Compound Words (Komposita) (2024)

Compound Words (Komposita) (1)Compound Words (Komposita) (2)
Election Notice.

Word Formation in German:

German can create new words with a variety of tools, including suffixes,separable prefixes,inseparable prefixes, and various ways of derivingnouns from strong verbs,nouns from verbs with separable or inseparable prefixes, oradjectives and adverbs from such verbs.

Compound Words (Komposita) (3)Compound Words (Komposita) (4)
Nature Preserve.

The Compound Noun:

Like English, German also offers the possibility of combining of words, especially nouns. The resulting noun chains in English typically feature spaces or hyphens between the different elements, whileGerman ones normally appear as one word.The German penchant for creating complex compound nouns has long been the stuff of comedy. Mark Twain devotes part of his essay on The Awful German Language to these "curiosities," and many people are familiar with ones like "der Donaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän" (the Danube Steamship Navigation Company Captain).

Compound Words (Komposita) (5)

The basic German compound word, like its English relation, consists of two vocabulary items, although longer chains are possible. Take the example: "die Sprachschule." The second element, "Schule", is called the "primary word" (das Grundwort), and it designates the larger set (in this case, schools) of which the compound noun is a part. It also establishes the gender and the plural form of the compound noun. The first item "Sprach", is called the "determiner", or "determinative element" (das Bestimmungswort). It designates the subset of the category that the primary word defines. Thus a "Sprachschule" is a school that teaches languages.

This list of provided cleaning services illustrates some of the possibilities that employ the primary word, Reinigung ("cleaning"):

Compound Words (Komposita) (6)Compound Words (Komposita) (7)
Cleaning of business and medical offices
Glass surface cleaning
Staircase cleaning
Thorough cleaning
Janitorial cleaning
Doormat service
Building site clearance and final cleaning
Carpet and textile cleaning

As some of the above examples show, the two parts of the compound may also have a connecting element (die Fuge) that can have various forms:

Compound Words (Komposita) (8)Compound Words (Komposita) (9)
[no connecting element]: "der Arbeitgeber" (employer); "der Arbeitnehmer" (employee);"der Autofahrer" (driver); "der Briefträger" (postman, letter-carrier); "das Gasthaus" (inn);"die Handfläche" (palm of the hand); "der Hausbesitzer" (home-owner);"die Jugendsünde" (youthful folly); "das Muttersöhnchen" (mamma's boy); "das Trinkgeld" (tip).

["-e-"]:"hundemüde" (dog-tired); "die Mausefalle" (mousetrap); "der Pferdestall" (horse stable); "das Schweinefleisch (pork); "das Wartezimmer" (waiting room).

["-n" or "-en"]:"das Backpfeifengesicht" (a face that makes you want to slap it); "das Bauernbrot (farmhouse bread); "das Freudenhaus" (brothel); "die Gedankenfreiheit" (freedom of thought); "der Kettenraucher" (chain-smoker); "der Tintenkleks" (inkblot).

["-ens"]: "die Herzensgüte" (goodness of heart); "das Friedensabkommen" (peace agreement);"das Schmerzensgeld" (compensation for pain and suffering).

["-er"]: "der Bilderrahmen" (picture frame); "der Geisterfahrer" (wrong-way driver).

["-s-" or "-es-"]: "das Arbeitstier" (eager beaver; workaholic); "der Freundeskreis" (circle of friends);"geistesgestört" (deranged);"der Glückspilz" (lucky fellow); "der Gottesdienst" (church service); "die Jahreszeit" (season [of the year]); "das Landesgeld" (domestic currency); "der Liebeskummer" (lover's grief, heart-sickness);"die Staatspolizei" (state police); "das Tageslicht" (daylight); "der Verbesserungsvorschlag" (suggestion for improvement);"das Verhütungsmittel" (contraceptive); "das Verkehrsamt" (tourist office).
Compound Words (Komposita) (10)Compound Words (Komposita) (11)Compound Words (Komposita) (12)
mobile phone accessoriesCompound Words (Komposita) (13) Which of our four seasons do you most look forward to?

