Plurals in French: A full guide on how to form le pluriel en français

Celine Segueg

How do we form plurals in French? Often it’s as simple as adding an -s, just like you do in English. Words with certain endings, however, have different rules for forming their French plurals. So which French plurals end in -x, and which ones remain unchanged? What about pluralizing compound nouns in French?

Today we’ll cover all the different groups of French nouns to see their pluralization rules. We’ll also include any exceptions for each of the rules we see. We’ll provide several example words to demonstrate every one of the French pluralization rules, along with their English translations.

This post complements our other intermediate post on French gender rules, as well as our beginner post on the French articles. For now, let’s just dive into our post on forming the plural of French nouns.

Scroll down to the conclusion for a quick reference table of all the French pluralization rules. Read on for explanations of each one.

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Most French nouns: -s

This is clearly the easiest rule for French plurals, since it’s so close to the default rule for pluralizing English nouns. Just add an -s to make most French nouns plural.

  • un croissant / des croissants
  • une baguette / des baguettes
  • un sandwich / des sandwichs
  • une limonade / des limonades

We’re not even going to translate these French words for you, as they’re so close to their English counterparts! The important thing is to see le singulier of each one, compared with le pluriel. So what’s the most common French pluralization rule?

  • Pour la majorité des noms communs au singulier, nous ajoutons simplement -s pour les avoir au pluriel. – For the majority of regular nouns in singular, we simply add -s to have them in plural.

French nouns ending in -s, -x, -z: no change

This rule has parallels with certain English words that are unchanged between singular and plural, particularly where adding an additional pluralization would just sound comical. Think of English words like series, crossroads, headquarters, or species, which exhibit no change between their singular and plural forms.

  • un cours / des cours – a course / some courses
  • un pays / des pays – a country / some countries
  • un prix / des prix – a price, a prize / some prices, some prizes
  • un choix / des choix – a choice / some choices
  • un nez / des nez – a nose / some noses
  • un gaz / des gaz – a gas / some gasses

French nouns ending in -ou: -s

In general, we just add an -s to words that end in -ou, so the plural form becomes -ous.

  • un bisou / des bisous – a little kiss / some little kisses
  • un clou / des clous – a nail / some nails
  • un coup / des coups – a hit / some hits
  • un trou / des trous – a hole / some holes

There are a handful of very common French nouns that are exceptions to this rule, so let’s see them all here. Rather than adding an -s to make these plurals in French, these exceptions end in -x instead.

  • un bijou / des bijoux – a piece of jewelry / some pieces of jewelry
  • un caillou / des cailloux – a stone / some stones
  • un chou / des choux – a cabbage / some cabbages
  • un genou / des genoux – a knee / some knees
  • un hibou / des hiboux – an owl / some owls
  • un joujou / des joujoux – a children’s toy / some children’s toys
  • un pou / des poux – a lice / some lice
  • un ripou / des ripoux – a rotten cop / dirty cops (slang)

French nouns ending in -eu, -œu, -au, -eau: -x

Just like we saw with the list of exceptions to the previous rule, adding -x to form French plurals is common for many French nouns that end in vowel sounds.

  • un feu / des feux – a fire / some fires
  • un jeu / des jeux – a game / some games
  • un vœu / des vœux – a wish / some wishes
  • un tuyau / des tuyaux – a pipe / some pipes
  • un chapeau / des chapeaux – a hat / some hats
  • un cadeau / des cadeaux – a gift / some gifts
  • un couteau / des couteaux – a knife / some knives
  • un bateau / des bateaux – a boat / some boats

There are only three exceptions to this rule: bleupneu, and landau. These simply end in -s to become plural.

Un bleu can describe either a bruise or a blue thing, while when we’re talking about fromage, le bleu refers to a family of very flavorful cheeses. Les Bleus is the nickname for the French national team. Un landau is a type of baby stroller with coverings that can fold open or closed. Un pneu is just a tire.

  • un bleu / des bleus
  • un pneu / des pneus
  • un landau / des landaus

French nouns ending in -al: -aux

For French nouns ending in -al, we have a variant on the -x ending, whereby we drop the -al and replace it with -aux. The resulting pronunciation of the plural ending for these nouns ends up resembling the pronunciation of the previous set of plurals we just saw.

  • un cheval / des chevaux – a horse / some horses
  • un journal / des journaux – a newspaper / some newspapers
  • un hôpital / des hôpitaux – a hospital / some hospitals
  • un animal / des animaux – an animal / some animals

There are only a handful of exceptions to this rule, most of which are fairly common French nouns. Let’s see all of them here, where their plurals simply end in -s.

  • un bal / des bals – a formal dance event like a ball or a prom / the proms
  • un carnaval / des carnavals – a carnival / some carnivals
  • un chacal / des chacals – a jackal / some jackals
  • un festival / des festivals – a festival / some festivals
  • un récital / des récitals – a recital / some recitals
  • un régal / des régals – a delight / some delights

French nouns ending in -ail: -s

The pronunciation of French words ending in -ail is different enough from those ending in -al that the default rule for their plural forms is to just add an -s.

  • un détail / des détails – a detail / some details
  • un chandail / des chandails – a sweater / some sweaters
  • un éventail / des éventails – a folding fan / some folding fans
  • un gouvernail / des gouvernails – a rudder / some rudders

In reality, not many French nouns end in -ail, so it’s just as important to be aware of the exceptions to this general rule. These words resemble those from our previous rule, where we drop the -ail and replace it with -aux.

