top of page

The plural of compound nouns in French

A compound noun ("un nom composé") is a noun made up of several words, linked together by a hyphen ("le centre-ville"), a preposition ("un va-et-vient") or simply a space ("une pomme de terre"). Some compound words are also written as a single word (un extraterrestre, un portefeuille). In this article, I give you a list of some surprising compound nouns and explain how to form their plurals!



There are compound nouns whose meaning is quite clear:


Un ouvre-boîte - a tin opener

Un porte-clé - a key ring

Un tire-bouchon - a corkscrew

Un porte-monnaie - a wallet

Un pare-chocs - a bumper

Le bouche-à-oreille - word of mouth

L'après-midi - afternoon

Le centre-ville - city centre

Un nouveau-né - a newborn

Le chemin de fer - railway

Une machine à laver - a washing machine

Un lave-vaisselle - a dishwasher

Un sans-abri - a homeless

Un rouge-gorge - a robin

Une arrière-boutique - a back store

Le savoir-faire - the know-how

With these words, you can understand the function of the object if you know the meaning of each word. If you translate each word independently, you can guess the meaning of the name.



But there are other, more surprising compound names too!


There are compound nouns whose meaning is less obvious. You can't translate them literally - they wouldn't make sense! If you don't know the meaning of each word, it will be difficult to understand the name. Here are a few examples and their literal English translation:


Une pomme de terre ("an apple from the soil"): a potato

Une pomme de pin ("an apple from the pine"): a pine cone

Une chauve-souris ("a bald mouse"): a bat

Un cul-de-poule ("hen's ass"): a mixing bowl

Un bateau-mouche ("a boat-fly"): a typical Parisian river boat for tourists

Un oiseau-mouche ("a bird-fly"): hummingbird

Un pot-de-vin ("a pot of wine"): a bribe

Un cerf-volant ("a flying deer"): a kite

Une tomate cerise ("a tomato cherry"): a cherry tomato

Un nœud papillon ("a knot butterfly"): a bow tie

Les montagnes russes ("the Russian mountains"): roller coasters

Un arc-en-ciel ("a bow in the sky": a rainbow

Un cul-de-sac ("bag's ass"): a dead end

Un gagne-pain ("a win-bread"): livelihood

Un chef-d'œuvre ("a chef of work"): a masterpiece

Un pied de biche ("doe's foot"): a crowbar

Un coffre-fort ("a strong chest"): a safe-deposit box

Un chou-fleur ("a cabbage-flower"): cauliflower

Un pied-à-terre ("a feet on the ground"): a pied-a-terre

Un cache-nez ("a hide-nose"): a scarf

Un croque-mort ("a crunch-dead"): an undertaker

Un couvre-chef ("a cover-chef"): un hat



des mots composés en français


The plural of compound nouns in French


Things get even more complicated when it comes to writing these compound nouns in the plural. Even the French have their doubts! The plural of compound nouns depends on their composition. Remember that verbs and adverbs are never given the plural form (only nouns and adjectives).


  • noun + noun: the 2 nouns are in the plural

Ex: des choux-fleurs, des cerfs-volants, des bateaux-mouches


  • noun + adjective (ou adjective + noun) : the noun and the adjective are in the plural

Ex: des coffres-forts, des chauves-souris, des rouges-gorges


Note: "Demi" is invariable when it begins a compound noun.

Ex: des demi-heures


  • verb + noun: only the noun is in the plural

Ex: des tire-bouchons, des ouvre-boîtes, des pare-chocs


  • verb + verb: the 2 words are invariable

Ex: des laisser-passer, des savoir-faire


  • adverb + noun (ou noun + adverb): only the noun is in the plural

Ex: des arrière-boutiques, des nouveau-nés (here "nouveau" is used as an adverb, it means "recently"), des après-midis


  • noun + preposition + noun : only the first noun is in the plural

Ex: des arcs-en-ciel (there is only one sky), des pommes de terre (they grow in the soil, int the singular), des culs-de-poule



Exercise


Find the plural of the following compound nouns:


  1. Une tomate cerise

  2. Un porte-clé

  3. Le centre-ville

  4. Un cache-nez

  5. Un pied de biche

  6. Une demi-finale

  7. Une arrière-pensée

  8. Une eau-de-vie

  9. Un rond-point

  10. Un aide-soignant

  11. Un croque-mort

  12. Un cul-de-sac

  13. Un nœud papillon

  14. Une pomme de pin

  15. Un sous-sol



Answers and explanations


  1. Des tomates cerises ("tomate" and "cerise" are 2 nouns so they are both in the plural)

  2. Des porte-clés ("porte" is a verb so it is invariable)

  3. Les centres-villes ("centre" and "ville" are 2 nouns so they are both in the plural)

  4. Des cache-nez ("porte" is a verb so it is invariable ; "nez" ends by the letter "z" so it is also invariable.)

  5. Des pieds de biche ("biche" is invariable because it follows the preposition "de")

  6. Des demi-finales ("demi" is invariable ; "finale" is a noun so it is in the plural)

  7. Des arrière-pensées ("arrière" is an adverb so it is invariable)

  8. Des eaux-de-vie ("vie" is invariable because it follows the preposition "de")

  9. Des ronds-points ("rond" is an adjective and "point" is a noun so they are both in the plural)

  10. Des aide-soignants ("aide" is a verb so it is invariable)

  11. Des croque-morts ("croque" is a verb so it is invariable)

  12. Des culs-de-sac ("sac" is invariable because it follows the preposition "de")

  13. Des nœuds papillons ("nœud" and "papillon" are 2 nouns so they are both in the plural)

  14. Des pommes de pin ("pin" is invariable because it follows the preposition "de")

  15. Des sous-sols ("sous" is an adverb so it is invariable)



I hope you've learned some new words and that the plurals of compound nouns are a little clearer for you. Don't forget to leave a comment if you have any questions!

56 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Commentaires


bottom of page