While these compounds are normally written as a single word, hyphenated forms occasionally appear in new coinages:

"Berlin-Kenner" (someone who knows Berlin); "der Balkon-Raucher" (a man who goes out onto the balcony to smoke); "der Cyber-Diebstahl"(cyber-theft), "die E-Mail" (e-mail),"der Jeans-Bügler" (a man who irons his jeans).
Compound Words (Komposita) (14)Compound Words (Komposita) (15)
All the best with a cold • With throat-, head-, and joint-pains • With sniffles• Alleviates throat-tickle• With an extra portion of vitamin C
Two capsules 3 times a day at the first sign of a cold
Compound Words (Komposita) (16)Compound Words (Komposita) (17)
Part- and whole-body massages
Neck-, shoulder-, and back-massages

Hyphens are also used when a series of compounds share a "primary word". Thus in the advertisem*nt on the right, for cold medicine, "Halsschmerzen," "Kopfschmerzen," and"Gliederschmerzen" are compressed to "Hals-, Kopf- und Gliederschmerzen".
On the left, the primary word is first "massages," then "body-massages," with thedeterminers "part" and "full";in the next line, the primary word is again"massages," while the determiners are "neck," "shoulder," and "back"

Sometimes, perhaps due to the influence of English, some constellations are even written as separate words:

"die Monster Laufzeit" (monstrous contract period)
Compound Words (Komposita) (18)Compound Words (Komposita) (19)
Mobile internet without a monstrous contract period.

The previous examples of compound nouns are derived from other nouns. But the "determinative element" can also be a verb, which is represented by the stem:

Compound Words (Komposita) (20)Compound Words (Komposita) (21)
Feed-in of water for fire-fighting.
"die Baugenehmigung" (building permit); "das Esszimmer" (dining room); "der Fahrgast" (passenger);"das Lehrbuch" (textbook); "das Lesebuch" (storybook; reader); "das Löschwasser" (quench water [water for fire-fighting]); "der Mietvertrag" (rental agreement);"die Mitfahrgelegenheit" (ride; lift);"der Rasierapparat" (electric shaver);"der Rollstuhl" (wheelchair); "der Schreibtisch" (desk); "der Spielplatz" (playground);"die Sprechblase" (speech balloon; speech bubble [in a comic strip]); "die Stehlampe" (floor lamp);"die Tragfähigkeit" (carrying capacity);"die Verschlimmbesserung" (an intended improvement that makes things worse).

The "determinative element" can also be an adjective or adverb. One could make the case that some of these "determiners"fall into the category of separable prefix,at least when the "primary word," though a noun, derives from a verb. The effect is the same either way.

"der Feinschmecker" (gourmet);"der Fernfahrer" (long-distance trucker);"das Großmaul" (loudmouth);"die Hochkultur" (high culture);"der/die Schnellfahrer/in" (speeder);"die Schwarzmalerei" (doom-saying);"der Schwarzmarkt" (black market);"die Spätschicht" (late shift);"die Sprechstunde" (office hour);"der Wichtigtuer" (pompous ass);"die Zusammensetzung" (compound).
Compound Words (Komposita) (22)Compound Words (Komposita) (23)
unauthorized parked vehicles will be towed at the owner's expense

The "primary word" can also be a verb. The "determiner" then becomes a separable prefix:

"achtgeben" (to be careful; to pay attention);"gutmachen" (to make amends for);"preisgeben" (to relinquish; to disclose);"stattfinden" (to take place);"teilnehmen" (to participate);"wahrnehmen" (to discern; to experience; to avail oneself of).

The "primary word" can also be an adjective or adverb, so that the compound itself becomes that part of speech:

"arbeitsbereit" (ready to work); "arbeitsscheu" (afraid of hard work); "bärenstark" (strong as an ox [bear]);"baufällig" (dilapidated); "berufstätig" (employed [outside the home]);"butterweich" (soft as butter); "gertenschlank" (willowy, svelte, slender as a willow reed); "hustenreizlindernd" (throat-tickle-alleviating); "kostenpflichtig" (liable for the costs); "lebensgefährlich" (life-threatening; mortally dangerous); "linkshändig" (left-handed); "nervtötend" (tedious, pesky); "reisefertig" (ready to leave [on a trip]); "spindeldürr" (skinny as a rail);"steinalt" (old as the hills); "todsicher" (dead certain); "vollautomatisch" (fully automatic); "vollbesetzt" (completely occupied); "vollreif" (fully ripe)"umweltfreundlich" (eco-friendly); "wildfremd" (totally unknown).

