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A colleague asked me this question, and I couldn't come up with an answer that satisfied him, so I'm wondering if anyone can help:

Why does a man with a short temper become a short-tempered man?
In other words, why do you need the -ed at the end?

Are there any special rules for this?

  • Great question. If one called him "short-temper man", it sounds like a title (a super-hero name). We seem to need an adjective instead of a noun. – Richard Haven Jan 26 '14 at 5:56
  • There really doesn't seem to be a neat answer to this question, but this might help make it a bit clearer. Thanks! – VBpac Jan 26 '14 at 6:50
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  • Great question. These have been around a long time — Shakespeare talked about "green-eyed jealousie" — so maybe they're the remnant of some Middle English grammar which is obsolete except in this type of adjective. – Peter Shor Jan 26 '14 at 11:52
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This must not be taken as a definitive answer. Only hints too long to fit in a comment.

A - In order to form a compound adjective of the type adj+noun-ed, I'd say:

1- the noun should be able to transform into a reasonably comprehensible ed-adjective

  • temper → tempered (s.o. or sth with a temper, seems OK)
  • chair (n) → *chaired (doesn't seem to make sense)

2- the adjective in the first part of the compound word must fit with the noun-ed adjective.

  • a blue-eyed boy seems OK
  • a blue-tempered boy doesn't seem to make sense

B- I've just gone back to an academic paper I'd read a while ago exploring compound adjectives and in particular "the noun + -ed structure".

Here's a paragraph from this paper, it doesn't really answer the "why" in your question, but points toward a possible answer. (Paper's in French, translation mine).

Many linguists have pointed out that this type of compound adjectives (adj+noun-ed) is mostly used when describing a physical (blue-eyed) or mental (bad-tempered) characteristic. This physical characteristic doesn't only apply to people but can be found in animals (short-winged, red-tailed) or objects (red-roofed, sharp-pointed). Assuming that the adj+noun-ed compound adjective gives a definitory attribute to the noun, some linguists and grammarians will be inclined to refuse compound adjectives whose first word would express the point of view of the speaker.

Further on in this paper the author compares the compound noun "middle-age" to the adjective "middle-aged". Could we imagine short-temper as a possible noun? Then could we say the -ed suffix differentiates the noun from the adjective?

A question with/without “-ed” for the compound adjectives formed by “adj.+noun”? had been asked on english.se, and thanks to FumbleFingers for pointing out to John Lawler's comment on the disappearance of "ed" in spoken (and consequently written form) English.

  • Chair can also be a verb; "She chaired the department for many years". A chaired meeting is therefore possible. – Mari-Lou A Jan 26 '14 at 11:52
  • @Mari-LouA: exactly, that's what the "(n)" after chair means, so that a "perfectly-chaired assembly" could not be taken as an example. But feel free to take another noun... boy→boyed doesnt work either for me but people→peopled works. – Laure Jan 26 '14 at 11:54
  • I see, I hadn't noticed the (n); the phrase you give as an example might not be idiomatic, but it's not as nonsensical as "blue-tempered". Notwithstanding that bit, I like your answer! – Mari-Lou A Jan 26 '14 at 11:58
  • @Mari-LouA: "Short-lived" adventure: second part of the compound is derived from verb "live" and not noun "life". "Boyhood" is a compound noun not an adjective. Yes, "people" and "man", and "crowd" (others probably) work because they can be verbs. – Laure Jan 26 '14 at 12:21
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    @Mari-LouA: I agree adventure is a noun, but "short-lived" is "adj+V-ed" and not "adj+noun-ed" (like "blue-eyed" for example) so it doesn't fit into the scope of possible compounds referred to in the quoted paragraph, does it? – Laure Jan 26 '14 at 12:51
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Adjectives that precede nouns are called attributive adjectives e.g., an angry man. Adjectives ending in -ed or -ing are called participial adjectives because they have the same endings as verb participles. However, not all participial adjectives end with -ed (past participle) and -ing (present participle), if a compound adjective contains an irregular verb than it will take the past participle ending.

a hand-written letter
a candle-lit dinner
an easily-misunderstood question
a built-up area

Often a compound adjective is written with a hyphen, especially if it precedes the noun. Many participial adjectives have no corresponding verb, in which case they are formed by combining a noun with a participle:

alcohol-based chemicals
battle-hardened soldiers
a tree-lined avenue
a short-handed team
a short-tempered man
a kind-hearted girl

Compounds formed by a noun ending with -ed are hyphenated in any position in the sentence hence, the first example could be rewritten as "chemicals that are alcohol-based" likewise "a short-tempered man" and "a man who is short-tempered". But in the case of

a man with a short temper

in this phrase, there is no compound adjective, short is an attributive adjective qualifying the noun, temper. Consequently, many of the given examples can also be rewritten without using a compound adjective and a hyphen.

  • a dinner lit by candle
  • a question that is easily misunderstood
  • a letter written by hand
  • a girl with a kind heart

More information, for those interested, on compound adjectives see this page.

Thanks to @Edwin Ashworth for pointing out that hyphens are necessary to disambiguate meaning thus you can have 'a man-eating shark' but the phrase, 'a man eating shark' contains a completely different meaning.

  • I'd just add that the hyphen becomes necessary on some occasions, for disambiguation (thus 'a man-eating shark' v 'a man eating shark' for a present-participle compound-adjective example). – Edwin Ashworth Jan 26 '14 at 8:39
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"wooded mountains" The ending in "wooded" is not the normal ending of verbs as in "open/opened/opened". When -ed is added to a noun is becomes an adjective meaning having something or being provided with something. Some examples: wooded mountains - provided with wood, snow-capped mountains - provided with caps of snow

This type of word formation was already in use in Latin. Latin fortuna meaning luck, Latin fortunat-us meaning having luck, favoured by luck or the goddess of luck.

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There is an excellent discussion over in the WordReference forums about compound adjectives ending in -ed which ultimately proved inconclusive. An earlier question here on SO failed to generate an answer either. So one reasonable conclusion might simply be "that's how it's done in English," which I find thoroughly disappointing but possibly true. :-)

Here is one scholarly article called "Compound adjectives in English: The type lion-hearted and good-natured" which seeks to explain the -ed compound adjective type. This website is a French site, but the original publication is in English, and up was published in an Italian journal, as you can see in this bibliography. Unfortunately, I can't find an online copy of the article--yet....

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    Thank you for the links! I think I'll just go with the "that's what native English speakers and writers do" excuse. – VBpac Jan 26 '14 at 6:45
  • You're welcome. :-). (Incidentally, the recommended practice/courtesy is to "accept" an and/or up vote it if you like to.) – jbeldock Jan 26 '14 at 6:48
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    I fail to see the relevance and utility in posting a French article link which requires a fee. Did you read it? If so, could you please provide a brief summary? – Mari-Lou A Jan 26 '14 at 6:58
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    Which he has to pay. And do you know if he can speak in French? Do you know if the article is any good? What do you know about it? – Mari-Lou A Jan 26 '14 at 7:02
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    For the record, neither did I. But I completely agree Mari-Lou's point that it's not really a good idea to include links in answers to paid-for content that even the poster hasn't read (and which may therefore not be endorsed, and in this particular case may not even be in English). In the end though, it seems to me this answer adds nothing to the one on the original SO question (which at least has the merit of a couple of salient comments from our resident site pros). – FumbleFingers Jan 26 '14 at 17:15

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