Which of the two morphemes is the head and which is the complement? Can it be considered a VP with a verb and its result complement (namely: to join together resulting in sameness) which has become a noun in usage?

3 Answers 3


合 - join (v)/ joined (adj)

同 - together (adv)

合同 - joined (adj) -- 合 is the adjective and 同 is the adverb in 合同 (adj)

The reason for 合同 to become the noun 'contract':

合同 is an abbreviated form of 合同書 (joined document)

合同書(n) --> 合同(n) = contract

Similarly: 備忘錄(n) --> 備忘(n) = memorandum


合同 = 合約 (joined convention) = contract

Examples of 合同/ 合約 (n) as an adjective:

合約員工 / 合同工 = contractual employee

  • Of course! So 书 is the head, but it is abbreviated out of the commonly used phrase.
    – Buddy L
    Commented Apr 12, 2022 at 19:58

Don't you think "morphological breakdown" as you call it, will depend on the meaning you wish to impart in the given the context and is not written in stone?

Humpty Dumpty told Alice, "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less."

(That's why the OED needs about 60000 words to define the simple word "set". Humpty Dumpty's fault!)

Other possible meanings:


  • Of course! Words can have multiple meanings, and they can shift from one usage (noun) to another usage (verb). This what we do in English when we say "I will kuaidi it to you". Or "I will FedEx it to you". But still, there are patterns for what tends to happen. It is not so common for an adjective to be used as a noun. Tangho has answered the question: 合同 is not an adjective but rather an abbreviated noun: 合同书. As for the other usages that you listed, two are verbs and one is an adjective. It makes sense for 合同 to be an adjective. It's also quite common for adjectives to be used as verbs.
    – Buddy L
    Commented Apr 18, 2022 at 12:57
  • Well, as usual, I would not agree. 合同书 is a piece of paper, signed by the parties to the contract. Like paper money, it is all but worthless. Burn it if you like! The value lies in the belief of the validity and the laws, made by man, and written on paper, which concern contracts. The actual contract, 合同, is the agreement between the parties involved, not the piece of paper. I would not advise assuming Chinese just leaves out 书 for no good reason. 合同 is the name of an agreement.
    – Pedroski
    Commented Apr 18, 2022 at 21:32


合 in here means "combine" (adv.) - 一起,共同.

同 is "together/jointly" (adv.) - 共同, 到一处.

合同 is a "contract", or "contractual agreement" (noun) - 合同;合约;契约.

  • Thanks, but this is just the dictionary definitions and doesn't answer my question. It is morphologically odd for an verb-adj compound to produce a noun. Which is the head, and which is the complement? Can you think of other examples of an verb-adj producing a noun?
    – Buddy L
    Commented Apr 12, 2022 at 17:21
  • I don't understand what the term "head" means, is that simply mean "leading word" in a compound noun? I am not very good at grammar, but isn't "v + adv" a quite common combination?
    – r13
    Commented Apr 12, 2022 at 18:01
  • From wiki - "An adverb is a word or an expression that modifies a verb, adjective, another adverb, determiner, clause, preposition, or sentence. Adverbs typically express manner, place, time, frequency, degree, level of certainty, etc., "
    – r13
    Commented Apr 12, 2022 at 18:58
  • The head is the part of a phrase whose part of speech defines the part of speech of the phrase. So the head of a noun-phrase must be a noun, which is why I was confused as to which part of 合同 gave it its noun-iness, as neither 合 nor 同 are nouns. Tangho has answered the question though.
    – Buddy L
    Commented Apr 12, 2022 at 20:01
  • Sorry, I disagree that 合同 is an adjective - "這份合同(contract, a noun)詳細的列明出了...", "從法律角度來看,那個合約(contract agreement, a noun)是無效的".
    – r13
    Commented Apr 12, 2022 at 20:45

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