Intensifiers / Augmentative prefixes

Especially in colloquial speech, German-speakers enjoy a special category of compound nouns or modifiers in which the "determinative element" functions as an augmentative, or intensifying, prefix.

In some cases, the determinative element's meaning is obvious. When derived, for example, from "der Riese" [giant], it keeps the notion of "gigantic": "der Riesenfehler" [huge mistake], "der Riesenhunger" [gigantic hunger], "die Riesenfreude" [huge pleasure], "die Riesensauerei" [gigantic mess], "der Riesenspaß" [a lot of fun].Similarly, "die Spitze" (as well as "top-") raises something to the highest category: "die Spitzenleistung" [top performance; outstanding achievement], "der Spitzenlohn" [top wage]."Super" and "ultra" are also used frequently, much as in English: "superbequem" [supercomfortable]; das Superwetter [super weather]; "ultraschnell" [ultrafast].

Another group modifies colors: "dunkelblau" (dark blue); "hellgelb" (light yellow); "pechschwarz" (pitch-black); "rabenschwarz" (crow-black); "schneeweiß" (snow-white); "veilchenblau" (violet).

But in many cases, the determiners are not so semantically obvious. For example, a comment on the cold weather can be intensified with a variety of prefixes to become, among a great many other possibilities: "arschkalt"; "saukalt", "scheißkalt", "schweinekalt", or "teufelskalt". In none of these examples does the determinative element (e.g. "der Arsch" [ass], "die Sau" [sow], "die Scheiße" [sh*t], "das Schwein" [pig], or "der Teufel" [devil]) carry a literal meaning. At the most, they signal a traditionally negative attitudeassociated with these things.

Compound Words (Komposita) (24)Compound Words (Komposita) (25)

Here are just a few other examples of augmentative constructions:

Prefix SourceModifier/NounMeaning
aber-abertausendthousands and thousands
affen-affengeilawesome; really cool
die Affenhitzeawful heat
die Affenkälteawful cold
die Affenliebeinfatuation
der Affenzahnbreakneck speed
der Bärder Bärenhungerextreme hunger
bärenstarkstrong as a bear
die BombeBombenerfolghuge success
bombensicherdead certain
der Dreckder Dreckskerldirty swine; worthless person
erz-der Erzfeindarchenemy
erzfrechextremely cheeky
die Erzlügetotal lie
erzmisstrauischextremely mistrustful
extra-die Extrawurstspecial treatment
grotten-1grottenfalschtotally wrong
grottenhässlichextremely ugly
die Höllehöllenstarkhellishly strong
der Hundhundselendreally wretched
hundsmiserabelsick as a dog
knall-knallharttough as nails; hard-hitting
knallrotbright red
mega-megacoolreally cool
der Megahammerwonderful thing
der Mordmordsheißmurderously hot
der Mordshungerravenous hunger
der Mordsspaßhuge amount of fun
mutterseelen-mutterseelenalleinall alone
ober-oberpeinlichextremely embarrassing
oberschlautoo clever by half
pieksauberimmaculately groomed
quietsch-quietschfidelespecially jolly
quietschvergnügthappy as can be
die Sausaukaltbitter cold
saumäßigbeastly; lousy
sauteuerswinishly expensive
die Scheiße([Das ist mir] scheißegal I don't give a sh*t
Scheißdingsh*tty thing
scheißfaulgoddamn lazy
das Schweindie Schweinearbeit&nbspback-breaking work
das Schweinegeldheaps of money; a bundle
stink-stinkbesoffenstinking drunk
stinkbürgerlich disgustingly bourgeois
stinklangweilingtotally boring
stinksauerhopping mad; pissed off
stock-stockbesoffentotally drunk; sloshed
stockdummdumb as dirt
stocksauerhopping mad; pissed off
der Todtodmüdedead tired
todsicherdead certain
ur-uraltold as the hills
urgesundextremely healthy

