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The Plural of French Nouns

 

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Plural = -S (Most of the Time)

As with English, the plural of most nouns in French is indicated by the addition of an –s to the end of a noun (regular plural).

  • Chat > Chat s (Cat/Cat s)
  • Chien > Chien s (Dog/Dog s)

Although there are a few exceptions to the rule in English (for example, mice not mouses; fish not fishes), these are few and far between. In French nouns within certain classes of singular endings take their own distinct plural endings (although there are exceptions to each of these rules).

Other Plural Endings

Words Ending in -al

Most words ending in –al form their plural by dropping the terminal –l and adding –ux instead of -s:

  • Journal > Journa ux (Newspaper/Newspaper s)
  • Cheval > Cheva ux (Horse/Horse s)

Some of the exceptions to this rule, where the regular plural is applied instead, are:

  • Festival > Festival s (Festival/Festival s)
  • Bal > Bal s (Ball/Ball s)
  • Carnaval > Carnaval s (Carnival/Carnival s)
  • Récital > Récital s (Recital/Recital s)
  • Chacal > Chacal s (Jackal/Jackal s)
  • R é gal > Régal s (Feast/Feast s)
  • Cal > Cal s (Callus/Calluse s)

Nouns ending in –ail

Many words ending with –ail also form their plural with an –ux ending, and by dropping the –il ending:

  • Bail > Ba ux (Lease/Lease s)
  • Corail > Cora ux (Coral/Coral s)
  • Email > Ema ux (Enamel/Enamel s)
  • Travail > Trava ux (Work/Work s)

Although, again, there are exceptions to the rule, for example:

  • Détail > Détail s (Detail/Detail s)
  • Chandail > Chandail s (Jumper/Jumper s) - (US Sweater(s))
  • Eventail > Eventail s (Fan/Fan s)

Words ending in –eu , –au , -eau

Nouns within these three classes of endings take an –x in their plural form:

  • Tuyau > Tuyau x (Pipe/Pipe s)
  • Manteau > Manteau x (Coat / Coat s)
  • Neveu > Neveu x (Nephew/Nephew s)

Except:

  • Pneu > Pneu s (Tire/Tire s)
  • Bleu > Bleu s (Bruise/Bruise s)
  • Landau > Landau s (Pram/Pram s) (US: Stroller(s))

Some words ending in –ou

The following 7 nouns ending in –ou also form their plural with addition of –x instead of –s:

  • Bijou > Bijou x ( Jewel / Jewel s )
  • Pou > Pou x ( Louse /L ice)
  • Caillou > Caillou x ( Pebble / Pebble s )
  • Joujou > Joujou x (Toy/Toy s)
  • Chou > Chou x (Cabbage/Cabbage s)
  • Hibou > Hibou x (Owl/Owl s)
  • Genou > Genou x (Knee/Knee s)

All other words ending in –ou, however, form their plural regularly - with an –s:

  • Trou > Trou s (Hole/Hole s)
  • Fou > Fou s (Madman or Jester/Madm en or Jester s)

Words ending in –s , -z or –x

Words that end in their singular form in –s, -z or –x do not change at all in their plural form:

  • Matela s > Matela s ( Mattress / Mattresse s )
  • Ne z > Ne z ( Nose / Nose s )
  • Pri x > Pri x (Price/ Price s )
  • Poi s > Poi s (Spot s)
  • Croi x > Croi x (Cross/Crosse s)
  • A s > A s* (Ace/Ace s)
  • O s > O s* (Bone/Bone s)

 *With Os (Bone), the –s is pronounced in the singular but not in the plural, whereas with As(Ace), the –s is pronounced in both plural and singular.

Irregular Plurals

These nouns change completely in the plural, either in their spelling or their pronunciation, and are mostly:

Œil > Yeux (Eye/Eye s)

Ciel > Cie ux (Heaven (Sky)/Heaven s (Skie s))

Œuf > Œuf s (pronounced ‘ oeu ’) (Egg/Egg s)

Bœuf > Bœuf s (pronounced as ‘ boeu ’) (Bullock/Bullock s)

Silent Pronunciation and Plural Determiners

It is important to note that, whereas the plural –s in English is vocalised, the French one is not. Thus whether une table (one/a table) or deux tables (two tables), the pronunciation of table(s) does not change.

However, much of the potential confusion is compensated for by the fact that the French definite article (le (the)) has a plural form when preceding a plural noun (les), and that when the plural noun is not used ‘definitely’, it is always preceded by the French indefinite plural article des (some), whereas in English the indefinite use of a noun is usually indicated simply by the absence of the definite article combined with the plural form of the noun:

  • Elle mange les bonbons

She is eating the sweet s

  • Elle mange des bonbons

She is eating (some) sweet s

* * * * *

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