Here’s How Long German Words are Made

Here, we will:

  • explain why German words are so long and how they’re constructed
  • provide examples of long German words
  • give you the tools to develop your own words (if you dare)

10.6 letters – that’s the average number of letters a legal word in German has according to Duden. Non-legal terminology contains on average 6 letters per word. As a comparison, English words have on average about 4.7 letters.

No wonder some people say German is a complicated language! But it’s really not that complicated. In addition, you can find out how about these long words’s structure.

So, why are German words so long and how are they built?

Large words made of a string of smaller words allow German speakers to be more specific while keeping their language compact.

This is possible due to determinative compounds. Yes, I know…grammar – but the concept itself isn’t that difficult. In fact, determinative compounds also appear in the English language:

  • hairdresser – a dresser of hair
  • flowerpot – a pot for flowers
  • notebook – a book for notes
  • carwash – a wash for cars

Notice how the first word of the compound provides more information on (determines) the second word? This is exactly how you build long German words.

According to the Leibniz Institute for the German Language, these compounds consist generally of two to three words.

However, people (mostly those in law and administration) wanted to push the boundaries and produce longer words – They used the excuse that creating these compounds allow for precision and conciseness (a.k.a. efficiency).

But let’s be honest, some of these people are probably entering into secret competitions to see who could create the longest word. And before you know it, you have words like:

  • Grundstücksverkehrsgenehmigungszuständigkeitsübertragungsverordnung
    (regulation on the delegation of authority concerning land conveyance permissions)

Examples of Long Words in German

When discussing a topic such as this, consulting Duden, the reigning word reference source in Germany, is a must.

Here are the 3 longest German words in their database (try reading them aloud):

  • Rinderkennzeichnungsfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungs-gesetz (79 letters)
    (cattle marking and beef labeling supervision duties delegation law)
    This was actually the “shortened” name of the law created in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in 1999 regarding beef labeling.
  • Grundstücksverkehrsgenehmigungszuständigkeitsübertragungsverordnung (63 letters)
    (This is our example from above and it previously held the longest word spot!)
  • Straßenentwässerungsinvestitionskostenschuldendienstumlage (58 letters)
    (road drainage investment costs and debt service allocation)

Pretty boring stuff, amirite?

However, good news, not all compound words need to be about contracts and regulations. Check these out, for example:

  • Aufmerksamkeitsdefizithyperaktivitätsstörung (attention + deficiency + hyperactive + disruption = Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)
  • Orangenfruchtsaftgetränk (orange + fruit + juice + drink)
  • Nahrungsmittelunverträglichkeit (foodstuff + incompatibility = food allergy)
  • Telekommunikationsdienstleistungsunternehmen (telecommunication + service + company)
  • Katzenkopfpflaster (cat + head + band-aid)

DIY Long Words

See, German isn’t as serious and complicated as you think. Now that you understand how word compounds are created, you can even DIY them!

  • Gummibärchenverkaufsautomat (gummi bear + vending machine) – yes, they do exist…
  • Käsesalamipizzaabhängigkeit (cheese + pepperoni + pizza + dependence = cheese and pepperoni pizza addiction) – so useful because who doesn’t have a pizza addiction?
  • Schnellstraßegewschwindigkeitsbegrenzung (expressway + speed + limit) – in case you’re ever driving Germany.

Those are some that we came up with, but feel free to get creative and push the boundaries in your own language(s). Let us know if you find some good ones.

We wish you viel Spaß in your language innovations and adventures!

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