Some Recordings of Different Types of Word Combinations


On the other hand, some of these examples are very idiomatic and it is good to increase your knowledge of idiomatic vocabulary.

So, overall, I suggest you spend some time practicing pronunciation with these materials, knowing that you will be increasing your vocabulary and improving your vocabulary at the same time. But don't think of these lists as "ideal" or the most suitable lists to use as an IELTS vocabulary.

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Index of the Contents of this Summary Page


Type 1: Noun + Noun (Joined, hyphenated or not joined when written)

Type 1 where the First word is an adjective

Type 1 where the First word is a Verb

Type 1 from Phrasal Verbs

Type 2: Adjective + Noun (Never joined)

Type 3: Adjective + Noun (Always Joined when Written)

Type 4: 'Special Noun' + Noun (Never Joined)

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

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

4c: The first word is a time word

4d: The thing represented by the compound noun is both the first noun and the second noun, at the same time.

Implied Contrast Adjectives

Changing Type 1 and Type 4 Stress patterns for Contrast or Emphasis

Compound Adjectives

Some Exceptions to the 'Rules' Stated Above


Type 1: Noun + Noun (Joined, hyphenated or not joined when written)

Stress is on the first noun. Click on any example to hear a recording.

The first word is stressed to mean "a type of" second word. For example, "an apple tree" means "a type of tree". It means, "a something tree". It does not mean, "an apple something".

an apple tree (a type of tree)

a Christmas tree (a type of tree)

apple juice (a type of juice)

a beefburger (a type of burger)

a fruit cake (a type of cake)

fruit juice (a type of juice)

a fruit fly (a type of fly)

olive oil  (Also, olive oil  See Type 4)

chocolate cake  (Also, chocolate cake. See Type 4)

dairy farming (a type of farming)

rice growing (a type of farming)

coal mining

a swimming pool

a car park

a traffic jam

a driver's license = a driving license

a building site


an assembly line

decision making

food poisoning

toilet paper

a paper clip

pork products

a grass snake

a security guard

a security deposit

a face washer

baby talk

a baby bottle

a side effect

a side kick

a side-dish




Type 1 Where the First Word is an Adjective

Although the vast majority of Type 1 are noun + noun, sometimes the first word is an adjective. To understand this topic, the best idea is to imagine that that all Type 1 examples belong to a "set" of similar compound nouns. For example, "apple juice" belongs to "the set of juices". The first word, in this example, "apple" represents the particular type or the particular member of the set. Similarly, the set of words, "X + school" is the set of different types of school. A "high school" is one member of this set, just as "a music school" and "a language school" are. However, in reality, there is a small number of Type 1 examples that form a set of one, i.e., they are the only member of the set.

social studies (The first word is stressed to mean, "a kind of studies".)

a high school

a middle school

a secondary school

a primary school

a/my  "funny bone" 

"long johns" (No set of "johns" exists but it fits the pattern)

the Dark Ages (a period in European history)

a bridal suite

a tough guy


Type 1 Where the First Word is a Verb

These are not very common.

clingfilm = clingwrap

hang gliding and a hang glider



Type 1 From Phrasal Verbs

These usually consist of two words joined together. They are quite common.

This type is quite common but they are also often idiomatic in meaning. Notice that the phrasal verb has the stress on the seond word but the noun that comes from the phrasal verb has the stress on the first word.

There are two varieties: a) the verb is put first, keeping the same order as the phrasal verb. For example, to throw away --> a throwaway (= a thing that is thrown away); b) The order of the words in phrasal verb is reversed. For example: to come in  --> an income; to take leave (no recording yet) --> leave-taking.


a buildup (from the phrasal noun, "to build up")

a checkup

a breakthrough

a short cut (from the phrasal verb, "to cut short")


More complete lists of these are shown at: and


Type 2: Adjective + Noun (Never joined)

The stress is on the second word, the noun.

When you listen to these examples, it might seem that sometimes the speaker says the adjective a little louder than the noun. But there is a 'falling tone' on the second word, the noun, that is spoken with an emphasis and clarity that shows that the noun is the more important of the two words  the adjective describes that noun, i.e., gives more information about it but the noun is the key word. Listen to these two examples: "an old man" and an "old woman". The stress on the second word here is not as strong as and not the same as the stress on the first word for Type 1 compound nouns such as, "an apple tree" and "decision making".

Many of the examples shown here are set, common expressions that can be found in the dictionary. But the same stress pattern is used for any adjective + noun combination that you might form, such as, "a big dog", "a good student" and, "a pretty girl".