  • un bail / des baux – a lease / some leases
  • un corail / des coraux – a coral / some corals
  • un émail / des émaux – an enamel / some enamels
  • un soupirail / des soupiraux – a basement window / some basement windows
  • un travail / des travaux – a job or a gig / some jobs
  • un vantail / des vantaux – a removable panel / some removable panels
  • un vitrail / des vitraux – a stained-glass window / some stained-glass windows

Highly-irregular French plurals

So far, we’ve seen all the general rules for forming the plural of French nouns. Fortunately, only three words have such irregular plurals in French that we need to point them out individually. The first two are common enough that you should definitely know them.

The French word for an eye is un œil. But the plural of un œil is des yeux! You probably already knew this one if you’ve studied the parts of the body in French.

The French word for the sky is le ciel. And if we’re talking about different skies, we’ll need un ciel in plural: des cieux.

Finally, we have an interesting French word to refer to our ancestors. In singular, un aïeul can refer to someone anywhere in our lineage. When we refer generally to our ancestors in plural, with forebears or forefathers as other possible translations, we use the irregular French plural of des aïeux. When we refer specifically to our grandparents, however, the plural is des aïeuls. What’s more, if we’re just talking about our grandmothers, we use the feminine form as des aïeules!

Un aïeul is a fairly deferential term we use for our elders, so don’t worry too much about mastering the intricacies of its use. But you should definitely memorize des yeux and des cieux as the French plurals for un œil and un ciel! We’ll end this section with the list of highly-irregular French plurals.

  • un œil / des yeux – eyes
  • un ciel / des cieux – skies
  • un aïeul / des aïeux – ancestors
  • un aïeul / des aïeuls, des aïeules – grandparents

Plurals of French nouns borrowed from other languages

As a general rule, if a French noun is still clearly linked to its foreign origin, its plural form should follow its foreign pattern.

  • un paparazzo / des paparazzi
  • un curriculum vitæ / des curricula vitæ
  • un minimum / des minima

On the other hand, it’s common enough for foreign words to be adopted into the French language and eventually follow the regular French pluralization rules we’ve seen above.

Plurals of French titles

We’re listing these words in their own section since they seem to play by their own rules. These titles are nonetheless very common words in the language, so it’s important to know their plural forms in French.

The reason for their irregular pluralization is that they were originally formed from two words: an adjective and a noun. They’re always written as a single word in contemporary French, but their plural forms still reflect the necessary change in form to the original adjectives and to the nouns. See our posts on French adjectives and on possessive adjectives for more detail on those forms.

Here the full list of titles with irregular plural forms in French.

  • monsieur / messieurs – Sir
  • madame / mesdames – Mrs
  • mademoiselle / mesdemoiselles – miss
  • gentilhomme / gentilshommes – gentleman
  • bonhomme / bonshommes – fellow

Plurals of French compound nouns

Before we wrap up, we should mention the special case of compound nouns in French. These take many forms, and there are specific pluralization rules that apply to each type. We won’t go into all the excruciating details here, but we’ll at least point out the main concepts for pluralizing French compound nouns.

The big question is which individual words within the compound noun should become plural, and which keep their original form. The most important rule is that if the compound noun is composed of multiple nouns, we pluralize the individual nouns that indicate what’s in plural, while leaving other ones in singular if they don’t reflect what’s in plural.

  • des portes-fenêtres – doors that are essentially big windows
  • des pauses-café – coffee breaks
  • des pommes de terre – potatoes

The same rule applies where the nouns are linked by prepositions.

  • des œils-de-bœuf – round dormer windows (note that we don’t write yeux-de-bœuf!)
  • des arcs-en-ciel – rainbows
  • des eaux-de-vie – brandies, traditional spirits

If the compound noun’s individual words don’t necessarily reflect what is being described in plural, they all remain unchanged in plural.

  • des tête-à-tête – face-to-face discussions
  • des pied-à-terre – temporary or second homes
  • des passe-partout – master keys, picture frame mattings

Where compound nouns include adjectives and nouns, the adjectives need to reflect the plural form. Where a compound noun includes an adverb, the adverb is always invariable. The same rules about the nouns that we saw in our previous examples still apply though!

  • des coffres-forts – safes
  • des sages-femmes – midwives
  • des petits-beurre – butter cookies

For compound nouns that contain verbs and nouns, the verbs are unchanged while the nouns follow the same rules we’ve already seen.

  • des chasse-neige – snowplows
  • des tire-bouchons – corkscrews

Don’t worry if you’re unsure of the plurals of French compound nouns. Indeed, most native speakers get them wrong a lot too! If you follow the basic rules we’ve laid out here, you’ll be ahead of a lot of native French speakers!

Conclusion: Plurals in French

Today we went deep on one of the fundamentals of the language: how to make a word plural in French. We looked at the whole spectrum of French nouns, from the regular ones that simply take -s in plural, to nouns with various endings that need different combinations ending in -x.

For each of the standard French pluralization rules, we also saw all of their exceptions. We had a special section for the three highly-irregular French plurals: yeux, cieux, and aïeux vs aïeuls. We even went into the special cases of how to pluralize words of foreign origin, and how to make compound nouns plural in French.

If you’ve followed along here, you’re now ready to make any French noun plural! For easy reference, we recommend sharing or bookmarking this page for easy access. To sum things up for you, we’ll leave you with an easy table of all the main French pluralization rules we saw today!

Singular noun ending Plural ending Exceptions
most French nouns -s
-s, -x, -z no change
-ou -s bijoux, cailloux, choux, genoux, hiboux, joujoux, poux, ripoux
-eu, -œu, au, -eau -x bleus, pneus, landaus
-al -aux bals, carnavals, chacals, festivals, récitals, régals
-ail -s baux, coraux, émaux, soupiraux, travaux, vantaux, vitraux
œil, ciel, aïeul yeux, cieux aïeux vs aïeuls vs aïeules
monsieur, madame, mademoiselle, gentilhomme, bonhomme messieurs, mesdames, mesdemoiselles, gentilshommes, bonshommes