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Plural of Italian Compound Nouns

Plurale dei Nomi Composti

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In Italian, compounding (or word-compounding or composition) is a widely used linguistics process, which involves joining two or more different words to create a new word. Italian nouns formed in this way are called compound nouns (nomi composti).

Forming the plural of Italian compound nouns depends upon the types of words used to create them. Here are the most common cases:

Noun + Noun / Sostantivo + Sostantivo

  • Compound nouns formed from two nouns only change the second element into the plural:

l'arcobaleno—gli arcobaleni
rainbow—rainbows

la ferrovia—le ferrovie
railway—railways

la banconota—le banconote
banknote—banknotes

la madreperla—le madreperle
mother-of-pearl—mother-of-pearl

il cavolfiore—i cavolfiori
cauliflower—cauliflowers

l'autostrada—le autostrade
highway—highways

Compound nouns with the word capo (boss, head) do not always behave the same way.

» In some cases the second element is pluralized: il capogiro—i capogiri, il capolavoro—i capolavori, il capoverso—i capoversi.

» In many other instances the first element is usually changed into the plural (especially when capo means "person who is in charge of something"): il capobanda—i capibanda, il capoclasse—i capiclasse, il capofamiglia—i capifamiglia, il capolista—i capilista, il capopopolo—i capipopolo, il caposcuola—i capiscuola, il caposquadra—i capisquadra, il capostazione—i capistazione, il capotavola—i capitavola, il capoufficio—i capiufficio.

» When the compound noun is feminine, it remains unchanged in the plural: la capoclasse—le capoclasse, la capolista—le capoliste, la caposquadra—le caposquadra, la capotavola—le capotavola.

Noun + Adjective / Sostantivo + Aggettivo

  • Compound nouns formed from a noun followed by an adjective change both elements into the plural:

il caposaldo—i capisaldi
cornerstone—cornerstones

il pellerossa—i pellirosse
Indian—Indians

la cartastraccia—le cartestracce
scrap paper—scrap paper

la piazzaforte—le piazzeforti
stronghold—strongholds

la cassaforte—le casseforti
safe—safes

But palcoscenico becomes palcoscenici; pellerossa can also remain unchanged: i pellerossa.

Adjective + Noun / Aggettivo + Sostantivo
  • Compound nouns formed from an adjective followed by a noun only change the second element into the plural:

l'altoparlante—gli altoparlanti
speaker—speakers

il bassorilievo—i bassorilievi
bas-relief—bas-reliefs

il francobollo—i francobolli
postage stamp—postage stamps

il mezzogiorno—i mezzogiorni
midday—middays

There are also exceptions in this instance: la mezzaluna—le mezzelune, la mezzanotte—le mezzenotti, la mezzatinta—le mezzetinte, il purosangue—i purosangue (invariabile)

Verb + Noun / Verbo + Sostantivo

  • Compound nouns formed from a verb and a noun behave differently depending on whether the noun is singular or plural.
  • If the noun is plural, the compound noun remains unchanged:

l'accendisigari—gli accendisigari
lighter—lighters

il lustrascarpe—i lustrascarpe
shoe shine—shoe shines

il cavatappi—i cavatappi
corkscrew—corkscrews

il portaombrelli—i portaombrelli
umbrella—umbrellas

il guastafeste—i guastafeste
damper—dampers

lo stuzzicadenti—gli stuzzicadenti
toothpick—toothpicks

  • If the noun is singular, the compound noun can take the plural ending or remain unchanged. It takes the plural ending when the noun element is masculine:

il battibecco—i battibecchi
bickering—bickerings

il parafango—i parafanghi
fender—fenders

il parafulmine—i parafulmini
lightning rod—lightning rods

il passaporto—i passaporti
passport—passports

  • It remains unchanged when the noun element is feminine:

l'aspirapolvere—gli aspirapolvere
vacuum cleaner—vacuum cleaners

il portacenere—i portacenere
ashtray—ashtrays

il cacciavite—i cacciavite
screwdriver—screwdrivers

il salvagente—i salvagente
life jacket—life jackets

Verb + Verb and Verb + Adverb / Verbo + Verbo e Verbo + Avverbio

  • Compound nouns formed from two verbs or a verb and an adverb are invariable in the plural:
l'andirivieni—gli andirivieni
comings and goings—comings and goings

il saliscendi—i saliscendi
switchback—switchbacks

il dormiveglia—i dormiveglia
sleepyhead—sleepyheads

il posapiano—i posapiano
slowpoke—slowpokes

il parapiglia—i parapiglia
commotion—commotions

il viavai—i viavai
comings and goings—comings and goings

Preposition or Adverb + Noun / Preposizione o Avverbio + Sostantivo

  • Nouns formed from a preposition and a noun or an adverb and a noun are not technically compound nouns but prefixed nouns. They do not follow a uniform rule; some remain the same, while others change the ending of the second element:

il doposcuola—i doposcuola
after-school activity—after-school activities

il senzatetto—i senzatetto
homeless—homeless

il retroterra—i retroterra
hinterland—hinterlands

il sottoscala—i sottoscala
closet under the stairs—closets under the stairs

il dopopranzo—i dopopranzi
afternoon—afternoons

il sottopassaggio—i sottopassaggi
underpass—underpasses

la soprattassa—le soprattasse
surcharge—surcharges

la sottoveste—le sottovesti
petticoat—petticoats

There are also nouns formed from more than two elements, among them those comopund nouns consisting of two nouns joined by a preposition, such as: ficodindia (prickly pear), fiordaliso (cornflower), messinscena (mise-en-scène), which in the plural become: fichidindia, fiordalisi, and messinscene.

One case in particular is the noun pomodoro (tomato), which has three plurals: pomodori, pomidori (popular), pomidoro (regional).

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