For Type 1, it is best to think of each example as a type of something. For example, "apple tree" and "Christmas tree" both are types of tree and they both belong to a group called, "Trees". However, for the Type 2 stress pattern, it is best to think of each example as belonging to the same adjective. For example, "an old man", "old age", "an old dog", "an old book" all belong to the group called, "Old Things".

A more complete list of this type of word combination can be found at:

outer space

stained glass

stainless steel

a full moon

a civil war

civil engineering

The European Union

The Olympic Games

international law

commercial law

central heating

Central America

South America

South China

a musical instrument

current affairs

common knowledge

common sense (This is a noun, i.e., an adjective + noun when written as two words. It's an adjective when written this way: "common-sense".

a common thread

social security

political science

ill will

ill treatment

a local call

a/the general manager

high society

a blind date

the first class (also used as an adjective: "a first class performance")

a first name

a compact disc

corporal punishment

one's daily bread (an expression meaning, "one's basic food")

the daily mail

a direct line

dire straits

dry cleaning

false teeth

fancy dress

a/the national anthem

fine art

a full house

global warming

heavy metal (a type of rock music)

mental illness

a mobile phone

nuclear power

a nuclear reactor

old age

an old man

an old woman

a second life

a spare part

a spare room

spare time

special effects

special occasions

sweet potato (U.S. uses Type 1 stress pattern, meaning, "a particular kind of potato")

a tropical paradise

a young lady

a young man

a wild animal

plastic surgery

The United Nations

an overhead projector

public relations

pure chance

a raw deal

raw materials

a raw score

middle age

a black cat

a black eye

a black market

black pepper

ground beef  ('ground' = an adjective from the past participle of the verb, 'grind')

ice tea (Originally, this was 'iced tea' but it has been changed in order to make it easier to say. Possibly 'ice-cream' was the same.)

"Poor thing"

red meat

a runny nose





Type 3: Adjective + Noun (Always Joined when Written)

These are a variety of Type 1, except that the first word is an adjective. For example, a supermarket is a type of market, not a description of a market as "super". A description of  a market as "super" would fit into Type 2, adjective + noun (never joined).

The stress is on the first word, the adjective. For example, it sounds ridiculous to pronounce "a deadline" the same way as you would pronounce "a dead dog" because a line is never alive! [A "dead end" has the same intonation as "a dead dog" but a "dead end" is just an idiomatic expression - an end never has life, either.]

Note! Many English learners make mistakes with these.

Looking at these and Type 1, leads to a general rule: "Whenever a word that represents a noun is composed of two words that are joined in writing, the first word is spoken with stronger stress than the second word." This is true even if neither of the two words is a noun, such as, "income". (However, even general rules have a few exceptions!)

A more complete list of this type of word combination can be found at:

a blackboard

a superman

a supermarket

a superpower

a supertanker

a superstar

a grandmother

a grandparent

a grandson

a grandstand

a greenhouse

a loudspeaker (Am.)  a loudspeaker (Br.)

a highway

a highlight

a highchair

a stronghold

a hotbed

a hotspot

a hotdog

a hothouse

a newcomer

a latecomer

a wildfire

a wildflower

a blueprint

a bluebird

a bluebottle (a living thing in the ocean)

a gentleman


a middleman

a briefcase




a sweetheart




a shortcut

a shortcoming


a downgrade

a downfall

a forerunner

a forepart

a sidearm

a sideboard

a whiteboard

a sidecar

a falsehood

a centerpiece

a "deadbeat

a freefall 

an Englishman 

a Frenchman


a blindfold




Type 4: 'Special Noun' + Noun (Never Joined)

The first noun (called an "attributive noun") functions as an adjective. So, the examples here have the same stress pattern as Type 2, adjective + noun combinations.

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

a fur coat

a brass band (the musical instruments played by the band are made of brass)

a marble arch

iron ore

a felt tip  ('felt' is a material)

a coral reef

a clay court

peanut butter

cotton candy (not really made of cotton but it looks like cotton)

a pork chop

pork loin


apple pie

apple sauce

beef stew

fruit salad

rice pudding

tomato sauce

vanilla essence

Some varieties of this type have, as the first noun, the fuel or power source of the second noun. For example:

a gas turbine

a microwave oven




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

The meaning is the same as, "the second noun of the first noun". For example, "the city centre" = "the city's centre" = "the centre of the city".

the city centre

a/the town hall

my home address

home schooling

a park ranger

a family member  (Sometimes spoken with the Type 1 stress pattern.)

family ties

a world war


world peace

The World Cup

The World Bank

a company car

a company report

company law

the factory floor



4c: The first word is a time word

This is actually a variety of 4b. For example, Christmas Eve means "the evening of Christmas", which is the evening before Christmas Day. Other common examples are: "morning tea", "my morning exercises" and "an afternoon nap"

winter sports

the winter solstice  (= the day with the shortest period of sunlight in the year)

a summer holiday ('holiday' = 假期)

a spring break

spring cleaning

a spring onion


4d: The thing represented by the compound noun is both the first noun and the second noun, at the same time.

