Greeting adventurers, after researching a question that my Girlfriend asked me earlier, I just wanted to sit down a couple of minutes to share with you the fruits of my research about why German words are so long.
The reason for long words to exist is, because in German it is not allowed to have noun clusters. While in English you will just write a bunch of nouns to describe the final noun, Germans just leave out those unnecessary spaces and form one word out of it. If you have trouble understanding them, just thing of them of separated words.
But how do they actually form these words? Are there rules for forming compound words in German? Let’s dive a little bit deeper into this, as it offers not only a lot of fun but also interesting insights into how Germans thought about certain things when they came up with a word for them.
Compound Words, Just Separated Words
German compound words certainly can be very long, but in reality, there are only a handful of these monster words (hey thats a German compound word: Monsterwort) which you always read about. Of course there are much more of these medium sized words like Bundesinnenminister oder Bundestagsabgeordneter which can already be hard to understand, especially if you hear them in a conversation.
The reason why Germans use this words is, because it is not allowed in the German language to have these noun clusters. It basically means that you are not allowed to describe nouns with other nouns in the German language. Even though most of the times it is nouns, which make up the compound words, there is no rule which states that it has to be only nouns. Take the word Heißgetränk for example, which translates to hot drink.
One thing I love about the German language is, that you will always encounter these funny compound words like Handschuh (glove, but literally means hand shoe) where you can see exactly what people thought when they came up with words for new inventions.
Another interesting thing to consider is that the language able to be constantly changed by anyone. You can just come up with your own compound word and it often time happens in German families that there exist specific compound words that no one else except the family uses. This might seem like something that can be confusing when you visit Germany, but usually these do it yourself compound words are very logical and easy to understand.
How Compound Words Can Help You
When you encounter new words that you don’t know there is a chance that you will already know a part of the word, or even all the parts, and you just never heard this compound word before. This can make it easier for you to pick up new words while reading or doing listening comprehension exercises. If you don’t know the name of a certain word, try to come up with your own compound word and maybe you will get lucky and absolutely nail it.
DIY Compound Words
So after we learn how those words work, how can we use this to come up with compound words by ourselves. This is actually not as hard as you might think. One of the most used form of compound words, are words that are made up of two nouns where one noun kind of uses the other. Lets say in your kitchen, there is a cup which you always use to drink coca cola. One day, you want to drink a coca cola and you ask your girlfriend to give you your cup. Your girlfriend is confused and asks you, which cup you want. In German you could tell her to give you your Cocacolabecher (of course Becher translates to cup)
Another way that is commonly used is to put two words together, if one of those nouns is made for the other one, for example: Schuhschrank (Schrank translates to wardrobe and Schuh translates to shoe) This is frequently used for things that you created yourself and different Groups of Germans will have there own kind of Vocabulary, which includes these compound words.
Make Long Words Easier to Memorize
So after we learned all of this, how can we actually use this to boost our ability to memorize German words? It is pretty simple. Whenever you encounter a German compound word, grab the dictionary of your choice (or go online) and find out the meaning of the words that make up the compound word.
If you use flashcards, put the English translation of these words that make up the whole word onto those flashcards. Pay especially attention to these hilarious words like Tischdecke (table blanket) or Fahrrad (a driving wheel or bicycle) because these kind of funny things tend to stay in your head easier. Attach a picture to your flashcards as well since sometimes as in Fahrrad, the translation cannot be easily guessed just by finding the words that make up the compound word.
I have written a more in depth article about memorizing German words, which you can find here
The Longest German Word
Of course everyone is interested in the longest German words, and the answer to the question: Do Germans actually play scrabble? Let me tell you here once and for all, they do! The question of the biggest German word is not an easy one, as German language evolves and new compound words are added regularly. Recently the German language lost one of the longer words as a certain law has been revoked by the European union. The law had the crazy name of Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz which almost doesn’t fit one line in word.
The reason why its a problem to come up with the longest word is, because there basically is no limit to how long a word can get if you make it up on your own. Of course at some point there will be no real sense to it, but from a theoretical point of view it is no problem to come up with a word twice as long as the above mentioned law, while still having it make sense.
German compound words are a fun thing which make the language unique and interesting. They give you insights into how the language evolved over time, the thoughts of people from another period of time and on top of that they can help you on your journey to mastering language. Often times people complain about those long words being brutal to remember, but I can’t really understand this.
If you use these words in the right way, the will provide you with much joy, and they will make it easier for you to preserve while you try to learn the German language. Often times they will help you with understanding unknown words, or at least partly so there is nothing to worry about when it comes to memorizing them.