german compound nouns

4 Quick Tips for Mastering German Compound Nouns

Schweinefleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz. 

Confused?

That 67 letter monster, if you can believe it, means the “legislative law for the monitoring of pork-meat labeling.”

Everyone has heard that German is a complicated language, but compound nouns like these take the biscuit. Or the bacon, if you prefer. For a foreign learner of German they can be a linguistic diamond; they’re more common than you think, so they can help with comprehension at any level and increase your ability to express yourself more creatively!

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What Are German Compound Nouns?

Compound nouns are made up of 2 or more smaller words stuck together to make a brand new one. It keeps things quite simple; where in English you’d use 2 or 3 separate words, the Germans compress everything together. For example: Waiting Room in English is 2 words, but in German they would call it a Wartebereich or Wartezimmer.

The Challenge Every German Learner Faces

You’ve already managed to overcome a few German hurdles by learning tricky shortcuts and making sense of word order. Just like the rest, this grammar rule is a bit complicated but it has helped the German language develop in a really cool, unique way. Even among non-speakers the world over, German is notorious for its lengthy words.

On the other hand, this rule can be tricky for new language learners. The first potential problem is that not all compound nouns can be found in the dictionary. Germans often make up their own compound nouns by sticking two words together to form a new one, kind of the same way in which we would do with colloquial English. We might call something a thingy, or call a remote control a “zapper” or a “clicker”. An equally silly example in German is ein Unterwegsbier. This is the name of a beer that you might take with you on the way to a bar or a night-club as a “beer on the go” or “walking beer.” In Germany it’s legal to drink in public, and although this word does not appear in the dictionary it’s a very useful one to know!

A Compound Noun Case Study: Rhabarberbarbara

My favorite example of how long and complicated German compound nouns can get is Rhabarberbarbara, or Rhubarb-Barbara.

“Rhubarb cake” in English is Rhubarbkuchen in German.

“Rhubarb-Barbara’s Bar” in English can be merged into Rhabarberbarbarabar in German.

Have a look at the video link . Don’t worry if you don’t understand all of the language if you’re just starting out; try and grasp the concept.

4 Quick Tips on German Compound Nouns

In light of this, here are some tips and tricks for helping you deal with this grammar rule. It’s hard to imagine ever learning every word in the dictionary, let alone all those used colloquially which don’t even appear in it, so don’t worry if you don’t get all of them. This is basically just to help you identify, understand and pick apart the complexities to make it more understandable!

It’s difficult to know where to start, but once you do, you’re rolling. Here are our top tips for detangling long, complicated-looking German words:

1. Don’t panic!

No matter how wildly long and confusing it looks, don’t give up. With persistence and know-how, any compound noun can be broken down and made comprehensible. The more your overall German vocabulary expands, the more compound nouns you will understand immediately.

2. Pretend it’s a word search

I know it feels like more work than your casual word search game, but it gets the job done. Scan the word. If you can find just one smaller word inside the big long word that you recognize, you’re a step closer to identifying the meaning. Let’s say you already knew that Rhabarber is the German word for rhubarb. You’d already be well on your way to understanding the entire word.

3. Look for the die Fuge-  connector.

This is something common to all languages, you just may not have realized it was there before. They help sentences flow better by acting as a barrier between sounds which are difficult to merge together. Try saying “an apple” versus “a apple.” “An apple” is way easier, right?

For the same reason, Germans put letters in between sounds that are too hard to put together. The only noteworthy difference in German is that the connector sound becomes part of the same word. Here are some examples of where a connector is used:

e:

Der Hund– Dog müde– Tired Hund-e-müde– Dog-tired (adj.)
Das Schwein- Pig Das Fleisch– Meat Das Schwein-e-fleisch– Pork

n or en:

Die Kette- Chain Der Raucher– Smoker Der Kette-n-raucher– Chain smoker
Die Tinte– Ink Der Klecks– Blot Der Tinte-n-klecks– Inkblot

ens:

Der Schmerz- Pain Das Geld– Money Das Schmerz-ens-geld- Compensation (for pain)

er:

Das Bild- Picture Der Rahmen– frame Der Bild-er-rahmen– picture frame
Der Geist– ghost Der Fahrer- driver Der Geist-er-fahrer- ghost driver (wrong-way driver)

s or es:

Das Jahr- Year Die Zeit– Time Die Jahr-es-zeit- season
Die Verbesserung– Improvement Der Vorschlag– Suggestion Der Verbesserung-s-vorschlag- suggestion for improvement

No Füge:

Die Hande– Hand Die Fläche- Surface Die Handfläche– Palm of a hand
Die Arbeit– Work Der Nehmer– Taker Der Arbeitnehmer– Employee

It is also important to mention here that the gender of the word which comes last (der, die, das) will be the gender of the new compound word, as shown above.  You might already know that a year in German is das Jahr – a neuter noun. But season/time of year takes feminine- die Jahreszeit because the stem of the word is Zeit and that is a feminine noun.

4. Try not to think in English

The moment at which you know you have mastered another language is the point at which you stop thinking “this is how you’d say it in English,” and you start merging the words together as if you were thinking in German. Any step towards this, however small, is a step in the right direction.

Good luck and happy word searching!

Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)


And One More Thing…

Wondering where to find new German words to learn, including your future favorite compound nouns?

FluentU’s collection of German videos are a great resource for all aspects of learning German. You can hover over any word for contextual definitions and multiple examples.

In the meantime, you can start enjoying the same content that native speakers actually watch, right now. We’ve got everything from Volkswagen commercials to funny YouTube videos, scenes from “Guardians of the Galaxy” to the hit song “Let it Go” from “Frozen.”

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Watching a fun video, but having trouble understanding it? FluentU brings native videos within reach with interactive transcripts.

Learn German with Videos on FluentU

You can tap on any word to look it up instantly. Every definition has examples that have been written to help you understand how the word is used. If you see an interesting word you don’t know, you can add it to a vocab list.

Learn German with Videos

And FluentU isn’t just for watching videos. It’s a complete platform for learning. It’s designed to effectively teach you all the vocabulary from any video. Swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you’re on.

Learn German with Videos on FluentU

The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that you’re learning, and it recommends you examples and videos based on the words you’ve already learned. This is a level of personalization that hasn’t been done before.

Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes store.

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