I'm looking for English or other standard European language co-compounds, and for other common examples.

I came across "bittersweet" but I'm not sure if it's really a co-compound. It has a superordinate concept and denotes a scaler-like concept, but I'm not sure. It could be similar to the Asian "short-long" for denoting size.

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    Do you mean co-compound in the Kiparskyan sense, that is: a dvandva for verbs, or do you mean something else?
    – kaleissin
    Mar 22, 2012 at 10:44
  • Ah, is there a Kiparskyan sense? Thanks. Is this different from serial verb constructions like Go clean your room?
    – jlawler
    Mar 22, 2012 at 16:03
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    It was the first google hit for me that had nothing to do with chemistry: Kiparsky, P. “Verbal Co-compounds and Subcompounds in Greek.” In MIT Working Papers in Linguistics: MIT Workshop on Greek Syntax and Semantics, 2009.
    – kaleissin
    Mar 22, 2012 at 18:34

3 Answers 3


I myself have never heard of "co-compounds" before but here's what I've been able to find.

At first, a note on terminology. There is a coordinate compound and there's also a co-compound. These are two different things.

A coordinate compound (sometimes called coordinative compound) is usually understood as compound with two heads (e.g Fabb 2001: 67, Scalise and Bisetto 2009: 46). Under this analysis, "bittersweet" is an endocentric coordinate compound (with mixture interpretation, Lieber 2009).

A co-compound is a "natural word-like unit consisting of two or more parts which express natural coordination" (Wälchli 2005: 1). In other words, those coordinated items are closely related in meaning, they are expected to co-occur, they form a conceptual unit, and the whole meaning is more general than the meaning of its parts (Wälchli 2005: 1, 5).

English examples:

husband and wife, eat and drink, hands and feet etc.

That is why the following are not co-compounds, although they are coordinate compounds:

southwest, blue-green (no coordination)

poet-doctor (no close relationship)

Austria-Hungary (fusion)

twenty-two (different hierarchy)

OED defines bittersweet as "sweet with an admixture or aftertaste of bitterness. fig. agreeable or pleasant with an alloy of pain or unpleasantness." As you can see from this definition, the parts, bitter and sweet, are on different hierarchical levels; thus, "bittersweet" is not a co-compound.

For further discussion of co-compounds, see Wälchli 2005.

Of course, there are many other classifications of compounds; e.g. under Haspelmath's classification, bittersweet is an appositional compound and not coordinative (Haspelmath and Sims 2010: 141)/copulative (Booij 2007: 80) etc. Next time you ask a question, please define the terms you use.

  • Given the limited description in my question it is surprising to me that you have answered this totally to my satisfaction. These are exactly some of the sources I'm dealing with at the moment. This answer made some things clear to me and I thank both of you for taking the time to write it down. Besides the OED definition I was/am wondering if "bittersweet" could be read as bitter and sweet at the same time. Then those two conjuncts would be at the same hierarchic level and could actually be a co-compound… if I understand it right and if this interpretation is valid.
    – patrick
    Mar 23, 2012 at 7:42

Bittersweet is what would be called a Dvandva compound in Sanskrit.

I'm not sure, though, what you mean by "co-compound"; it sounds like the kind of term that one linguist or one group of linguists might use with a special meaning, deriving from some theory or other. This sort of stuff happens all the time in linguistics, because there are so many theories and so many varieties of terminology; that's why linguists always give examples, to illustrate what they mean by any particular term they employ.

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    Hear, hear. I agree (I would have left it at "hear, hear", but the stupid site wants me to use at least 15 characters or so).
    – Cerberus
    Mar 21, 2012 at 20:25
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    I agree, I should have been more specific with my question. It's a dvandva compound and I wanted to know if it would also fit the term co-compound in the terminology of Wälchi and Arcordia. So @Alex B. got the right hunch. I'm only starting with linguistics, that's my excuse for not being specific enough.
    – patrick
    Mar 23, 2012 at 7:35
  • @pattulus: though now you've waited seven years for somebody else to read Wälchi and Arcordia and find their terminology useful. That's the way it goes with syntax theories.
    – jlawler
    Feb 14, 2019 at 16:48

According to R. Huddleston & L. Bauer in The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language ,bitter-sweet is a coordinative compound, where the component bases are of equal status. In, for example, the noun secretary-treasurer, the adjective bitter-sweet, or the verb cook-chill, neither component is dependent on, subordinate to, the other. Coordinative compounds can normally be glossed with and:

a secretary-treasurer is someone who is both secretary and treasurer, not (or not just) a kind of treasurer.

Examples such as Alsace-Lorraine, Austria-Hungaria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Rank-Xerox are called dvandva compounds, a term taken from Sanskrit grammar. Dvandva compound nouns in English are mainly proper nouns referring to the combination or union of the referents of the component parts- territories, businesses. The coordinative compounds differ from the dvandvas in that the components apply individually as well as jointly. She is a secretary-treasurer of the society entails She is secretary of the society and she is the treasurer of the society, but She was born in Alsace-Lorraine does not entail She was born in Alsace and she was born in Lorraine- on the contrary, she can't have been born in each of them separately. Similarly with the business names: I bought it from Hewlett-Packard does not entail I bought it from Hewlett and I bought it from Packard. (R. Huddleston & L. Bauer)

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