learn new compound nouns is to learn them in “sets” (such as: factory worker, mine worker, construction worker, office worker). Go HERE to see some 'sets' of compound nouns.

Remember, most of the time, (except for obvious Type 4 examples), Noun + Noun has stress on the first word; Adjective + Noun (not joined) has stress on the second word.