The plural of compound nouns: special cases

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The plural of compound nouns: special cases

Reminder: in general, nouns that form part of plural compound nouns are written in the plural (for example, des chirurgiens-dentistes, ‘surgeon-dentists’, des coffres-forts, ‘safes’, etc.). However, there are exceptions to this rule.
Nouns that function as complements are not written in the plural. These noun complements further define the main noun they are used with.
une année-lumière a light year → des années-lumière light years (lumière functions as a complement of année)
une assurance-vie a life insurance policy → des assurances-vie life insurance policies (vie functions as a complement of assurance)
une pause-café a coffee break → des pauses-café coffee breaks (café functions as a complement of pause)
When the compound noun is made up of verb + noun:
•  If the noun is countable, it is written in the plural.
un couvre-lit a bedspread → des couvre-lits bedspreads
un essuie-glace a windshield wiper → des essuie-glaces windshield wipers
•  If the noun is abstract or there is only one of it, it is written in the singular.
un porte-malheur a thing that brings bad luck → des porte-malheur things that bring bad luck (malheur (unhappiness) is an abstract noun)
un aide-mémoire a reminder → des aide-mémoire reminders (you only have one memory)
un gratte-ciel a skyscraper → des gratte-ciel skyscrapers (there is only one sky)
•  New spelling rules now allow all nouns to be written with an -s. Hence, it is acceptable to write des pauses-cafés, des abat-jours, des porte-malheurs, des gratte-ciels, etc. However, these rules are not applied very often, and these spellings (with an -s) are relatively rare.
•  While the plural form grand-mères (grandmothers) is traditionally written without an -s on grand, the form grands-mères is now also accepted.

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