Forming compound nouns in Italian

Compound nouns (nomi composti in Italian) are nouns that are made up of two or more words (think about highway or masterpiece).

Aspirapolvere, soprammobile
Vacuum cleaner, knick-knack

woman vacuuming

In this lesson, we’ll see how to use compound nouns in Italian and how to form their plural once and for all. You will also find audio recordings and many example sentences.

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How to form compound nouns in Italian

Compound nouns can be formed with different types of words: nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.

Aspirapolvere, for example, is made up of aspirare, to suck or to suction, and polvere, dust.

Soprammobile, another compound noun in Italian, is made up of sopra, a preposition meaning “above” or “on”, and mobile, piece of furniture. Isn’t a knick-knack an object that stands on a piece of furniture? 😉

decorative vase

The biggest challenge you will face with these types of nouns is: how do you form their plural? This usually depends on the combination of words that make up a compound noun, so even though there are quite a few exceptions that you will have to memorize, you will be able to guess their plural most of the time.

Let’s take a look at the different types of compound nouns in Italian and see what their plural form is for each one!


Common compound nouns in Italian

Combinations with nouns

Noun + noun

Compound words with nouns of the same gender form their plural by making the last noun plural.

Il capolavoro, i capolavori
Masterpiece, masterpieces
(capo + lavoro, both masculine)

L’autostrada, le autostrade
Highway, highways
(auto + strada, both feminine)

Compound words with nouns of different genders form their plural by making the first noun plural.

Il capoclasse, i capiclasse
Class monitor, class monitors
(capo + classe, masculine and feminine)

Noun + adjective

Both the noun and the adjective will become plural.

La cassaforte, le casseforti
Safe, safes
(cassa + forte)


Combinations with verbs

Verb + noun

Female nouns in this type of compound nouns in Italian almost always keep their singular form in the plural. Masculine nouns become plural.

Il portacenere, i portacenere
Ashtray, ashtrays
(portare + cenere, feminine)

Verb + verb

These compound words in Italian have no plural form.

Il lasciapassare, i lasciapassare
Permit, permits
(lasciare + passare)

Verb + adverb

They have no change in the plural.

Il buttafuori, i buttafuori
Bouncer, bounces
(buttare + fuori)

gorilla bouncer with a black jacket and a red tie

Combinations with adjectives

Adjective + noun

Only the noun becomes plural.

L’altopiano, gli altopiani
Plateau, plateaus
(alto + piano)

Il francobollo, i francobolli
Stamp, stamps
(franco + bollo)

Adjective + adjective

These compound nouns in Italian form their plural by making the last adjective plural.

Il pianoforte, i pianoforti
Piano, pianos
(piano + forte)

Il sordomuto, i sordomuti
Deaf-mute, deaf-mutes
(sordo + muto)


Combinations with prepositions

Preposition + noun

The plural is usually formed by making the noun plural.

Il soprannome, i soprannomi
Nickname, nicknames
(sopra + nome)

L’antipasto, gli antipasti
Appetizer, appetizers
(anti + pasto)

plate full of various food

Combinations with adverbs

Adverb + verb

These compound words in Italian don’t change in the plural.

Il benestare, i benestare
Approval, approvals
(bene + stare)

Adverb + adjective

Their plural form is unchanged.

Sempreverde
Evergreen
(sempre + verde)


Compound nouns in Italian beginning with capo-

Capo-, when used in a compound noun in Italian, has three meanings:

“The one who’s in charge of a place”

In this case, only “capo” becomes plural as capi-.

Il capoclasse, i capiclasse
Class monitor, class monitors

Il capostazione, i capistazione
Station master, station masters

cat station master

“The one who’s in charge of a group of people”

Only the last noun becomes plural.

Il capocuoco, i capocuochi
Head chef, head chefs

“The first/best one of a group”

Only the last noun becomes plural.

Il capogiro, i capogiri
Vertigo

Il capolavoro, i capolavori
Masterpiece, masterpieces


More free Italian resources

You might want to keep learning Italian online with these free Italian resources:

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