Is there a rule when to join a word with field and when to leave them as two separate words?


I walked through a cornfield.

I walked through a maize field.

I walked through a minefield.

I walked through a cabbage field.

Why can I join mine with field, but not cabbage with field?

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    It's an interesting question, but sadly the answer boils down to: because English isn't algebra. It isn't consistent, it isn't rigorous, it isn't predictable. What it is is a huge, sprawling, messy agglomeration of the expressed opinions of millions and millions of people over literal centuries. Going on millenia. The only way to know is to look up "cabbagefield" in the dictionary, and see if that's been established. As to why certain ones get established? Because they're more common. Half the USA is covered by cornfields. Minefields were a staple strategy in WWI & WWI, and still cause probs – Dan Bron Oct 26 '18 at 20:13
  • You can find plenty of US and British sources for "corn field" (2 words). – Michael Harvey Oct 26 '18 at 22:26
  • Because a minefield is not a vegetable, obviously. – Lambie Nov 25 '18 at 22:07
  • 1
    @DanBron Literal and illiteral centuries, even. ;-) – Janus Bahs Jacquet Nov 25 '18 at 22:13
  • I think you've entered a mine field. – Hot Licks Apr 19 at 1:19

Looking through the OneLook Dictionary Search results for *field, no obvious pattern jumps out at me.

I thought it might be related to syllables, but there are polysyllabic compounds that are usually written closed (e.g. battlefield) as well as examples of monosyllables that are usually separated from field by a space (left field, right field, as well as your example of maize field).

Overall, the spelling of field compounds seems to be as unpredictable as the spelling of compound words in general. Following what I think is a usual pattern for compounds, -ing words are usually written with a space after them: e.g. playing field, flying field, killing field.

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  • 2
    The pattern is the millenium-long analytic-synthetic cycle. Words that are frequently used together often form compounds, then fuse, then become so closely associated native speakers become unaware they were ever separate morphemes in the first place. In other words, the pattern in the -field compounds is: the more commonly used, the more likely. That's what I was trying to get out with my original comment under the question. – Dan Bron Oct 26 '18 at 21:07
  • field compounds? These are fields of crops: corn, oats, wheat etc. Battlefield and minefield are not vegetables. Mines and battles are things found in war. – Lambie Nov 25 '18 at 23:55

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