Some "determiners" appear so frequently that they have become a standard prefix. A word like "das Haupt," for example, an older term for head (and largely replaced in modern usage by "der Kopf"),appears in a great many well-established compounds, as well as in more spontaneous coinages. It means "central," "chief," "main," "primary," or "principal". Just a few examples:

"die Hauptachse" (main axle); "die Hauptabteilung" (central department); "der/die Hauptaktionär/in" (majority shareholder);"der Hauptakzent" (main emphasis); "der Hauptbahnhof" (main railway station); "die Hauptbeschäftigung" (main occupation);"die Haupteigenschaft" (primary characteristic; major feature); "der Haupteingang" (main entrance); "das Hauptfach" ([academic] major);"die Hauptfigur" (main character); "der Hauptgrund" (chief reason); "die Hauptperson" (central figure);"das Hauptproblem" (main problem); "die Hauptrolle" (primary role); "die Hauptsache" (most important thing);"die Hauptschuld" (primary share of the blame); "der Hauptsitz" (headquarters); "die Hauptstadt" (capital city);"die Hauptstraße" (main street); "die Haupttätigkeit" (main activity); "der Hauptunterschied" (principal difference);"der Hauptvertreter" (principal representative); "der Hauptwohnsitz" (primary residence); "das Hauptwort" (noun);"das Hauptziel" (primary goal).
Compound Words (Komposita) (26)Compound Words (Komposita) (27)
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, the principal representative of German Idealism,lived from 1828-1831 in the house next-door (Am Kupfergraben 4a), which was destroyed in World War II.

In some compounds the "determiners" and "primary words" are equal:

"altklug" (precocious); "nasskalt" (wet and cold); "schwarzrotgold" (black-red-gold [the colors of the German flag]);"süßsauer" sweet-and-sour.

Still another form duplicates sounds, with the stem vowel changing between a high-front position and a lower-back one:

"der Mischmasch" (mishmash, hodgepodge);"schickimicki" (trendy, fancy-schmancy);"der Schnickschnack" (bric-a-brac, knick-knack);"der Wirrwarr" (hurly-burly, imbroglio);"wischiwaschi" (wishy-washy);"larifari" (airy-fairy).

Most of the previous examples consist of one determiner affixed to one primary word, but more elaborate noun chainsare possible:

Compound Words (Komposita) (28)Compound Words (Komposita) (29)
Wheelchair Entrance
Compound Words (Komposita) (30)Compound Words (Komposita) (31)
Semester Ticket Office of AStA (Allgemeiner Studentenausschuss [Students' Association]) of theFree University of Berlin.
Entrance to the left past the driveway.
"die Bankdienstleistungen" (banking services);"das Eintopfgericht" (stew; boiled dinner);"der/die Fußballspieler/in" (soccer player);"die Feuerwehrzufahrt" (fire department access);"die Geschirrspülmaschine" (dishwasher);"das Jugendschutzgesetz" (law for the protection of youth);"die Lebensversicherungsgesellschaft" (life-insurance company);"der Minderwertigkeitskomplex" (inferiority complex);"der Rathaussaal" (city council chamber);"der/die Rollstuhlfahrer/in" (wheelchair-user);"der Schreibtischcomputer" (desktop computer);"das Semesterticketbüro" (Semester Ticket Office [A semester ticket is a public transportation pass available to students during the term]);"der Windschutzscheibenwischer" (windshield wiper).

Compound Words (Komposita) (32)Compound Words (Komposita) (33)
Fire Department Access

Mark Twain is not the only person to find whimsical possibilities in complex compounds.There is a long tradition of constructing nouns like"die Hottentottenpotentatentantenattentäterin" (the Hottentot potentate's aunt's [female] assassin) orother humorous combinations:

Compound Words (Komposita) (34)Compound Words (Komposita) (35)Compound Words (Komposita) (36)
The all-round-feel-good cough-dropCompound Words (Komposita) (37) We wash washmachine water [ad by the Berlin Waterworks].

