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German Nouns Can Be So Long- Here Is Why This Is Actually A Good Thing

Updated: Dec 28, 2023

A very common claim about the German language- not just by Mark Twain- is that its nouns are often too long. In this post, I explain why this is actually a good thing.



Long nouns in German are almost always so-called compound nouns, i.e. made up of several individual nouns. Students learn to appreciate this fairly quickly when they realise that as soon as they can break down nouns into their individual compounds they can usually deduce the meaning of the overall meaning.


das Telefon + die Nummer = die Telefonnummer (telephone number)

das Zimmer + der Schlüssel = der Zimmerschlüssel (room key)

die U-Bahn + die Haltestelle = die U-Bahn-Station (hyphenated because of the abbreviation "U" which stands for "Untergrund")

der Regen + die Jacke = die Regenjacke (rain jacket)


One thing to note is that it is always the last noun within the overall noun that determines the gender.


There are much longer compound words, of course. I explain some long but brilliant German compound nouns in another post, though. Another aspect that makes some compound nouns less straight forward than the above examples despite their length is that compound nouns are not always made up of nouns but also verbs and adjectives.


die Bushaltestelle (literally “position” where the bus “stops“) = the bus stop

der Schreibtisch (combing “schreiben” with the German word "table") = the desk

der Arbeitgeber (literally work giver) = the employer


umweltfreundlich (joining the environment with the word for friendly) = eco-friendly

einsatzbereit (the combination of use and ready) = ready to use

berufstätig (combining the word for profession with active) = employed


Another aspect that confuses students is that there can be letters between the individual compounds to join them up.


[e] "die Mausefalle" (mousetrap); "das Wartezimmer" (waiting room).


[n/en] "die Gedankenfreiheit" (freedom of thought); "der Kettenraucher" (chain-smoker)


[ens] "das Friedensabkommen" (peace agreement); "das Schmerzensgeld" (compensation for pain and suffering).


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


[s/es] der Freundeskreis" (circle of friends); die Jahreszeit" (season)

So always try to guess the meaning of the word by looking at its individual compounds. This will also help you with regard to their pronunciation.



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