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Understanding the Plural Form of French Compound Nouns

written by: Makoto • edited by: Tricia Goss • updated: 2/14/2012

The plural form of compound nouns is one of the more difficult aspects of French grammar. There's no need to worry, however, as this article explains everything you need to know about the French plural form of compound nouns.

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    An introduction to compound nouns.

    French grammar is not only renowned for its complexity but also for its exceptions. This is especially true when it comes to the plural form of nouns.

    I have already covered most of the basic grammatical rules regarding plural nouns in this article.

    There is one kind of noun which hasn’t been discussed however; the compound noun. This article thoroughly explains the plurality of compound nouns.

    A compound noun is, to put it simply, a combination of various elements (noun, verb, adjective or preposition) that give a new meaning to the sum of its parts. There are three distinct ways to write compound nouns:

    1. Without a hyphen: robe de chambre (bathrobe), chemin de fer (railroad).

    2. With a hyphen: Savoir-faire (know-how), garde-chasse (gamekeeper), arc-en-ciel (rainbow).

    3. in a single word: paratonnerre (lightning conductor), bonheur (happiness), madame (Mrs), motoneige (snowmobile).

    Before going into the actual rules, I would like to provide some clarifications which are rather important.

    Some compound nouns are made up of a noun and a noun complement. It is important to understand what this signifies. To put it simply, the noun complement is necessary as it further defines the main noun it is used with.

    Let’s look at an example:

    Des maîtres d’école (some teachers).

    “Maître", which means “master", can be used on its own in a variety of contexts. The complement “école" further defines the meaning of the compound noun, clarifying that we are referring to a teacher here and not just any master.

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    Ruler #1

    The following general rules should help you figure out how to deal with the plural forms of compound nouns.

    Rule #1:

    Compound nouns written in a single word require an “s" at their end, just like a typical noun.


    Un passeport (a passport), des passeports (some passports).

    As usual, there are some exceptions. Make sure to check out the following table to find out what they are.

    Exceptions for compound nouns written in a single word:

    singular form→plural form (English translation)

    Bonhomme→Bonhommes (a fellow)

    Madame→Mesdames (Mrs)

    Mademoiselle→Mesdemoiselles (Miss.)

    Monsieur→Messieurs (Mr.)

    Gentilhomme→Gentilhommes (gentleman)

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    Rule #2

    Words beginning with the word “garde" follow a rule of their own.

    a) If the word used with “garde" is a noun, “garde" requires an “s":


    Des gardes-pêche (some fishing wardens), des gardes-chasse (some gamekeepers).

    b) If the word used with “garde" is a verb, “garde" remains exactly the same.


    Des garde-fous (some railings).

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    Rule #3

    Compound nouns written with a noun and an adjective both require an “s".

    Ex.: bold: adjective Italic: noun (English translation)

    Les premiers ministres (The prime ministers)

    Les hauts-fonds (shoal, shallow)

    Les châteaux forts (castle)

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    Rule #4

    Compound nouns written with a verb and its complement generally remain the same. The verb remains the same while the verb complement keeps the singular form.


    Des aide-mémoire (some aide-memoires) (some memoranda)

    Des comptes-gouttes (some droppers)

    There are a few exceptions to this rule:

    Des tire-bouchons (some corkscrews)

    Des taille-crayons (some pen sharpeners)

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    Rule #5

    Compound nouns written with a noun and an invariable word. Only the noun takes the plural form.


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    Rule #6

    Compound nouns composed of two verbs or prepositions remain exactly the same in the plural form.


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    Rule #7

    Compound nouns composed of a noun and its complement. Only the first noun takes on the plural form while the complement remains invariable.


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    Review Exercise #1

    Match each of the following words with the right category.

    Compound nouns formed of:

    A: a single word

    B: Noun with its (noun) complement

    C: Noun and adjective

    D: Noun and invariable noun

    E: Verb and its complement

    F: Two verbs or two prepositions


    1. Hôtel de ville

    2. aide-mémoire

    3. tire-bouchon

    4. va-et-vient

    5. je-ne-sais-quoi

    6. haut-fond

    7. château fort

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    Answer Key Exercise #1

    1. Hôtel de ville: B

    2. aide-mémoire: E

    3. tire-bouchon: E

    4. va-et-vient: F

    5. je-ne-sais-quoi: F

    6. haut-fond: C

    7. château fort: C

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    Review Exercise #2

    Write down the plural form of the following compound nouns. The answers are available at the bottom of this page.

    Premier ministre :

    Tire-bouchon :

    Taille-crayon :

    Aide-mémoire :

    Savoir-faire :

    Expérience pilote :

    Garde-boue :

    Va-et-vient :

    Bonhomme :

    Amour-propre :

    Passeport :

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    Answer Key Exercise #2

    Write down the plural form of the following compound nouns. The answers are available at the bottom of this page.

    Premier ministre : des premiers ministres

    Tire-bouchon : des tire-bouchons

    Taille-crayon : des taille-crayon

    Aide-mémoire : des aide-mémoire

    Savoir-faire : des savoir-faire

    Expérience pilote : des expériences pilotes

    Garde-boue : des garde-boue

    Va-et-vient : des va-et-vient

    Bonhomme : des bonshommes

    Amour-propre : des amours-propres

    Passeport : des passeports

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    In case you'd rather print the worksheet instead of working directly on your computer, click here to download the exercises.