Why Good-Looking and NOT Good-Looked?

why goodlooking and not good-looked - English Grammar - esl efl teachers
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Why Good-Looking and not Good-Looked? -ed or -ing in compound adjectives

Some time ago we published an article talking about when to use -ed and -ing adjectives (you can read it here). That article along with another post we have on Compound Adjectives (here)
have lead one of our readers to ask the following:

What I am having problems with is when to use -ing and -ed in compound adjectives, for example, good-looking, and world-renowned. How am I supposed to know what to use with each one? Why can’t it be good-looked, or world-renowing?
Thank you 🙂

Well, thank you Suchanart Thongsuk. This is a very good question. So good in fact, that it lead to considerable head-scratching. Luckily, there are a number of things that could be pointed out as to the plausible explanation of this question. Please note, it is still open for debate.

  1.  Use adj+noun+ed to describe a physical or a mental characteristic of humans, animals or objects:

Use adj+noun+ed to describe a physical or a mental characteristic of humans, animals or objects
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Use adj+noun+ed to describe a mental characteristic of humans, animals or objects

Use adj+noun+ed to describe physical characteristic objects2. Use noun+verb+ing in an active sense i.e. when there is some action taking place or something/ somebody is doing something.

noun + verb + ing to describe an action


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Here, we could also add bone-shattering, man-eating, life-saving, etc.

Why “good-looking” and not “good-looked” ?

*(Only speaking my mind, not sure if this is the actual explanation or not.)

With the above being said, this still does not answer the question why we say “good-looking” and not “good-looked”. Good-looking does characterize a person. It describes a physical quality. But could it also be argued that the person who is good-looking is doing the good-looking themselves (or doing something so that they look good), and that is how good-looking falls under the action category also, only this time it is not noun+adj+ing (as in bird-watching), but it’s adjective + verb + ing?

An example here would be the question: Does he/ she look good?  (look here is used as a verb) -> Yes, he/ she does. – So, he/ she is good-looking. (action)

Let’s take another example: He is a lovely long-haired cat. (adj+noun+ed – describing a physical characteristic of an animal). The cat has long hair for a fact, everybody can see it. I mean, look at him:

long-haired cat

Here, we know for a fact that the cat is long-haired because he has long hair. There is a sense of possession here, whereas with good-looking we don’t know if it is because the person possesses good looks in general, or if he/ she did something to get in that state, or if it is a matter of opinion of the one who is expressing it.

In the case of the cat above, I am pretty sure that even though people would agree 100% that it is a long-haired cat, that doesn’t mean that all would agree he is a good-looking cat.  For whatever reason.

Why world-renowned and not world-renowing?

To try to answer the second question, I’ll simply say this: the meaning of world-renowned suggests that we are talking about someone who has earned people’s admiration and love around the world, correct? So, that means in a sense that the world-renowned person is in possession, so to speak, of people’s love (which is a noun, by the way). Pretty much the same if he/ she was in possession of long-hair which would make him a long-haired, world-renowned person.

Back to good-looking

One last thing that I think is worth mentioning.

Look, smell, taste, sound are not only verbs, they are also nouns. Notice however, they are the kind of nouns that have to do with our senses. The senses through which we perceive the world. And there is a very personal touch to that. Could that also be a plausible explanation? Why not?

I am just wondering: When you say someone looked good it means that they had good looks, right? They possessed the good looks at a certain point.

But when you say that someone is good-looking, is this for a fact  or is it you that are perceiving them this way? Just saying, because you know how beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Like I mentioned above, this topic is open for debate. I’d really, really love to read your opinions on that, so please share them below. Seriously, let’s get this matter resolved once and for all 

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