Keith Kelly looks at examples of language used in forming complex noun and adjective phrases from the area of geography, which contain a mixture of nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs and prepositions.

Compound adjective phrases

It is rare to find more than two or three adjectives placed in sequence together in everyday speech. There is a standard word order for multiple adjectives: opinion, size, age, shape, colour, origin, material.

These phrases occur more frequently in geography texts and they are frequently similar in category and so less easy to order according to the rule above (e.g. Glaciated valleys are deep, straight, steep-sided, U-shaped valleys with flat floors). As a general rule, the adjective which is closest to the related noun in meaning comes first. It is usually describing a permanent characteristic, while other more variable characteristics come last.

connecting an adverb or adjective to a present participle (-ing) with a hyphen and which highlights an important aspect or feature (low-, -ly-)

poorly-paying: The region is over-dependent on poorly-paying, primary economic activities.
low-lying: When tsunamis reach land they kill thousands of people, especially in low-lying places such as deltas.

adding a noun phrase to a present participle (-ing) with a hyphen

oil-producing / oil-exporting: Saudi Arabiais the world’s leading oil-producing and oil-exporting country.

adding an adverb to a past participle (-ed) and which usually refer to something that has been done or carried out in the past. Note the adverb forms: -ly, -ally or well-

recently-built: Recently-built housing estates are much better planned than earlier ones.
economically-developed: People today use huge amounts of energy, particularly in economically-developed countries.
well-planned: From the ‘60s onwards, new well-planned housing estates were built on the outskirts of the city.

adding an adjective to a past participle (-ed)

low-paid: Banana plantations are often worked by landless, migrant, low-paid labourers.
long-established: Some parts of inner-city London have high-density apartment buildings for long-established communities.

linking a number phrase with a noun phrase (single-, three-), and / or an adjective phrase (-long)

single-storey / three-roomed: Housing estates replaced single-storeytwo- or three-roomed slum dwellings which had no sewerage or piped water supplies.
twelve-kilometre-long:One beach has been visited by a twelve-kilometre-long oil slick.

linking an adjective to a noun made from a participle by adding -ed

steep-sided: A pyramidal peak is a steep-sided pyramid-shaped mountain.

Compound noun phrases

Nouns are modified using other words such as adjectives, other nouns or present (-ing) or past (-ed) participles. Modifying nouns function in a similar way to adjectives, and they are created with new ideas, as new needs arise for new terms.

Phrases made by linking two (or more) nouns to express multiple relevant characteristics in one phrase. Note that these nouns can be standalone items, connected with a hyphen or compounded into one word.

standalone items

boulder clay hills: Drumlins are oval-shaped boulder clay hills.
aid country outreach programme: The Lesotho Programme is a long-established bilateral aid country outreach programme.


entry-tunnel: Shaft mines with vertical entry-tunnels can be used to remove coal from deep beneath the earth’s surface.
life-expectancy: Average life-expectancy rates conceal big individual life-expectancy rates within countries.

one-word phrases

shoreline: Sea erosion occurs most effectively on exposed steeply sloping shorelines.
horseshoe (in horseshoe-shaped) / oxbow: Horseshoe-shaped oxbow lakes are a feature of old rivers.

There are other compound forms which are dealt with in Comparisons: Geography including the constructions -like, -shaped, etc.)