Spanish compound words
One of the practical ways to increase your Spanish vocabulary is to learn compound words.
A compound word is formed by joining two separate words together.
In Spanish, compound words are made of a verb and a noun and they are called “palabras compuestas”. By concentrating on a compound word, you can learn one new word and review the meanings of the verb and the noun which it is composed of. If you don’t know any of the words which it is made of that means you can learn three new words.
How to form a compound noun
Take a verb in the third person singular and add a plural noun. Compound nouns are very rarely singular.
For example “abrecartas”, which means letter opener, is composed of
abrir: to stop which is abre in the third person singular (i.e. for él and ella)
cartas: which is the plural form of (la) carta, letter.
It is interesting to note that despite the fact that a plural noun is used to form the compound noun, it refers to a singular noun at the end. Moreover, most of the compound nouns are masculine so that “the” or “a” letter opener, i.e. in its singular form, is “el” abrecartas and “un” abrecartas. Only the definite and indefinite articles are changed when you refer to more than one letter opener, hence you will say los or unos abrecartas.
Another well-known example is (el) rascocielos which means skyscraper. Note that it is composed of the plural of “cielo” which is sky in Spanish. Rascar is to scrape. Hence, the Spanish counterpart of skyscraper is formed with exactly the same logic.
Let’s take another example. The verb “cumplir “ refers to reach an age when it is used with noun año (year). For example;
¿cuántos años va a cumplir? (how old is he going to be?)
Take the verb cumplir in third person singular, it is cumple and add the plural of año, you get the word (el) cumpleaños. It means birthday.
In the vocabulary section below, more examples are given.
Learn some examples of Spanish compound words
parabrisas: windshield - from parar: to stop and (la) brisa: breeze
parasol: sunshade – from parar: to stop and (el) sol: sun
paraguas: umbrella – from parar: to stop and (la) agua: water
calientamanos: handwarmer – from (la) mano: hand
abrelatas: can opener – from abrir: to open and (la) lata: tin, can
tocasdiscos: record player – from tocar: to play and (el) disco: record
calientaplatos: dishwarmer - from calentar: to warm up and (el) plato: plate, dish
cuidaniños: babysitter – from cuidar: to look after and niños: children
salvavidas: lifeguard – from salvar: to save and (la) vida: life
secamanos: hand dryer – from secar: to dry and (la) mano: hand
tocacasetes: cassette player – from tocar: to play and casete: casette
tiralíneas: drawing pen – from tirar: to throw and línea: line
trabalenguas: tongue twister - from trabar: to wedge and lengua: tongue
sacapuntas: pencil sharpener- from sacar: to take out and punta: point
sacamanchas: dry cleaner - from sacar: to take out and mancha: mark
sacacorchos: corkscrew - from sacar: to take out and corcho: cork
rompecabezas: puzzle – from romper: to break and cabeza: head
portaplumas: pen holder – from portar: to carry and pluma: pen
portamonedas: purse – from portar: to carry and moneda: coin
portacartas: letter bag –from portar: to carry and carta: letter
portaaviones: aircraft carrier - from portar: to carry and avion: airplane
matasellos: postmark –from matar: to kill and sello: stamp
limpiabarros: scraper – from limpar: to clean and barro: mud
limpiabotas: shoeshine – from limpar: to clean and bota: boot
limpiachimeneas: chimneysweep –from limpar: to clean and chimenea: chimney
limpiacristales: window cleaner – from limpar: to clean and cristal: glass
limpiaparabrisas: windshield wiper - from limpar: to clean and parabrisas: windshield
limpiapipas: pipe cleaner - from limpar: to clean and pipa: pipe
limpiauñas: fingernail cleaner - from limpar: to clean and uña: nail
lavamanos: bathroom sink - from lavar: wash and mano: hand
guardarropas: clothes closet – from guarder: to keep and ropa: clothes
cascanueces: nutcracker – cascara: to break and nuez: nut
catavinos: winetaster – catar: to taste and vino: wine