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Noun Phrases

Noun phrases can be simple, built around a single Noun, or complex, involving more than one noun. See also Infinitive Phrases and Prepositional Phrases. 

Simple Noun Phrases 

Simple noun phrases contain a single noun, possibly accompanied by an Adjective, an Article or another Determiner.  In French, a determiner is almost always present. 

Using the noun enfant (child), some of the most common possibilities are: 

D + N

un enfant

ses enfants

cet enfant

chaque enfant

D + N + A

un enfant malade

les enfants canadiens

cinq enfants oubliés

mon enfant préféré

D + A + N

un grand enfant

ses chers enfants 

cette petite  enfant

le pauvre enfant

You may have noticed that enfant can be either masculine or feminine, depending on the child referred to.  This happens sometimes with nouns referring to people

un élève, une élève

student, pupil

but usually there are two forms

un mécanicien, une mécanicienne

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Complex Noun Phrases 

Complex Noun Phrases contain two or more nouns. In English, we have three ways of joining nouns: 

We commonly expand a noun phrase by simply adding one or more nouns to the first one. 

    • A car 

    • A car door 

    • The  car door window 

    • The car door window control button

This is normally impossible in French.

We can also use an apostrophe s to indicate possession: 

    • The car's heating system. 

    • George's hat. 

This is impossible in French.

Or we can use prepositions to join nouns together: 

    • The beginning of summer  (rather than summer's beginning) 

    • The end of the war  (rather than war's end) 

    • The opening of the highway through the Rockies by the minister 

French uses the third of these methods to join nouns, the use of a preposition. For George's hat the only possibility is le chapeau de Georges. 

Simply putting two nouns together to make a compound expression is possible in some cases (un camion citerne = a tanker truck; la société Radio-Canada = the Canadian Broadcasting Company), but using prepositions is far and away the most common way to join nouns, and by far the most common preposition is de

Une voiture 

Une portière de voiture 

La fenêtre de la portière de ma voiture 

The use of articles and other determiners in this linking process is very complicated. Fortunately, you don't have to worry about it. 

Notice that the order of words is often the opposite to the order in English:

La poignée de la portière de ma voiture

My car door handle. 

In technical and journalistic texts, long sequences of nouns joined by prepositions are common. This is considered bad style by many experts, but it still goes on: 

C’est une zone sensible par excellence, du fait de la présence de l'usine de retraitement des combustibles de la Haye et de l'arsenal de Cherbourg pour les coeurs des réacteurs de sous-marins. 

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