Compound Noun Plurals

Pluriels des noms composés

French compound nouns
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French compound nouns are made up of two or more words, often connected by hyphens. Making them plural can be a little tricky, but there are two rules that generally apply:

  1. Nouns, adjectives, and past participles follow the normal pluralization rules.
  2. Verbs, prepositions, adverbs, and pronouns are invariable.

Here are the most common combinations of words in French compound nouns and the general rules for their pluralization. Please note that these are just guidelines and that there are, of course, exceptions. (Le Bon Usage has an excellent in-depth discussion of compound noun plurals.)

1) Noun + noun

When the nouns are equally important, they both become plural.

un oiseau-mouchedes oiseaux-mouches hummingbird(s)
un chou-fleurdes choux-fleurs cauliflower

When one noun is modifying the other (usually with the help of a preposition), only the first noun becomes plural.

un soutien-gorgedes soutiens-gorge bra(s)
un arc-en-cieldes arcs-en-ciel rainbow(s)
un chef-d’œuvredes chefs-d’oeuvre masterpiece(s)

2) Noun + adjective

Both are plural.

un coffre-fortdes coffres-forts safe(s)
un pied-platdes pieds-plats boor(s)
un grand-pèredes grands-pères grandfather(s)
une belle-filledes belles-filles daughter(s)-in-law, step-daughter(s)

 Exceptions

  • Adjectives ending in -o are invariable
       des Anglo-Saxons – Anglo-Saxons
       des électro-analyses – electroanalyses
  • Demi is invariable
       des demi-bouteilles – half bottles
       des demi-tasses – half cups

3) Adjective + adjective

Both are plural.

une douce-amèredes douces-amères woody nightshade
un sourd-muetdes sourds-muets deaf-mute(s)

4) Adverb + noun

Only noun is plural.

une arrière-courdes arrière-cours backyard(s)
un haut-parleurdes haut-parleurs loudspeaker(s)

5) Adverb / adjective + past participle

Only participle is plural.

un nouveau-nédes nouveau-nés newborn(s)
un bien-aimédes bien-aimés beloved(s)

6) Preposition + noun

Only noun is plural.

une contre-offensivedes contre-offensives counter-offensive(s)
un en-têtedes en-têtes heading(s)
un après-midides après-midis afternoon(s)

7) Verb + noun

If the noun is concrete and countable, the noun is plural.

un brise-glacedes brise-glaces icebreaker(s)
un couvre-litdes couvre-lits bedspread(s)

If the noun is abstract or collective, traditionally the compound noun is invariable. But the 1990 spelling reform allows the noun to be plural.

un porte-monnaiedes porte-monnaie
des porte-monnaies
 change purse(s)
un gratte-cieldes gratte-ciel
des gratte-ciels
 skyscraper(s)

8) Verb + verb

Invariable.

un laissez-passerdes laissez-passer pass(es)
un va-et-vientdes va-et-vient comings and goings

 Related lessons

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Pluralizing French compounnd nouns

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