Compound Noun Gender

Genre des noms composés

French compound nouns
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French compound nouns are made up of two or more words connected by hyphens, and figuring out their gender can be a little tricky. Here are some rules that can help you to determine the gender of compound nouns, based on the parts of speech of each of the words.

1) Noun + noun

Gender matches that of the first noun.

un chou-fleur cauliflower
un oiseau-mouche hummingbird
une station-service service station
une pause-café coffee break

Exception: un tête-à-tête – private conversation

2) Noun + adjective

Gender matches that of the noun.

un coffre-fort safe
une chauve-souris bat
une demi-heure* half hour
une grand-mère* grandmother

Exception: un rouge-gorge – robin

* Note that the adjectives demi and grand are invariable in compound nouns – more about this in a future lesson.

3) Verb + noun or preposition + noun

Usually masculine:

un gratte-ciel skyscraper
un brise-glace ice breaker
un pour-cent percent
un en-tête heading

A few can be either masculine or feminine:

après-midi afternoon
après-guerre post-war years
perce-neige snowdrop

3) Adjective + adjective or adverb + adjective

Gender matches that of the adjective(s)

la douce-amère bittersweet, woody nightshade
un sourd-muet
une sourde-muette
 deaf mute
un tout-puissant
une toute-puissante
 omnipotent person

4) The prefix mi

Nearly always feminine

la mi-février mid-February
la mi-hiver mid-winter
la mi-cuisson halfway through cooking
la mi-temps halftime (sports)

Exception: le mi-temps – part-time work

5) Other combinations

Adverb + past participle | Adverb + verb | Verb + verb … usually masculine

un nouveau-né newborn
un bien-aimé beloved
un laissez-passer pass
le va-et-vient comings and goings

 The majority of compound nouns are masculine, so when in doubt you can always fall back on that.

 More French nouns

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Gender of French compounnd nouns

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