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.