French compound nouns
What is a compound noun in French ?
A compound noun (French: un nom composé) is a noun formed from several separate words most often by hyphens (-) but representing only one word. However, the general meaning of the compound noun does not always depend on the distinct meanings of each word that composes it, but on the general meaning given to that name.
What are the French compound nouns ?
Here you find an overview of the most used compound nouns.
|Un accroche-cœur||(spit curl)|
|Un aide-comptable||(an assistant accountant)|
|Un aide-cuisinier||(an assistant cook)|
|Un casse-noisette||(a nutcracker suite)|
|Un casse-tête||(a brainteaser)|
|Un cerf-volant||(a kite)|
|Un chasse-neige||(a snowplough)|
|Un chef-d’œuvre||(a masterpiece)|
|Un chef-lieu||(administrative centre of an arrondissement)|
|Un chien-guide||(a guide dog)|
|Un coffre-fort||(a strongbox)|
|Un loup-garou||(a werewolf)|
|Un marteau-pilon||(a drop hammer)|
|Un micro-ordinateur||(a microcomputer)|
|Un mandat-poste||(a money order)|
How to form French compound nouns ?
To form compound nouns you have to connect two or three words together.
These words can be separated by a hyphen or not. A compound word can be formed in different ways:
- verb + noun
- noun + noun
- noun + genitive
- adjective + noun
- noun + adjective
- verb + verb
|Verb + noun||un amuse-gueule||(An appetizer)|
|Noun + noun||un chou-fleur||(A cauliflower)|
|Noun + genitive||un chemin de fer||(A railway)|
|Adjective + noun||une plate-bande||(A flowerbed)|
|Noun + adjective||un coffre-fort||(A strongbox)|
|Verb + verb||savoir-faire||(Knowledge)|
Plural of French compound names
To form the plural of compound nouns, you must look at their composition for:
- compound nouns in one word: the last word is in the plural
- noun + noun or adjective + noun and adjective + adjective: the two words are in the plural.
- noun + genitive: the first word is in the plural.
- verb + noun: the verb agrees in the plural depending on the meaning of the noun
- adverb + noun: the noun agrees in the plural and the adverb is always invariable
|one word||des portefeuilles||(Wallets)|
noun + noun
adjective + noun
adjective + adjective
|noun + genitive||des chefs-d'oeuvre||(Masterpieces)|
|verb + noun||des lance-pierres||(Slingshots)|
|adverb + noun||des arrière-boutiques||(Back shops)|
For the verb + noun, the verb never agrees in the plural.
Most used French compound nouns
Here you will find an overview of the singular and plural of the most used compound nouns:
|Une belle-sœur||Des belles-sœurs||(sisters-in-law)|
|Un bouche-trou||Des bouche-trous||(stopgaps)|
|Un boute-en-train||Des boute-en-train||(joker)|
|Un bouton de manchette||Des boutons de manchette||(cuff links)|
|Un bouton de rose||Des boutons de rose||(rosebuds)|
|Un café-concert||Des cafés-concerts||(café where music-hall performances are given)|
|Un café crème||Des cafés crème||(coffee with cream)|
|Un casse-cou||Des casse-cou||(daredevils)|
|Un casse-croûte||Des casse-croûte||(snacks)|
|Un casse-noisette||Des casse-noisettes||(nutcrackers suite)|
|Un cerf-volant||Des cerfs-volants||(kites)|
|Un chef-lieu||Des chefs-lieux|
Exceptions and particularities
1. If the first word of the compound nouns is franc or grand, it agrees in the plural just with a masculine noun
Des grands-pères → Des grand-mères
2. When a compound noun starts with demi followed by a noun, the noun agrees in the plural
3. When a compound noun starts with garde (noun) followed by a noun, the first word agrees but the noun agrees depending on the meaning
4. When a compound noun starts with garde (verb) followed by a noun, the verb garde does not agree.
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