What is the name of the rule that describes why some words are written together (e.g. "strawberry") and others apart (e.g. "street name")?


2 Answers 2


This is an orthography rule, not a grammar rule. Orthography isn't really a concern for linguistics.

I have a feeling that this is rather arbitrary for English. In German (or a other fusional or agglutinative languages) it's quite simple: Everything which belongs together is written together; English makes things more complicated by basically allowing three variants (written as as one word, separated by dash and written as two words, although it has a strong tendency for preferring the last one, probably reflecting its mostly isolating morphology).

My suggestion would be that compounds which receive a more idiomatic-like meaning are written together, while compounds which can be straightforwardly interpreted by decomposing it into its parts are written separately.
So, street name is really just the name of a street, but for strawberry this is not that obvious; you might in hindsight imagine it has something to do with growing on a straw-filled underground or so, but if you have not heard the word before you can not directly infer the meaning of strawberry by decomposing it into straw and berry. The meaning the compound gets is more conventionally assigned than in e.g. street name, and you would probably assume that strawberry has an own lexicon entry (by "lexicon entry" referring to the mental lexicon, not a concrete dictionary), while street name is spontaneously formed and interpreted by rules of composition.
This is why, I would suggested, such words are spelled as one while other (or most) as two.

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    Thank you, I'm still learning, so this was very helpful to me. Why is orthography not a concern for linguistics? Also, is there no name for these rules? Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 8:09
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    Mostly because linguistics is about how the interiors of a language work and tries to account for this descriptively, while orthography is a mostly static and often arbitrary set of prescriptive rules on how to transform language into graphemes. More over, most of the ~7000 languages of the world don't even have an own writing system, and children who have not (yet) learnt how to write can still unrestrictedly use their language, so it is implausible to assume that orthography is an essential part of language, the actual nature is the spoken one and therefore phonology rather than orthopgraphy Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 8:17
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    Orthography is part of the grammar of a very specialised, idiosyncratic form of language called written language. Modern linguistics tends not to be very interested in written language as a subject of study (though of course it's pretty well unavoidable in writing studies): I think this is because written language is an invented technology, whereas spoken language is (mostly) something that just happens to children in human society. Many languages do not have a written form, and some have more than one.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 10:13

After long search I found it, it's called Compound.

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    A compound is any word that consists of more than one root morpheme, but depending on your definition of a word, street name is just a compound as strawberry is. Also, compound is the type of word that results from the morphological process of compounding, not an orthography rule, which comes, I guess, closer to what your question is about. Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 8:01
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    Compounds are compounds whether they have a space or not.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 12:47

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