A more recent phenomenon is the "Weichei"-definition. A "Weichei" is a wimp or wussie, the opposite of a "real man."Some of the many definitions, which combine noun-compounds with the masculine suffix "-er":

der Ampelgelb-Bremser = a man who brakes for a yellow light
der Abschiedsheuler = a man who weeps when saying good-bye
der Apfelschäler = a man who peels an apple (before eating it)
der Balkonraucher = a man who goes out on the balcony to smoke
der Beipackzettel-Leser = a man who reads warning labels on drug prescriptions
der Cabrio-geschlossen-Fahrer = a man who drives a convertible with the top up
der Chef-Witz-Lacher = a man who laughs at the boss's jokes
der Eincremer = a man who uses skin lotion
der Festnetztelefonierer = a man who telephones using a land-line
der Frauenversteher = a man who understands women
der Geheimzahl-Aufschreiber = a man who writes down a PIN
der Handschuhträger = a glove-wearer
der Kassenzettel-Nachprüfer = a man who checks the cash-register receipt
der Klamotten-am-Vorabend-Ausleger = a man who lays out his clothes the night before
der Landungsklatscher = a man who applauds when the plane lands
der Mittelspurfahrer = a man who drives in the middle lane
der Quotenopfer = a (self-proclaimed) victim of quotas
der Rechts-Links-Wangen-Bussi-Geber = a right-left-cheek peck-giver
der Schattenparker = a man who parks in the shade
der Sitzpinkler = a man who sits to pee
der Sockenfalter = a man who folds his socks
der Tastaturabdecker = a man who covers the keyborad
der Unterhosenbügler = a man who irons his underpants
der Vorwärtseinparker = a man who drive forwards into a parallel parking space
der Warmduscher = a man who takes warm showers
der Weinschorle-Trinker = a man who drinks wine-spritzers

More important are the complex meanings that can be compressed within compounds, constructions that are very hard to translate.Here is an example of one such possibility:

Compound Words (Komposita) (38)Compound Words (Komposita) (39)
Trittbrett (running-board)
In Hans-Ulrich Treichel's novel Tristanakkord (Suhrkamp, 2000), the protagonist is, in a small way, about to assist a famous musician in composing a work. In contemplating the fame that he will achieve, he refers to it as "eine Trittbrettunsterblichkeit" (p. 212). This coinage is made up of six separate elements:"der Tritt" (step) and "das Brett" (board) combine to fashion "das Trittbrett" (running-board, the foot-board that runs along the side of certain trucks and antique automobiles). German usage has given this word a metaphorical connotation: "hanging on" or "freeloading," especially in the term of "Trittbrettfahrer" (literally: running board rider).To "Trittbrett" the author adds "Unsterblichkeit" (immortality). That term is derived from "sterben" (to die);by adding the suffix "-lich" to the stem "sterb-", we get the adjective "sterblich" (mortal). To that comes the suffix "-keit", forming the noun "Sterblichkeit" (mortality). The prefix "un-", just as in English, produces the opposite meaning (immortality). Finally, the author combines "Trittbrett" and "Unsterblichkeit" to create a spontaneous coinage that will appear in no dictionary but is comprehensible to all: "Trittbrettunsterblichkeit" is an immortality that is achieved by riding in someone's wake (or on someone's coattails). The English translation necessarily lacks both the compactness - and the humor - of the German original.
Compound Words (Komposita) (40)Compound Words (Komposita) (41)
Floor-sander rentals

Portmanteau Words (Kofferwörter or Schachtelwörter)

German also uses portmanteau words, which blend two words and combine their meanings. Often these constructions are borrowed wholesale from English, e.g. "brunch", "motel", "smog", "brexit",but others are of German origin:
Denglisch = Deutsch + Englisch
jein = ja + nein
Informatik= Information + Mathematik
Teuro= teuer + Euro
Verschlimmbesserung= Verschlimmerung + Verbesserung

Return to the list of contents for "Word Formations"

1The etymology of "grotten" is uncertain, but some linguists trace it to "Krote", a dialect form of "Kröte" [toad].
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Compound Words (Komposita) (2024)


What is the compound word over answer? ›

Expert-Verified Answer

Compound word for over are- Overboard, overwhelming, overstep, carry over, over-the-counter .

