German nouns can be so long- here is why this is actually a good thing

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.

e.g. das Telefon and die Nummer becomes die Telefonnummer (telephone number)

das Zimmer and der Schlüssel become der Zimmerschlüssel (room key)

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

der Regen and die Jacke become 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.

e.g. die Bushaltestelle ((literally “position” (Stelle) where the bus “stops“ (halten))- the bus stop

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

der Arbeitgeber (literally work giver)- the employer

umweltfreundlich (die Umwelt and freundlich; eco-friendly)

einsatzbereit (der Einsatz and bereit; ready to use)

berufstätig (der Beruf, tatig; 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.

If you’re interested to learn more common words in German, just follow the link to our blog. There we also have posts on false friends in German and English, how to say busy in German, give you tips on how to avoid the most common mistakes in German and how to quickly improve your German, you learn about the conjugation of German verbs in the present tense, the passive voice in German, we give you an explanation of the future tense in German, reflexive verbs in German and how to use them, separable verbs and when they split,how to express preferences in German, the German perfekt tense, and many other topics. We also have posts suitable language learners more generally, such as a comparison between online dictionaries like Linguee,, dict.leo and Collins, and a review of the apps Duolingo, Memrise, Babbel, Busuu, and Quizlet. So check out our blog.

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