Considering How do you denote compound nouns and verbs in Chinese?, and the linked What is an example of 3 or 4 word compound verbs?, and working on a sort of intermediate language, I am wondering how to represent compound nouns and verbs (further embedded within complex phrases/clauses/sequences, like "The rickety old bus stop aircraft carriers seem to count on extremely sophisticated time-travel machines."). As such, wondering if there are any language which mark these compound terms, so you can more easily distinguish/disambiguate them. Are there any languages that do that? For example:

The rickety old na bus stop na aircraft carriers seem to va count on extremely sophisticated na time travel machines.

That isn't quite a correct representation, it seems you would need like in HTML, a "start and end tag" to really capture these, so I'm guessing there are no languages with markers for such constructions. But I thought I'd ask.

  • As it happens, Japanese would use na in several of the places you’ve put it here – though not because of compounding, just because na is a marker used with noun-like adjectives used attributively (technically, it’s the attributive form of the copula). Most Germanic languages apart from English often, but not consistently, use the possessive form of the first noun in N+N compounds (like menswear < men’s wear), which I suppose is a marker. Commented Dec 14, 2021 at 8:43

1 Answer 1


English doesn't explicitly mark noun compounds like this, but many other languages do.

In Egyptian and Akkadian, for example, phrases formed out of multiple nouns like this put all but the last in a special form called the "bound form" or "construct state" (status constructus): Akkadian bītum "house", bīt-mārim "house of the son", bīt-mār-bēlim "house of the son of the lord", bīt-mār-bēl-mātim "house of the son of the lord of the land". I believe these chains are common in Hebrew and Arabic as well.

In the Bantu languages, a similar construction is marked with a special word, called the "connective", "associative", or "possessive" particle: literary Lingála makoki ma mwana wa liboso "birthright", literally "rights of child of first". This is the main way to combine nouns for all sorts of reasons: elimo ya Nzambe "holy spirit" ("spirit of God"), bana ba yo "your children" ("children of you"), elamba ya mpene "white robe" ("robe of whiteness"). In the literary dialect this particle shows gender agreement to make it clear which noun it's meant to attach to (hence ma vs wa vs ya vs ba etc); in other dialects this agreement has mostly been lost and na is used in all instances.

  • So in Bantu languages, the connective word goes between the nouns in the compounds? What about compound verbs or adjectives?
    – Lance
    Commented Dec 14, 2021 at 2:29
  • Also, in looking at some 4-word compound nouns in English, you find radio talk show host. That is really [radio] [talk show] [host], where "talk show" is a nested compound term. Do any languages keep track of this sort of nesting? More info/related question about nested compounds at the end of the Chinese question linked above. So in bantu-ish, with nesting, I would imagine you would only have 2 or 3 levels of nesting max, so it might be radio na talk na na show na host lol.
    – Lance
    Commented Dec 14, 2021 at 2:32
  • @LancePollard "Adjectives" as a distinct class tend to be pretty restricted in the Bantu languages I've studied. It's more common to use another noun linked by the connective, like in elamba ya mpene. I'm not aware of any syntax for compound verbs. And yes, the gender agreement in the literary dialect can disambiguate that, though context usually makes it clear regardless (which is why the more common spoken dialects can get by just fine without it).
    – Draconis
    Commented Dec 14, 2021 at 2:35
  • Close this discourse are Turkic languages with their explicit possesive marks: Turkish demir yol ~ demir yol_u. The two type of the Turkish possession. With no marks, with the marked second element. There is 3rd type '_-Vn _-V' (marked both elements) but in the case of the 'demir yol' this no need. So these are all just mark the type of a compound.
    – T1nts
    Commented Dec 14, 2021 at 21:18

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