Question Type 12: Compound Words

Eleven-Plus Preparation Specialists

These questions rely principally on your vocabulary, and as such are great for students who are keen readers with a solid knowledge of the English language. Of course, there is an element of reason involved as well.

What does this question type involve?

You will be presented with two sets of words, with each set in brackets. You must take one word from the first set and add it to a word from the second set, to create a compound word. You must always use the word from the first group first – it forms the beginning of your new word.

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Example questions

You are provided with:

(back, stop, top) (gap, rally, low)

Answer: Stopgap

You are provided with:

(bed, sit, tall) (soft, sea, room)

Answer: Bedroom

A Simple 3 Step Approach to Compound Word Questions

These questions rely heavily on your vocabulary, and as such any process should be geared towards allowing you to use your vocabulary, and towards avoiding any possible confusion. The steps that you should take are as follows:

Step 1: Speak out each possibility
Step 2: Check whether you’re making assumptions
Step 3: Check your answer

First of all, you should consider that there are only 9 possible answers (3 times 3). As such, you have time to look at each in turn. We recommend that you speak out each possible word. So, if the possibilities were (back, stop, top) (gap, rally, low), as above, then you should go through each in turn and speak them (in your head or aloud). You would work through backgap, backrally, backlow, then stopgap, stoprally, etc. Of course, in this example you should realise that stopgap is correct.

Next, if you haven’t found the answer, you must check whether you’re making assumptions. Typically, that assumption would involve someone either skipping over a word because they think it can’t possibly be right, or mispronouncing a compound word because they are used to seeing one of the two words in a different context. Either way, your goal here is to work back through quickly and re-speak each word. Try to do so with a fresh perspective, looking for alternative pronunciations.

This should bring you to the correct answer. If you were quick to get to the answer – as you might have been in the stopgap example – you must make sure to check your answer. Have a glance through the other options, and ensure that you didn’t miss something. If you’re content, then you can move on to the next question. 

Worked Example

(talk, play, call) (there, field, thing)

Let’s begin by working through each possibility in turn. We would get talkthere, talkfield, and talkthings – none of which work. Next, we would get playthere, playfield, and plaything. Now, we know that playthere and playfield are not words, but plaything certainly is. None of callthere, callfield, or callthing are words. As such, we have found the right answer already. Of course, if we had not then we’d need to work on our pronunciation and see if we’d missed an obvious answer. Let’s therefore check our answer, by running back through the list.

At this point, we might note that ‘playfield’ is a possible answer – however, it is a playing field, not a playfield. As such, we can be content with our answer.

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Top Tricks

The only trick here is being consistent and keeping an open mind. If you work through each of the nine options in turn and make sure to vary your pronunciation, you will find the right word – assuming you have the vocabulary required.

Common Pitfalls

The most common mistakes here are failing to read all the options and jumping to a conclusion – perhaps a student would decide that ‘playfield’ was the answer in the worked question above, for example – or failing to spot a compound word due to mispronouncing an element of it in its new context.


In summary, this is a great place to pick up marks if you’ve got a good vocabulary and like learning new words. Just remember to keep a calm and logical approach throughout, and to test each of the possible words by speaking them out. Make sure to check your answer, as some of these questions can be comparatively easier marks which must not be thrown away through a silly mistake.
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