For example, "a toy rabbit" is a rabbit (but not a real one) and is also a toy. Also, the first noun is used to represent an adjective. For example: "a toy gun", where the noun, "toy" represents the adjectival ideas of, "not real" and "an amusing thing, for play"; and "a model plane", where the noun, "model" represents the adjectival ideas of, "not real" or "a small copy" or "exemplary" as in, "a model worker".

a baby doll

a "boy wonder"

a boy scout  (an organization in the West is called, "The Boy Scouts")

a girl guide  (an organization in the West is called, "The Girl Guides")

a child prodigy  ('Child', a noun = "very young'')

the head teacher   ('Head', a noun = "the top'' or, "the leading")

the head office  ('Head', a noun = "central" or "main")

science fiction  ('Science', a noun = "scientific")

waste paper  ('Waste', a noun = "unwanted")

the/a Giant Panda  ('Giant', a noun = 'big')


Implied Contrast Adjectives

Type 2 shows that in a typical adjective + noun combination, the noun is usually stressed more than the adjective. Normally, we do not refer to or think about what something is not when we use an adjective the adjective is just used to describe the noun. That is, normally we don't think that something is not the opposite adjective. For example: "He bought a new car yesterday." In that statement, we normally stress the word, "car" because that is the key word, the key idea. Everybody knows that "new" means "not old" but in that statement, the speaker is just using the word "new" to describe the car, to add a bit of information about the car. The speaker is not focused on the idea that the car is not old.

However, sometimes an adjective is spoken with more stress than the noun. In this case, the meaning is that the adjective is not "something else", (where this "something else" is usually the opposite adjective, such as "young/old", "big/little", "good/bad" etc.). This is a situation of contrasting two adjectives. You can usually choose to do that with any adjective + noun combination.


Here is an example of someone changing the usual stress pattern in order to express a contrast. Two people are talking. One is a Russian and the other is a Frenchman.

Russian: "My father used to be a diplomat in the former Soviet Union." (苏联)

Frenchman: "What a co-incidence! My father is a diplomat in the European Union".

Normally, "European Union" is spoken as European Union. But the Frenchman chooses to put extra stress on the word, "European" in this conversation in order to contrast it with the Soviet Union. (Both the words "European" and "Soviet" are adjectives.)

Listen to this example. "Big boys don't cry" Here, the speaker means, "Only little boys cry you are a big boy now, so don't cry." Or: "You're not a little boy, so don't cry."

Here, the contrast is implied (暗示的, 含蓄的) because the speaker does not actually say the words, "little boy" or "little boys".

Here's another example: "He's a bad guy." Here, the speaker means, "He's certainly not a good guy" but he does not actually say the words "good guy". (The recording of, 'good guy' also has an implied contrast stress pattern.) "Old guy" and "young guy" are similar.


In addition to making your own contrasting adjectives to express contrast when you want to, English also has some adjective + noun combinations that are always (or usually) spoken with an implied contrast stress on the adjective. This is because those word combinations always or (usually) include the idea of focusing on what the thing or person is not. In other words, the standard way to say these is with the stress on the first word, the adjective. Some of these are listed below.

You can also think of these as a variety of Type 1, (composed of adjective + noun instead of the usual noun + noun) where the adjective does not describe but, instead, tells us which type of noun.

One example of this is young people. In this recording, the stress on the word, "young" implies, "not old" or "not middle-aged". Compare that with the usual use of the adjective "young" in this example: a young man. In the second recording, the word, "young" is simply used to describe the man, not to imply that he is "not an old man". Along with "young people" we have, old folk.

The Foreign Office . This is how the British name their 外交部. They pronounce it that way to contrast with "the Home Office", another British government department.

"a disabled person" and "a blind man". (No recordings yet). Both the words "disabled" and "blind" are spoken with stress to imply the meaning, "not normal".

