Le pluriel: plural nouns in French grammar

What is le pluriel in French?

In French nouns can be singular or plural (pluriel). The plural form of a noun is usually formed by changing the article to les/des and adding an -s to the end of the word, however there are many exceptions!

Learn how to use plural nouns in French grammar with Lingolia’s quick and easy examples, then put your knowledge to the test in the exercises.

Example

les billets

les pièces

l'argent (no plural)

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How to form the plural of French nouns

General Rules

The plural of most nouns is formed by adding an -s to the end of the word. This -s is silent: it is almost never pronounced aloud.

Example:
le billet – les billetsthe banknote – the banknotes

Plurals ending in -x

Some nouns form their plural with an -x. This includes:

  • nouns that end in -eau or -au
    Example:
    un château – des châteauxa castle – castles
  • nouns that end in -eu (except for pneu and bleutyre, blue)
    Examples:
    un cheveu – des cheveuxa hair – hair
    un pneu – des pneustyre – tyres
  • nouns that end in -ou, such as genou, caillou, hibou, bijou, pou, chou, joujouknee, pebble, owl, a piece of jewellery, louse, cabbage, toy
    Example:
    un genou – des genouxa knee – knees
  • nouns that end in -al. The ending -al becomes -aux in the plural. The exceptions to this are: le bal, le cal, le carnaval, le chacal, le festival, le régaldance, callus, carnival, jackal, festival, treat, whose plurals are formed by adding an -s.
    Examples:
    un journal – des journauxa newspaper - newspapers
    but: un festival – des festivalsa festival - festivals
  • nouns that end in -ail. The ending -ail becomes -aux in the plural. Examples include le bail, le corail, l’émail, le soupirail, le travail, le vitraillease, coral, email, basement window, work, stained glass window
    Example:
    un vitrail – des vitrauxa stained-glass window - stained-glass windows
    but: un rail – des railsa rail/track - rails/tracks

Exceptions

Nouns that end in -s, -x or -z in the singular do not change in the plural.

Examples:
un pays – des paysa country – countries
une noix – des noixa nut – nuts
un nez – des neza nose – noses

Some plural forms are completely irregular.

Example:
un oeil – des yeuxan eye – eyes

The plural of compound nouns in French

As their name suggests, compound nouns (les noms composés) consist of two or more words usually connected by a hyphen. The words that make up a compound noun can be nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs or prepositions. It’s not always easy to form the plural of these nouns, but the following rules can help:

  • If the compound noun includes an adjective, this always changes to agree with the plural.
    Examples:
    les grands-parentsgrandparents
    les longues-vuestelescopes
    les saules-pleureursweeping willows
  • If the first word of the compound noun is grand, it only receives the plural -s in the masculine plural form.
    Examples:
    les grands-pèresgrandfathers
    les grand-mèresgrandmothers
  • If the compound noun includes a verb, adverb or preposition, this remains unchanged in the plural.
    Examples:
    les porte-monnaiewallets, les lave-vaisselledishwasher, les sèche-cheveuxhairdryers (verb)
    les arrière-penséesulterior motives, les avant-gardesfrontliner (adverb)
    les arcs-en-cielrainbows, les gardiens de butgoalkeepers (preposition)
  • In the majority of cases, nouns receive the plural -s, although there are some exceptions.
    Examples:
    les rouges-gorgesrobin redbreasts, les choux-fleurscauliflowers, les portes-fenêtresFrench doors, les bateaux-mouchestourist river boats on the Seine
  • If the compound noun contains nouns that refer to a collective entity or uncountable nouns, these remain in the singular.
    Examples:
    les porte-monnaiewallets, les lave-vaisselledishwashers
    the nouns monnaie (money) and vaisselle (dishes) are uncountable and refer to collectives, meaning that they do not change in the plural
    des pommes de terrepotatoes
    the word terre (earth) refers to the soil in which the potatoes grow, meaning that it is uncountable and remains unchanged in the plural
  • In some cases, whether or not the words within the compound noun are singular or plural depends on their meaning.
    Examples:
    une brosse à dentsa toothbrush
    The noun dents (teeth) is always used in the plural although the compound noun is singular. This is because we brush all our teeth, not just one.
    un chef-d’œuvre/des chefs-d’œuvremasterpiece/masterpieces
    The word œuvre refers to an abstact concept in this compound noun, meaning that it stays in the singular.