I typically think of words like "bittersweet" or "sandstorm" when I think of compound words. But words like "otherwise" or "maybe" also have two other complete words inside of them; are they also considered compound words?

The reason I ask is because most of the stereotypical examples directly relate to the meanings of each part. "Otherwise" doesn't really seem to relate to both "other" and "wise".

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    ‘Otherwise’ certainly does relate to both ‘other’ and ‘wise’. ‘Wise’ here, though, is nowt to do with the adjective related to intelligence and experience, but rather with the noun meaning ‘manner, fashion’. I would not classify ‘otherwise’ as a compound, though, simply because -wise (apart from being a simple noun) is also a suffix—a productive one, even. ‘Maybe’ is a more difficult case. It doesn’t feel like a compound, but I can’t think of any formal reason it shouldn’t be. Commented Dec 22, 2013 at 11:31
  • @JanusBahsJacquet I'm guessing that in the 15th century or so 'Maybe' would have been a compound word, but its usage and popularity have formalized it into the lexicon as single word. Commented Dec 22, 2013 at 11:42
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    @Avner Shahar-Kashtan All solid compounds are 'formalised into the lexicon as single words'. Commented Dec 22, 2013 at 11:56
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    Maybe is certainly a contraction, but it's totally frozen, even though you can see the parts linking. It's compositional but not productive. Likewise for otherwise. There's a large variety of compounding around, some of it quite inaudible, especially the older stuff. Commented Dec 22, 2013 at 14:59

2 Answers 2


Many words started out as two separate words: maybe (may be), tomorrow, yesterday, otherwise, and hundreds more, but they are no longer considered compound words.

As JBJ points out, otherwise comes from Old English othre wisan: other manner. Some may seem mismatched if we don't know their Old or Middle English roots.


A 1968 paper by Donald E. Houghton in *American Speech", "The Suffix -Wise", contrasts surviving older words (such as otherwise, clockwise, nowise) and the frequent modern coinage of forms (moneywise, soundwise, stylewise), available with one page preview from JSTOR. Included there are some examples from the nineteenth and early twentieth century.

The root meaning of "manner or extent" also survives in cognate ways, and "-ways" serves as a suffix in a good number of words, some (such as lengthwise/lengthways or nowise/noways) that directly compete for modern usage.

The synonymy of maybe and perhaps is discussed in this earlier English.SE Question, and a careful look discloses the composite nature of the word "per-haps".

Propriety of freely compounding with "-wise" was discussed in this equally early English.SE Question.


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