An "approved school" is a term used in England. "Approved" is stressed to mean, "not an everyday school but one that has been especially approved for some purpose". Similarly, a comprehensive school  is a type of school in Britain, as opposed to a non-comprehensive school. You can also think of this and "an approved school" as belonging to the group: "a high school", "a middle school", "a secondary school" and "a primary school". These are all really Type 1, even though the first word is an adjective. The adjectives here all are used to mean a type of school; the meaning is not to describe a school, as adjectives normally do (even though the words, "approved", "comprehensive", "high", "middle", "secondary" and "primary" all do give information that describes the type of school).

a blind spot  (Normally, the person can see everywhere, but this particular spot, the "blind spot", is not visible to the viewer. This term is often used when referring to car drivers.)

a cold snap (a sudden change in the weather to much colder weather)

"in the long run" (The emphasis is on the word, "long" because we are conscious that it is not, "in the short term". It is possible to say, as the opposite of, "in the long run", "in the short run". But most English speakers say, "in the short term" because "short run" has another meaning.)

"jump into the deep end" and, "be thrown into the deep end"  (This originally referred to a swimming pool but it has evolved to mean, "the most difficult part of something". "Go off (at) the deep end" means to suddenly erupt into unreasonable anger, i.e., to react in an extreme way.


This aspect of word stress is a little difficult for learners of English. The best way to learn this is: a) understand the explanations that are written on this page, b) mimic and learn the recorded examples on this page and, c) mimic as many recordings as you can of native English speakers speaking naturally. This aspect of pronunciation is one of the best examples of the fact that you can't fully learn to speak English by just reading books.


See Type 9: Adjective (implied contrast) + Noun    STRESS ON FIRST WORD for a list of adjective + noun combinations where the standard pronunciation has more stress on the adjective than on the noun.


Changing Type 1 and Type 4 Stress patterns for Contrast or Emphasis

We have just seen how the Type 2 stress pattern, (for adjective + noun) is easily changed in order to express contrast. Types 1 and 4 can also be changed in order to express contrast but it is not so common because we need to have a suitable, similar word combination to contrast with.

For example, a "flight bag" is a type of bag and is Type 1. A "flight ticket" is a type of ticket and is also Type 1. For Type 1 word combinations, it is better to think of these as belonging to the group that is specified by the second word. So, here we have a type of bag and a type of ticket, not two "flight things". But, since both of these compound nouns begins with the word, "flight", they are suitable for contrasting, with the word stress changed to the second word in order to differentiate them.

For example: "No, I didn't lose my flight ticket; I just lost my flight bag." "Bag" and "ticket" are in contrast. However, you can't make the same contrast if you want to use the compound noun, "airline ticket" instead of "flight ticket". In this case, you would say the words as they are normally said: "No, I didn't lose my airline ticket; I just lost my flight bag."

Type 4 stress pattern is also changed when expressing contrast. For example, an "apple pie" and a "custard pie" are both Type 4a. Here's an example of changing the stress pattern when contrasting: "Did you buy an apple pie?" --> "No, I bought a custard pie."

Here's an example of two Type 4b compound nouns used in contrast to each other. "Company manager" and "hotel manager" are both Type 4b, with stress on the second word. But in the following example, the second person speaking changes the stress pattern for contrast.

Person 1: "My husband is a company manager."

Person 2: "What a co-incidence! My husband is a hotel manager."  The word, "hotel" is stressed in order to show contrast with the word, "company".


Compound Adjectives

Only a few examples of  compound adjectives are on this website at the moment. More will added in the future. So far, this study on this website is concentrating on word combinations that represent a noun that is composed of more than one word.

Most compound adjectives are written with a hyphen.



Some Exceptions to the 'Rules' Stated Above

There are some exceptions to the 'rules' stated above. Sometimes either American English or British English follows the 'rules' while the other does not.

Exception 1: Table Tennis

table tennis (U.S.) table tennis (Br. - I call this, "the British pronunciation".) I prefer the American pronunciation of this, which means, "a kind of tennis", along with "lawn tennis" and I think this pronunciation is becoming more common in England, as this recording at the MacMillan dictionary website shows.

The British pronunciation in the recording is Type 4b, similar to world peace ( = "peace of the world") or family ties (= "the ties of the family") and the city centre. However, although there is a logical and a frequent connection of the idea of "peace" with the word "world",  the idea of "ties" with the word, "family", and the idea of "centre" with the word, "city", I don't think "tennis" is frequently and commonly associated with the word, "table".

The British pronunciation of "lawn tennis" is similar to table tennis (Br.) and, to me, implies that "lawn tennis" fits into a set of things called "lawn things". I prefer to think of "lawn tennis" as a kind of tennis and to stress the word, "lawn".

The British stress pattern probably comes from the fact that there are other "lawn" sports such as, "lawn bowling", (also called "lawn bowls") which is usually spoken with the stress on the word, "bowling". This is the Type 4b stress pattern.


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