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I am working on a computer algorithm to detect closed compound words in texts.

Give the definition of closed compound words: "Closed compound words are two or more words that are joined together as one word. Initially, they may not have been joined together, but over time, many of them have come to be accepted as “real words” in English.", many words can be considered as closed compound words.

For instance, I extracted the following lists of compound words (between the square brackets) but I am not sure if they are right, are they?:

with: [withdrew, withdraw, withdrawn, withstand, withheld, withdrawing, withhold, withstood]
some: [something, sometimes, somewhat, somewhere, somebody, sometime]
over: [overcome, overhead, overthrow, overlooked, overtook, overboard, overtaken, overcame, overcoat, overflowing, overlooking, overlook, overthrown, overhanging, overseer, overgrown, overflow, overturned, overflowed, overspread, overhung, overcoming, overland, overshadowed, overcast]
down: [download, downloading, downward, downstairs, downwards, downright, downcast, downfall]
under: [understand, understood, understanding, undertake, undertaken, undertaking, undertook, underline, understands, undergone, underground, underlying, underwent, undergoing, undertone]
back: [backward, background, backwards, backbone]
here: [hereafter, herewith, hereupon, hereward]
house: [household, housekeeper, housekeeping, housewife]
high: [highness, highland, highways, highlands]
rest: [restless, restrain, restoration, restrained, restraining]
fire: [fireplace, fireside, firelight, fireworks]
hard: [hardships, hardware, hardship, hardness]
foot: [footnote, footsteps, footnotes, football, footstep, footprints, foothold]
grand: [grandfather, grandmother, grandfathers, granddaughter, grandchildren, grandmothers]
news: [newspaper, newspapers, newsletter, newsletters]
gentle: [gentleness, gentlemans, gentlemanly, gentlewoman]
beau: [beaucoup, beauties, beaufort, beauchamp, beaumont]
inte: [interest, interesting, interested, interests]
inter: [interview, intercourse, international, interviews, intercession, interchange, interposition, interpose]
comp: [complying, complain, complied, comprendre, comprising, comparable, comprises]

If not, is there a specific rule for closed compound words?

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  • A rule regarding what? Do you mean, a rule to determine whether a word is a closed compound word, or...?
    – Jim Mack
    Aug 19, 2021 at 18:52
  • @JimMack, yes..!
    – Minions
    Aug 19, 2021 at 18:54
  • If you're using printed material instead of actual speech, you're not studying language; you're studying printing conventions. And there are more than two types of compound noun -- 'closed' is not a proper technical term anyway, just handwaving. Aug 19, 2021 at 19:12
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    This list is rife with problems. It was obviously generated automatically without regard to the meaning or actual origins of the words in the word list that was its source. The "ship" in hardship is a suffix, so that's not a compound word. Also "inter" means "bury," and it has nothing to do with the words in its row. ("Inte" is even harder to explain.) Finally, the some of the words starting with "beau" originated as compounds of "beau" and something else, but they were formed as compounds in another language entirely, and most of those words are proper nouns.
    – phoog
    Aug 20, 2021 at 0:51
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    You need to look up the etymology of each word. Possibly you can find a free online etymology list; such things have been asked for here before. Lots of things look like compound words but aren't: without etymological information how will you differentiate "friendship" and "warship", for instance.
    – Stuart F
    Aug 20, 2021 at 11:12

3 Answers 3

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is there a specific rule for closed compound words?

Not a reliable one, and your question gives the reason:

Initially, they may not have been joined together, but over time, many of them have come to be accepted as “real words”

This indicates that the language is evolving and, at any given time, there will be compound nouns, hyphenated-nouns and, quite separately, two nouns.

The transition to universal acceptance of the final stage "hyphenatedword" is usually quite protracted.

We have examples in inkwell , ink well , ink-well - all accepted

*iceaxe , ice axe , ice-axe - iceaxe not accepted but may be in the future.

busstop , bus stop , bus-stop - all accepted.

This is helpful guidance although you will realise that there are exceptions:

Compound nouns

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Many of them are wrong. A few examples:

  • The "ship" in hardship is a suffix, so that's not a compound word.
  • "Inter" means "bury," and it has nothing to do with the words in its row. ("Inte" is even harder to explain, as it doesn't appear in my dictionaries.)
  • Finally, the some of the words starting with "beau" originated as compounds of "beau" and something else, but they were formed as compounds in another language entirely. Furthermore, most of those words are proper nouns.

It's not enough to identify words that can be formed by concatenating the letters of two other words if your goal is to identify words that were actually formed by joining two other words. In fact, there are some compound words that aren't spelled by concatenating the letters of their components. An example is (one spelling of) donut.

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One feature that can help in recognizing "closed compounds" in print is that they sometimes create clusters of consonants you do not encounter, or rarely encounter, in a "single" word: downward, withdrawn, hardware, newsletter, overcome, overthrow

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    This isn't particularly helpful, since it requires determining whether words are "single" words, thus not compounds, to identify groups of letters that tend to indicate compounds.
    – phoog
    Aug 20, 2021 at 0:46
  • Not really if you similarly analyze the consonant clusters in lists of simpler words, You wind up with candidates clusters that you review and either keep or eliminate.
    – DjinTonic
    Aug 20, 2021 at 1:17
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    How do you decide what's a "simpler word"? It's circular reasoning. Also, "rc" is a poor example: pierce, arc, porcine.
    – phoog
    Aug 20, 2021 at 3:48

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