Compound (pronunciation)

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Compound may have either of two pronunciations, and as a noun may have either of two meanings.

  • The verb 'to compound' is stressed on the second syllable, 'cerm-POUND', IPA: /kɒ (or ə)m ˈpaʊnd/. The word, whose root is the Latin com 'with' pōnĕre 'put', has several meanings, in two main groups:
    • to mix, or to make out of different elements. In chemistry and pharmacoloogy, this has specialized meanings; in linguistics, it mostly refers to word-formation (see compound (grammatical);
    • in Law, 'to compound' something is to 'settle', or 'come to an agreement': 'to compound debt' is, by agreement, to pay off a lesser amount than the full; 'to compound a suit' is to settle a case out of court; and 'to compound a felony' is to pay money to someone to ensure that he or she does not prosecute for a criminal offence, or proceed with a complaint. It was in itself a common law offence, and is now a statutory offence.
  • The noun 'a compound' has two etymologically distinct meanings. In both, the stress is on the first syllable, 'COM-pound', IPA: /ˈkɒm paʊnd/.
    • The first word is the noun (sometimes used adjectivally) equivalent of the verb above. A chemical compound, for example, is one where fixed proportions of different elements are chemically linked to make a new chemical, as hydrogen and oxygen may be combined in a proportion of 2:1 by combustion to make water - H2O. (This is distinct from a mixture, like salt water, whose proportions are not constant.) In traditional (herbal) pharmacology, a compound drug was one composed of different substances, in varying proportions, as opposed to 'simples', which were made from one plant. In language, compound words are those made by joining others, in such a way that their separate origin is still clear, as in 'stand-up comedy', where a performer stands up.
    • The second noun compound is probably from a Malay word, rendered in European form as kampong, kampung or kampoeng, meaning 'an enclosure', or 'fenced in plot of land [surrounding a building]'.

This pattern of shifting stress in words that look identical but belong to two separate word classes is quite common in English.
Quirk (1985) (Appendix I.56 B) describes the most common: "When verbs of two syllables are converted into nouns, the stress is sometimes shifted from the second to the first syllable. The first syllable, typically a Latin prefix, often has a reduced vowel /ə/ in the verb but a full vowel in the noun: He was con-VICT-ed (IPA: /kən ˈvɪkt ɪd/) of theft, and so became a CON vict (IPA: /ˈkɒn vɪkt/)" [AWE's rendition of IPA].
There follows a list of some 57 "words having end-stress as verbs but initial stress as nouns in Br[itish] E[nglish]." Note that "in Am[erican] E[nglish], many have initial stress as verbs also". Quirk's list is the foundation of AWE's category:shift of stress. Additions have been made from, amongst others, Fowler, 1926-1996.