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Compound nouns


In German, compound nouns (also known as "zusammengesetzte Substantive" or "Komposita") are formed by combining two or more words to create a new noun with a specific meaning. This process allows German to create highly descriptive and precise words.

Here's how compound nouns typically work:

  1. Combination of Words: Compound nouns are created by combining two or more words together. These words can be nouns, adjectives, verbs, or other parts of speech.

  2. No Spaces: Unlike in English, where compound words may be written with spaces or hyphens (e.g., "ice cream" or "high-speed"), German compound nouns are written as one word without any spaces between the individual components.

  3. Word Order: The components of a compound noun typically follow a specific word order. The primary or most important word usually comes last, determining the gender, case, and plural form of the compound noun.

  4. Capitalization: In German, all nouns are capitalized. This rule also applies to compound nouns, which are written in camel case with the initial letter of each component capitalized (e.g., "Staubsauger" for "vacuum cleaner").

  5. Plural Formation: In most cases, the plural of a compound noun is formed by adding the appropriate plural ending to the last component of the word (e.g., "Staubsauger" becomes "Staubsauger" in plural).

  6. Meaning: The meaning of a compound noun is often derived from the meanings of its individual components. However, compound nouns can sometimes have idiomatic or specialized meanings that may not be immediately obvious from their parts.

Compound nouns are a distinctive feature of the German language, allowing for the creation of complex and precise vocabulary to express a wide range of conceptsThe German language contains numerous compound nouns. These consist of two or more words joined together to form a single word. The compound words can be not only nouns, but also adjectives, adverbs, verb stems, and prepositions.

However, the last element of the combination must be a noun. German also allows the invention of new compounds.


Important: The last word in the compound always determines the gender and the plural form of the compound noun.


The article of a compound noun is determined by the last component of the compound. Here's how it works with the compound noun "Butterbrot":

  1. "Butter" means "butter" - feminine article "die"

  2. "Brot" means "bread" - neuter article "das"


Since "Brot" is neuter, the compound noun "Butterbrot" takes the neuter article "das."

So, "das Butterbrot" is used to refer to a slice of bread with butter spread on it.

  • "Das" is the neuter article for singular nouns.

  • "Butter" is the first component (feminine).

  • "Brot" is the second component (neuter).


As per German grammar rules, the gender of the last component determines the gender of the compound noun. Therefore, "das Butterbrot" is the correct article for this compound noun.

German grammarjpg

The formation of new nouns happens relatively often in the German language. In a compound noun (plural: composita), different words are combined to form a new word. A compound noun consists of at least two words. A noun compound can also consist of many different words. Sometimes a compound noun is made up of four, five, six or more individual words (see examples). In a compound noun, the last noun determines the genus and the numerus. A compound noun can be composed of:

  • Nomen + Nomen

das Haus + die Tür = die Haustür

das Haus + die Tür + der Schlüssel = der Haustürschlüssel

  • Verb + Nomen

schlafen + das Zimmer = das Schlafzimmer

  • Adjektiv + Nomen

alt + das Papier = das Altpapier

  • Adverb + Nomen

rechts + die Kurve = die Rechtskurve


In about 30 per cent of the compounds, a so-called "Fugenzeichen" is inserted. A Fugenzeichen is a connecting sound between the two words, usually -e, -(e)s, -(e)n or -er. Unfortunately, there are no fixed rules for the insertion. The " Fugen-s " is relatively common.

It mostly serves the purpose of pronunciation.



Some selected examples:

Fugenzeichen -e (more rarely; often verb (-(e)n from the infinitive is dropped) + noun).
lesen + die Brille = die Lesebrille; baden + das Zimmer = das Badezimmer
die Schokolade + der Kuchen = der Schokoladenkuchen; der Hund + die Hütte = die Hundehütte; die Maus + die Falle = die Mausefalle

Fugenzeichen -(e)s ( more common ) Often found in compounds with words on -tum, -ling, -ion, -tät, -heit, -keit, -schaft, -sicht, and -ung.
die Geburt + der Tag + das Geschenk = das Geburtstagsgeschenk; die Gesundheit + der Minister = der Gesundheitsminister; die Schwangerschaft + der Test = der Schwangerschaftstest

Fugenzeichen  -(e)n (usually the corresponding plural form)
der Student + der Ausweis = der Studentenausweis; die Straße + die Bahn = die Straßenbahn; der Rabe + die Mutter = die Rabenmutter

Some examples of long compounds

  • die Armbrust

  • die Mehrzweckhalle

  • das Mehrzweckkirschentkerngerät

  • die Gemeindegrundsteuerveranlagung

  • die Nummernschildbedruckungsmaschine

  • der Mehrkornroggenvollkornbrotmehlzulieferer

  • der Schifffahrtskapitänsmützenmaterialhersteller

  • die Verkehrsinfrastrukturfinanzierungsgesellschaft

  • die Feuerwehrrettungshubschraubernotlandeplatzaufseherin

  • der Oberpostdirektionsbriefmarkenstempelautomatenmechaniker

  • das Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz

  • die Donaudampfschifffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft

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