Les Noms Composés ̶ Compound Nouns
verb + noun
Image courtesy of English Channel Teacher Dai
Dans ma région, on attend beaucoup de neige demain. Le lendemain est Thanksgiving, et le surlendemain est Black Friday. Pour vous aider dans cette période stressante de l’année, je vous présente un blog qui porte sur un sujet super intéressant: la grammaire! (In my neck of the woods, we’re expecting a lot of snow tomorrow. The day after is Thanksgiving, and the day after that is Black Friday. To help you in this stressful time of year, I present you with a fun and interesting entry: grammar!)
When learning un nom (a noun) in French, you also need to learn le genre (the gender) of the noun so you can have correct agreement in the rest of the sentence. If you speak a language that doesn’t have genders, this can prove to be quite tricky. And to go even further, what if it’s un nom composé (a compound noun)? [Quoi? A compound noun is a combination of a noun and another part of speech to create a single noun. Par exemple: eyelid is composed of eye and lid.] If you have a masculine and a feminine noun combined to make one noun, what’s the gender? And what about for adverb + noun constructions? How do you pluralize those? Well, we can cross that bridge when it comes, but today we’re going to look at the compound nouns that follow the verb + noun construction. (But if you’re really wondering, for the noun + noun construction, you use the gender of the main noun. For the adverb + noun pluralizing, the noun is invariable).
Just like French, English uses the verb + noun construction to form some compound nouns — cutthroat, playground, killjoy, etc. In English, you leave the verb unconjugated. Par contre (on the other hand), in French, you conjugate the verb in 3rd person singular (il/elle/on). After that, you add un tiret (a dash/hyphen). Finally, you add the noun. Unless the last letter of the verb and the first letter of the noun start with a vowel, you do not need to add the article.
Let’s take an example:
- marquer (to mark) conjugated 3rd person singular becomes marque
- Add the hyphen: marque-
- la page (page) Add the noun: marque-page
Any idea what un marque-page could be? It marks your page in a book. It’s a bookmark!
Wait a second — la page is feminine, and un marque-page is masculine. Mais pourquoi? That’s the easiest part of this construction: even if the original noun is feminine, the compound form will be masculine.
C’est à vous! (It’s your turn!)
Let’s try a few more. Take the verb and noun, and try to form the compound noun. After, try to guess its meaning.
|gratter (to scratch) & le ciel (sky)
||laver (to wash) & le linge (laundry)
|ouvrir (to open) & la boîte (can)
||amuser (to amuse/entertain) & la bouche (mouth)
un gratte-ciel: skyscraper; un lave-linge: washing machine; un ouvre- boîte: can opener; un amuse-bouche: appetizer
To pluralize a compound noun, ask yourself if the noun is countable or not. If the noun can be counted (un lit, a bed, for example), pluralize it as you normally would. The verb will stay unchanged. For example, a bedspread in French is un couvre-lit. To talk about 2 or more bedspreads, you’ll need to pluralize un lit. A bed can be counted, so tag on the -s:
J’ai trois couvre-lits dans mon placard. (I have 3 bedspreads in my closet.)
For collective nouns [Quoi? A collective noun is a noun that’s counted as a group. Par exemple, la neige (snow) is collective because even if there’s a lot, it’s considered an individual unit.] you don’t need to make any changes in the spelling. Some people do prefer to pluralize the collective nouns, and it’s for this reason that you’ll find the plural with and without an -s in certain references. At the bottom of this entry, you will find a downloadable pdf with une trentaine (around thirty) examples of compound nouns with English translations of the original verb, the original noun, the final compound noun, and all the plurals (even the ones that pluralize the collective nouns).
C’est à vous!: Pluralize the following compound nouns and try to guess their meaning.
|tirer (to pull) & le bouchon (cork)
||penser (to think) & la bête (beast)
|essuyer (to wipe) & la glace (window)
||curer (to scrape clean) & la dent (tooth)
des tire-bouchons: corkscrews; des pense-bêtes: reminders; des essuie-glaces: windshield wipers; des cure-dents: toothpicks
So there you have it. French compound nouns are formed with a number of constructions. Today we looked at the verb + noun construction. Pluralizing is pretty facile (easy), too.
Vous pouvez télécharger une liste des nom composés ici. (You can download a list of compound nouns here). The list includes all the compound nouns mentioned in this entry and more. It also has the translation of every French noun and verb used and how to form the plural.
Si vous avez des questions, n’hésitez pas à laisser un commentaire en bas! (If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below). We’d be happy to help!