What is an example of a compound word in German? ›

For instance, the word for 'house door' is die Haustür in German. This compound noun combines two nouns: das Haus (house) and die Tür (door).

Why are German words so long? ›

You may have already come across some long German words in your experience as a German learner – and they can be very long! Why does this happen? It's mostly because German allows us to join different words together to form a new one, called a compound word.

What is the definition of compound noun? ›

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a compound noun is defined as 'a noun that is made up of two or more different words, for example, “cake shop”, “French fries”, “high-flyer”, or “schoolteacher”.'

What are the 20 examples of compound words? ›

50 Closed Compound Word Examples
Word PartsWord
After + noonAfternoonAngelfish
Arm + chairArmchairArmpit
Basket + ballBasketballBathtub
Bed + roomBedroomBirthplace
20 more rows
7 days ago

What are 10 compound words? ›

List of Commonly-Used Compound Words in English
Compound Words
Dilly dallyPostmanNotebook
SuperheroHot dogGrandfather
21 more rows

What is a compound word in English? ›

What are compound words? Compound words occur when two or more words combine to form one individual word or a phrase that acts as one individual word. Common examples of compound words include ice cream, firefighter, and up-to-date.

What is a compound in American English? ›

compound | American Dictionary

A compound is a chemical substance that combines two or more elements. A compound is a word consisting of two or more words: "Black eye" and "teaspoon" are compounds.

What is a compound example for English? ›

Compound words. A compound word is two or more words linked together to produce a word with a new meaning: tooth + brush = toothbrush eco + friendly = eco-friendly animal + lover = animal lover.

What is the hardest German word to say? ›

If you're ready, let's dive into some of the hardest German words to pronounce.
  1. Eichhörnchen (Squirrel) ...
  2. Streichholzschachtel (Box of matches) ...
  3. Freundschaftsbeziehungen (Friendship relations) ...
  4. Rührei (Scrambled eggs) ...
  5. Arbeitslosigkeitsversicherung (Unemployment insurance) ...
  6. Röntgen (X-ray) ...
  7. Quietscheentchen (Rubber duck)

What is the 79 letter German word with meaning? ›

The German word with 79 letters is often cited as "Donaudampfschifffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft." This tongue-twister translates to "Association for Subordinate Officials of the Head Office Management of the Danube Steamboat Electrical Services."

What is the largest German word? ›

The longest word in the standard German dictionary is Kraftfahrzeug-Haftpflichtversicherung – which is the word for motor vehicle liability insurance.

Why is ice cream not a compound word? ›

In the phrase cold water, cold is an adjective that describes the noun water. However, ice cream is a compound noun because ice is not an adjective describing cream. The two words work together to create a single noun. To check the spelling of a compound noun, look it up in the dictionary.

Is hotdog a compound word? ›

Even though the words 'hot' and 'dog' have their own meanings, when we say these words together they take on a new and different meaning: a food served at most barbeques. That's because 'hot dog' is a compound word. Compound words are two or more words combined to form a new word with its own, unique meaning.

Is peanut a compound word? ›

The word 'peanut' is a compound word. It is a combination of the words 'pea' and 'nut. ' When these words are used separately, they have different meanings than when they are combined into the compound word, peanut.

What is a compound word answer? ›

Compound words are individual words (or phrases that act as individual words) made from two or more words working together. They can be most parts of speech, including nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and even prepositions like inside, outside, within, and without.

What is a compound word with the word over? ›


What is a compound answer? ›

(KOM-pownd) In science, a substance made from two or more different elements that have been chemically joined. Examples of compounds include water (H2O), which is made from the elements hydrogen and oxygen, and table salt (NaCl), which is made from the elements sodium and chloride.

What is compound in one word answer? ›

A compound is a substance made up of two or more elements chemically combined in a fixed ratio by weight.

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