Compound Noun Gender

Genre des noms composés

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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French compound nouns
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