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11.13 Compound nouns in lists

To avoid clumsy repetition, German uses hyphens in a list of compound nouns to represent those elements that are common to all nouns in the list:

Drei- und Vierbettzimmer
(Implied: "Dreibettzimmer und Vierbettzimmer")
(Translation: "rooms with three and four beds")
PC- und Telefaxanschluss
(Implied: "PC-Anschluss und Telefaxanschluss")
(Translation: "PC connection and fax connection")
Schlaf-, Wohn- und Arbeitsbereich
(Implied: "Schlafbereich, Wohnbereich und Arbeitsbereich")
(Translation: "sleeping area, living area and working area")
Vegetarier- und Kindermenü
(Implied: "Vegetariermenü und Kindermenü")
(Translation: "vegetarian menu and children's menu")

Hyphens and compound nouns
Hyphens are also used to break up individual compound nouns that would otherwise be difficult to read. This is particularly true in compound nouns were one element is an abbreviation such as "der PC-Anschluss", "der/die HIV-Infizierte" (= HIV-infected person) or "die VIP-Lounge" (= VIP lounge).

InformationOne of the changes introduced recently in the German spelling reforms has made it possible to have three (!) of the same letters in a row in a German compound noun. This occurs when the first element of a compound noun ends with a double letter and the second element of the compound noun starts with the same letter. Before the spelling reforms, only two of the three letters would have been written. It is still an accepted variant however to split up such compound nouns with a hyphen, and this version is more common when you have three vowels in a row.

  3 Consonants   3 Vowels
die Balletttänzerin
("die Ballett-Tänzerin")
(ballet dancer)
   das Teeei 
("das Tee-Ei")
(tea infuser)
der Rollladen
("der Roll-Laden")
   der Kaffeeersatz 
("der Kaffee-Ersatz")
(coffee substitute)
die Brennnessel
("die Brenn-Nessel")
(stinging nettle)
   die Hawaiiinseln 
("die Hawaii-Inseln")
(Hawaii islands)
der Schlussstrich
("der Schluss-Strich")
(final stroke)
   die Armeeeinheit 
("die Armee-Einheit")
(army unit)

Click here to read a online guide to the German spelling reforms that I put together while tutoring at the University of Exeter. Or click here to find out more details about the specific "three-letters-in-a-row" reform outlined above.

Common first elements in compound nouns
In Chapter 10 we looked at main verbs that appear as the second element in a number of compound verbs.

On a similar theme, you may have noticed how certain parts of speech form the first element in many compound nouns and colour the element which follows in a particular way. For example:

  First element      Compound noun
   der Badeanzug
(swimming costume)
die Badehose
(swimming trunks)
der Bademantel
die Badewanne
(bath tub)
das Badezimmer
   das Einzelkind
(only child)
das Einzelzimmer
(single room)
   die Fernbedienung
(remote control)
das Ferngespräch
(long-distance call)
das Fernsehen
   der Hauptbahnhof
(central station)
die Hauptstadt
(capital city)
   das Sonderangebot
(special offer)
der Sonderpreis
(special price)
   das Zusatzbett
(additional bed)
die Zusatzzahl
(additional number)

Which other reguarly occurring first elements in compound nouns can you think of?

Weiter! Chapter 11.14: Addresses and postcodes

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