Compound nouns formed with noun + à + verb-infinitive

In English we often simply squash two words together to make a compound noun ("dining room"), whereas in French the two words are always joined by a preposition (à, de, en).

Look at these examples:

une planche à repasser
an ironing board

une machine à laver
a washing machine

une machine à coudre
a sewing machine

une pomme à cuire 
a cooking apple

 

Compound nouns in English formed with -ing + noun are often used to indicate function (e.g. "dining room"). In French, these typically take the form noun + à + verb-infinitive. For example, salle à manger

 

Also have a look at Compound nouns formed with prepositions à, de, en

Learn more about these related French grammar topics

Préposition

Phrasal/Prepositional

Examples and resources

une machine à laver
a washing machine


une corde à sauter
a skipping rope


une planche à repasser
an ironing board


un fer à repasser
an iron (literally, "an ironing iron")


une machine à coudre
a sewing machine


une pomme à cuire 
a cooking apple


Q&A Forum 4 questions, 6 answers

AndreaA2Kwiziq community member

Thanks Cécile but....

This lesson is about forming compound nouns -noun + à + verb-infinitive '  without a hyphen (as in the many examples kindly provided in your response). Is the construction in this lesson an alternate way to create a compound noun? What is the grammatical construction or rules, being followed by the examples I gave? I came across them in a french textbook and would like to know where I can find an explanation governing this use. Additional examples are: "Une voiture à vendre",  "Un pull à laver". Merci d'avance!

Asked 2 months ago
CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Hi Andrea,

Compound nouns make another noun which stands alone in meaning so:

une planche à repasser = an ironing board  ( a board for ironing)

une machine à laver ( or un lave-linge) =  a washing machine ( a machine for washing clothes)

une machine à sécher le linge ( or un sèche-linge) = a tumble dryer 

Une machine à écrire a typewriter 

Des pinces à linge = pegs   

The second part which is often a verb in the infinitive denotes the purpose of the item.

In the examples you give -

Une voiture à vendre = a car for sale 

à vendre is an attribute of the noun it refers to as in the other examples -

Un pull à laver = a sweater that needs washing 

Des travaux à faire = Work to be done 

Not the same but difficult to explain, hope this helps!

Thanks Cécile but....

This lesson is about forming compound nouns -noun + à + verb-infinitive '  without a hyphen (as in the many examples kindly provided in your response). Is the construction in this lesson an alternate way to create a compound noun? What is the grammatical construction or rules, being followed by the examples I gave? I came across them in a french textbook and would like to know where I can find an explanation governing this use. Additional examples are: "Une voiture à vendre",  "Un pull à laver". Merci d'avance!

Sign in to submit your answer

Don't have an account yet? Join today

AndreaA2Kwiziq community member

Are these examples of compound nouns?

Une maison  à vendre.  

des travaux à faire,

Asked 2 months ago
CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Hi Andrea, 

Compound nouns don't normally have a preposition but a hyphen to link them together making them into a new noun -

Here are some examples of combinations of nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, and past participles:

Un croque-monsieur

Un couvre-lit A bedspread

Un perce-neige A snowdrop

Un après-midi = An afternoon

Le savoir-faire 

Une belle-sœur = A sister in law

Un coffre-fort = A safe

Un passe-partout A master key

etc.

Hope this helps!

Are these examples of compound nouns?

Une maison  à vendre.  

des travaux à faire,

Sign in to submit your answer

Don't have an account yet? Join today

DmitriA2Kwiziq community member

Clairez-vous s'il vous plaît

So, in all literal senses, the way to further describe an item's purpose is to pair it with the action being done with/upon it. ( i.e. une planche à voile = a [  plank ] to be flown [ surf ] upon ) That is odd to say the least, but French grammar seems to be very similar to archaic English grammar. I suppose the Norman invasion is to blame for that, n'est-ce pas? When the aristocracy speak one language, and the peasants speak another, I suppose they found a nice halfway point between the two, which then evolved into modern English, a confusing tangle of rules, exceptions, and counterrules, all presided over by 5+ official institutions. 


 French is much nicer. The rules are odd, but fairly consistent. It is managed by the Àcadémie Française , and no other, has considerably less mixing, and is only truly messed up in Créole French [ The pitiful excuse for French the people of Louisiana speak ]. So even if I had to traverse the entire french-speaking world, I would find little more than dialect ( i.e. Quebècoise, Guiyanaise, Walloon, Langues d'Occitan et d'Oeil . ) Bíen faites, francophones!

Asked 5 months ago
CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Interesting conversation chaps!

From memory, I believe that modern French evolved from the langue d' Oïl which in the middle ages was spoken in the middle top half of France whereas the bottom half spoke the langue d'Oc.

The Académie française tries to keep the purity of the French language and certainly in my younger days, seemed intent on keeping English out of it which nowadays is cause perdue I am afraid...

ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

I also appreciate what the Académie Française is doing, even though their influence is declining. In German, there is the Duden (a reference book in 12 volumes for the German language which, as of 2017 was in its 27th edition). The Duden, however, has started to accept even the most blaring grammatical infraction as "proper German" as long as it is used by a sufficient number of people.

It is sobering to note how few people actually still have good command of their native languages, be that English or German (the languages I am most familiar with). The historical division between the "proper language" (spoken by an educated few) and the "common language" (spoken by the common people) is all but gone and the war of numbers tips the scales in favor of the common language.

The problem is that, as neuro-science shows, command of a language and the ability to speak it well reflects on how you think. Speak muddled -- think muddled.

If we give in to this and cease to challenge our students, we are slowly sliding down a slippery slope, at the end of which is a language which may be suited to talk about the weather but not about pilosophy.

Clairez-vous s'il vous plaît

So, in all literal senses, the way to further describe an item's purpose is to pair it with the action being done with/upon it. ( i.e. une planche à voile = a [  plank ] to be flown [ surf ] upon ) That is odd to say the least, but French grammar seems to be very similar to archaic English grammar. I suppose the Norman invasion is to blame for that, n'est-ce pas? When the aristocracy speak one language, and the peasants speak another, I suppose they found a nice halfway point between the two, which then evolved into modern English, a confusing tangle of rules, exceptions, and counterrules, all presided over by 5+ official institutions. 


 French is much nicer. The rules are odd, but fairly consistent. It is managed by the Àcadémie Française , and no other, has considerably less mixing, and is only truly messed up in Créole French [ The pitiful excuse for French the people of Louisiana speak ]. So even if I had to traverse the entire french-speaking world, I would find little more than dialect ( i.e. Quebècoise, Guiyanaise, Walloon, Langues d'Occitan et d'Oeil . ) Bíen faites, francophones!

Sign in to submit your answer

Don't have an account yet? Join today

RobinA2Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

I need to look at all the answers more carefully

Je déteste quand je connaise une bonne réponse mais je choisis une réponse mauvaise parce que je dépêche!  J'ai besoin de lire chaque réponse en avance de choisir une réponse.  oh la la la la la la la ! :)

Asked 1 year ago
CécileKwiziq team member
Très bon conseil personnel Robin, prenez votre temps avant de répondre....
RobinA2Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor
merci!
Robin asked:View original

I need to look at all the answers more carefully

Je déteste quand je connaise une bonne réponse mais je choisis une réponse mauvaise parce que je dépêche!  J'ai besoin de lire chaque réponse en avance de choisir une réponse.  oh la la la la la la la ! :)

Sign in to submit your answer

Don't have an account yet? Join today

Getting that for you now.