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English compound words are clear in the sense that one can understand their constituents:

  • notebook
  • dinner table
  • long-term

As you can see, there are at least three types of compound words in English: closed, open, hyphenated

However, Korean compound words are all closed and shortened. The irrelevant hanja's or morphemes are cut out and it is hard to 'reverse engineer' the original constituents even looking at the hanja dictionary.

An example: 전항 (이전 항목).

So, where can I find original constituents of compound words?

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    You need to know the Hanja equivalents for most such constituents – user17915 Oct 23 '19 at 5:09
  • yes, I know that. but the problem is as you can see, the original words are concatenated and without the original words, it is hard to "reverse engineer" the constituents. – eugen Oct 23 '19 at 5:17
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    If you are good at Korean, 고려대학교 한국어대사전(available at naver dictionary) would be good choice. I found '전항', and it gave me 형태(shape) : [前項]. – LegenDUST Oct 23 '19 at 6:41
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    Well, English does have many difficult compounds: NASA, FBI, Brexit, albeit, awry, infrared, de facto, et cetera. Not many English speakers would know that helicopter is made of helico- + -pter "spiral wings". – jick Oct 23 '19 at 16:27
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    "Korean compound words are all closed and shortened," you mentioned, but it is not true. Think about 손가방 (a handbag, handbags; 손 (hand, hands) + 가방 (bag)), 눈물 (tears; 눈 (eye, eyes) + 물 (water)), 비옷 (a raincoat, raincoats; 비 (rain) + 옷 (clothes)), etc. These are easy to understand and do not have Hanja. 북반구 (北半球; 북 (north, northern) + 반구 (hemisphere)) and 대포알 (대포 (cannon(s), artillery) + 알 (egg(s), ball(s))) have Hanja but there is no shortening. – Klmo Oct 28 '19 at 11:51
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I think you have a bad grasp on the concept.

전항 is not composed of 이전 + 항목. It is simply a compound word of two words 전(前) and 항(項). 전 means roughly the same thing as 이전, and 항 means roughly the same thing as 항목.

이전 "before now" is also a compound word made out of 이(以) "boundary in time or space" and 전(前) "front, before". 항목 is also a compound word made out of 항(項) "item" and 목(目) "item".

  • I think 전항 was not a good example. How about 만기 (만료 기간, expiry, maturity (day)), does it qualify for a compound word? – eugen Oct 27 '19 at 8:35
  • @eugen 만기(滿期) is composed of 만(滿) "to complete" and 기(期) "period". It is not comprised of 만료 and 기한, they just share the same chinese character so their meanings are similar. – MujjinGun Oct 27 '19 at 9:23
  • I see. I will try to find a better example then – eugen Oct 27 '19 at 9:52
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    @eugen maybe, let's rethink this problem. I suggest treating single syllables of hanjaeo as bound morphemes. To give an English example, the word antecedent is not made up of the words anterior and succeed; instead their Latin roots are ante and cēdō, which are also part of the English words anterior and succeed. – dROOOze Oct 27 '19 at 12:58

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