Compound nouns formed with prepositions 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.


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.

de / en

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

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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Examples and resources

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