Example: polar bear

I can only detect polar as an adjective and bear as a noun. But polar bear is actually a "noun". How do I obtain a free list of such?

Another example: hot dog.

  • Have you tried Googling 'compound words' and seeing what you get? – amanda witt Feb 2 '13 at 7:02
  • here take a look at this link: wiki.answers.com/Q/List_of_compound_noun – AmirRazoR Feb 2 '13 at 7:31
  • Thanks for the help...but i want to programmably detect this kinda words from sentences. This is doable only if i can find a full list of such words, i.e. two separate words that together is a noun-like thing. – trillions Feb 2 '13 at 9:01
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    Resource requests are generally considered off-topic, although I note that a mod who has looked at this question hasn't closed it. I'm not convinced that a list of compound nouns will be really useful. Consider "A hot dog pants with its tongue out," for example. Or even "The word polar bears consideration in this question." In your examples, polar is an adjective, as is hot. – Andrew Leach Feb 2 '13 at 10:13
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    There is no such full list, and there never will be. English has been inventing terms for new things, and new characterizations of old things, by compounding words; the list would have tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of entries; to compile the list would require surveying the entire corpus of published English texts; (and would necessarily exclude unpublished and spoken English); and it would be out of date by the time it was published. You must find another algorithm. And that, I fear, will require you to survey the vast literatures on English word formation and computational linguistics. – StoneyB on hiatus Feb 2 '13 at 13:28

One thing that might help you is to know that often when an adjective and noun are combined to become a noun, there is a hyphen between the words, though the hyphen tends to get dropped as the compound comes into more general usage. The spellcheck on your computer may give you. I can't document this, but it seems to me that spellchecks tend to lag a bit behind general usage and keep the hyphen longer. Otherwise you just have to go with common sense and the context in which the words are used.

  • Thanks a lot for the tip! I am actually trying to separate decorative words (advs + adjs) from 'nouns' in user's comments on the web..I now think I can actually aggregate "one adj + one noun", then look at the most frequently appeared words/phrases to find some clue :). – trillions Feb 7 '13 at 6:51

Though they may become so in the distant future, those are not (yet) compound words. The pair does not become a noun, grammatically. But you are right in noticing there's some extra cohesion between those words. If grizzly bears moved to the North Pole (at the risk of kindling that tinder-dry, global warming debate) it would be quite incorrect to call them polar bears. So if not grammar what kind of rule is this?


This is a phrasing or word use that means something different, or more specific, than the isolated words. Importantly, the meaning of an idiom is completely lost without precise wording. For someone learning English as a second language, these must be memorized over and above the meanings of the individual words. I would suggest you seek a list or book of English idioms.


  • red herring (irrelevant clue)
  • blue moon (second full moon in the same month)
  • tall order (unrealistic expectation)
  • cold shoulder (rebuff)
  • lame duck (expiring term)


This is an even subtler concept than idioms. Look for sites or books on the corpus linguistics concept of collocations. (In particular, see references there.) These compositional pairings are customary, relatively easy to infer from the meanings of the individual words, but if violated, jarring to a native speaker. I believe polar bear is more a collocation than an idiom.


  • strong tea (not powerful tea)
  • light wind (not mild wind)
  • high window (far from the ground)
  • tall window (vertically large)
  • distant future (moreso than far future)
  • Thanks a lot! I will think about this more. All the input people gave me here are very helpful :) again, thanks!! :) – trillions Feb 7 '13 at 6:48
  • Just stumbled across the definition of collocations and thought it worth mentioning here. (Hmm, "stumbled across" is a collocation.) – Bob Stein Mar 15 '13 at 19:02

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