A bahuvrihi compound (from Sanskrit: बहुव्रीहि, lit.'much rice/having much rice', originally referring to fertile land but later denoting the quality of being wealthy or rich) is a type of compound word that denotes a referent by specifying a certain characteristic or quality the referent possesses.[1] A bahuvrihi is exocentric, so that the compound is not a hyponym of its head. For instance, a sabretooth (smil-odon) is neither a sabre nor a tooth, but a feline with sabre-like teeth.

In Sanskrit bahuvrihis, the last constituent is a noun—more strictly, a nominal stem—while the whole compound is an adjective.[1] In Vedic Sanskrit the accent is regularly on the first member (tatpurusha rāja-pútra "a king's son", but bahuvrihi rājá-putra "having kings as sons" (lit. king-sons), viz. rājá-putra-, m., "father of kings", rājá-putrā-, f., "mother of kings"), with the exception of a number of non-nominal prefixes such as the privative a; the word bahuvrīhí is itself likewise an exception to this rule.

Bahuvrihi compounds are called possessive compounds in English.[1] In English, bahuvrihis can be identified and the last constituent is usually a noun, while the whole compound is a noun or an adjective. The accent is on the first constituent. English bahuvrihis often describe people using synecdoche: flatfoot, half-wit, highbrow, lowlife, redhead, tenderfoot, long-legs, and white-collar.

In dictionaries and other reference works, the abbreviation 'Bhvr.' is sometimes used to indicate bahuvrihi compounds.[2]



  • "Houndstooth", a woven fabric with a patterns resembling dog's teeth: "She's wearing houndstooth."
  • "Old money", members from established upper-class who have usually inherited their wealth: "He's definitely old money."
  • "Bluestocking", an educated, intellectual, or artistically accomplished woman: "Auntie Maud will never marry; she's a bluestocking."

Other languagesEdit

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  1. ^ a b c A.M., Ruppel (2017). The Cambridge Introduction to Sanskrit. New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 139–41. ISBN 1107088283.
  2. ^ Handbuch der Sanskritsprache, Volumes 1-2