Italian grammar: Compound nouns

Compound nouns in Italian

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The compound nouns are mostly made up of two different words (nouns, adjecitves, verbs, adverbs, prepositions). There is also a very small number of coumpound nouns formed from three elements.

The words that come together have their own meaning, but the result of their union leads also to a merger of meanings.

Example:
Il portalettere (postman) derives from "porta" (he/she brings) + "lettere" (letters)


The formation of the plural of compound nouns, in Italian, does not follow precise rules and, therefore, it is only possible to give the following general guidelines.

Normally, the plural of a compound noun is formed by pluralizing one or both the words that compose it. Let's see the details:

1. Compounds made up of "Noun + Noun"

We'll have the plural of the first noun when both the nouns are of the same gender, otherwise we'll have the plural of the second noun.

Examples:
Il pescespada (swordfish) → i pescispada ("pesce" - masc. + "spada" - fem.)
Il pescecane (shark) → i pescecani ("pesce" - masc. + "cane" - masc.)


But... A special mention must be made about the compound nouns comprising "capo" + "other noun".

In this case, if the word "capo" means "chief, boss, etc." and it is masculine, they form the plural by pluralizing the word "capo". Otherwise, they don't change in the plural.

Example:
Il capostazione (stationmaster) → i capistazione
Il caposquadra (foreman) → i capisquadra
La caposquadra (foreman - fem.) → le caposquadra


But... It should be noted that due to considerable a number of exceptions, in case of doubt it would be advisable to check the plural form in a dictionary.

2. Compounds made up of "Noun + Adjective"

These nouns form their plural by pluralizing both the components.

Examples:
La cassaforte (safe) → le casseforti ("cassa" + "forte")
La terracotta (earthenware) → le terrecotte ("terra" + "cotta")

3. Compounds made up of "Adjective + Noun"

These nouns form their plural by pluralizing the second element.

Examples:
Il francobollo (stamp) → i posacenere ("franco" + "bollo")
Il gentiluomo (gentleman) → i gentiluomini ("gentile" + "uomo")

4. Compounds made up of "Adjective + Adjective"

These compound nouns form their plural by pluralizing the second adjective.

Examples:
Il sordomuto (deaf mute) → isordomuti ("sordo" + "muto")

5. Compounds made up of "Verb + Noun "


6. Compounds made up of "Verb + Verb "

In Italian the compound noun made up of "verb" + "verb" don't change in the plural.

Examples:
Il saliscendi (latch) → i saliscendi ("sali" + "scendi")

7. Compounds made up of "Verb + Adverb "

This type of compound nouns don't change in the plural.

Examples:
Il buttafuori (bouncer) → i buttafuori ("butta" + "fuori")

8. Compounds made up of "Preposition + Noun "

They form the plural by pluralizing the noun.

Examples:
Il sottopassaggio (subway) → i sottopassaggi ("sotto" + "passaggio")

9. Compounds made up of "Adverb + Adjective "

They form the plural by pluralizing the adjective.

Examples:
Il sempreverde (evergreen) → i sempreverdi ("sempre" + "verde")

10. Compounds made up of "Adverb + Verb "

Don't change in the plural.

Examples:
Il benestare (consent) → i benestare ("bene" + "stare")

The above rules are to be considered only as guidelines.We encourage our readers to always consult a dictionary when in doubt.
Posted by Arnaldo Colonna on Jaunary 5, 2010 - All rights reserved


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