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Compound nouns formed with prepositions à/de/en in French

In French, you will encounter a lot of compound nouns. This lesson looks at those which take the prepositions àde or en.

Learn about compound nouns with à/de/en in French

Look at these examples:
un verre à vina wine glass  
(a glass for wine)
un bracelet en ora gold bracelet
un sac de cuir / un sac en cuira leather bag
une tarte aux pommesan apple tart
In English, we often simply squish nouns together to form new words for things: wine glass, snowball, ironing board, etc. (we call these compound nouns because they are formed from two nouns compounded together).
In French though, compound words like this are almost always separated by à or de or en and the meaning changes depending on which is used.

Compound nouns with à

à usually indicates what something is designed for, e.g. un verre à vin.
Note that to say a glass of wine, we use de where English uses of: e.g. un verre de vin.

Compound nouns with de / en

de or en usually implies what something is made of, e.g. un sac de cuir / un sac en cuir.

Compound nouns with à la / à l' / au / aux

Additionally, à la / à l’ / au / aux are used particularly with food to mean withmade with or flavoured with, e.g. une glace à la vanille. 

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Learn more about these related French grammar topics

Examples and resources

une tarte aux pommesan apple tart
la glace à la vanillea vanilla ice-cream
une cuillère à soupea soup spoon
un sandwich au jambona ham sandwich
une brosse à dentsa tooth brush
un bracelet en ora gold bracelet
un verre à vina wine glass  
(a glass for wine)
une boule à neigea snowglobe (an ornamental toy that you shake)
une boule de neigea snowball (a ball of snow)
Boules de neige et Jour de l'An Et Bonne Année grand-mère !Snowballs and New Year's Day 
and Happy New Year Grandma!
un oreiller en plume / un oreiller de plumea feather pillow
un sac de cuir / un sac en cuira leather bag
Let me take a look at that...