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Compound words: Das Fugen-s im Deutschen – The linking “s” in German, part 1 Posted by on Feb 22, 2012 in Grammar, Language

You have probably come across German compound words that are linked with an “s”, called linking “s” in English and Fugen-s in German, for example:

die Liebesgeschicht – love story

der Gerechtigkeitssinn – sense of justice

die Schönheitskur – beauty treatment

 

But other words do not contain this linking “s”, for example:

die Tee-kanne – tea pot

der (m)/die (pl) Kopf-hörer – headphone(s)

das Brillen-etui – glasses case

Note: I only placed dashes between the German building blocks to single them out.

 

So, why do some German words obtain such an “s” while others do not?

 

1. The linking “s” is used in German when…

… the first word of the compounding ends with one of the following syllables: -tum, -ling, -ion, -tät, -heit, -keit, -schaft, -sicht, and -ung. Compare:

das Altertum – antiquity -> die Altertumsforschung – archaeology

der Frühling – spring -> das Frühlingserwachen – spring awakening

die Kommunion – communion -> das Kommunionsfest – communion celebration

die Realität – reality -> der Realitätsverlust – loss of (the sense of) reality

die Einheit – unity -> die Einheitsregierung – unity government

die Heiterkeit – serenity -> der Heiterkeitsanfall – spell/fit of serenity

die Eigenschaft – quality -> das Eigenschaftswort – adjective

die Ansicht – view, opinion -> die Ansichtskarte – picture postcard

die Erinnerung – memory -> das Erinnerungsvermögen – powers of recall

Note: You may have recognized that the article of the nouns change when they appear in compound words. This is because the second word of the compounding always determines the grammatical gender of the word.

 

The linking “s” or, in German, Fugen-s is also used with compound words in which the first word ends with “-en”, which are usually nominalized infinitives of verbs. Compare:

essen – to eat -> die Essensreste (pl) – leftovers

leben – to live -> die Lebensfreude – joy of living

leiden – to suffer -> der Leidensweg – way of suffering/grief

schlafen – to sleep -> die Schlafenszeit – bedtime

sehen – to see -> die Sehenswürdigkeit – sight

sterben – to die -> kein Sterbenswörtchen – not a single word

wissen – to know -> Wissenslücke – knowledge gap

schaden – to damage -> der Schadensersatz – compensation

 

 

2. The linking “s” is not used when…

… the first part of the compound word is grammatically feminine and does not end with the syllables under point 1 (see above). Compare:

die Welt – world -> die Weltkugel – world ball; der Weltschmerz – world weariness

die Nacht – night -> der Nachtzug – night train; die Nachtblindheit – night blindness

die Frucht – fruit -> der Fruchtsaft – juice; das Fruchtmark – pulp

die Kammer – chamber -> der Kammerdiener – valet; die Kammermusik – chamber music

die Lage – situation, location -> der Lageplan – site plan; der Lagebericht – review of the situation

die Rede – speech -> die Redezeit –speaking time; der Redefluss – oral fluency

die Musik – music -> das Musikzimmer – music room; die Musikabteilung – music department

die Natur – nature -> der Naturschutz – nature protection; die Naturkatastrophe – natural disaster

 

To be continued…

 

Reference: Sick, Bastian (2004): Der Dativ ist dem Genitiv sein Tod – Ein Wegweiser durch den Irrgarten der deutschen Sprache, Kiepenheuer & Witsch. (Translation: The dative is the genitive his death – A guide through the labyrinth of the German language)

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About the Author:Sandra Rösner

Hello everybody! I studied English and American Studies, Communication Science, and Political Science at the University of Greifswald. Since I have been learning English as a second language myself for almost 20 years now I know how difficult it is to learn a language other than your native one. Thus, I am always willing to keep my explanations about German grammar comprehensible and short. Further, I am inclined to encourage you to speak German in every situation. Regards, Sandra


Comments:

  1. molly:

    I’ve been getting the German word of the day for a few weeks now, but only today realized I can read all these wonderful lessons by clicking on your blog! Very clear and easy to understand, though the fact that each noun in German has a specific gender will always be a stumbling block for me….Thank you for a great blog!

  2. cliff1976:

    Hmm. What is the rule that describes Liebesgeschichte then? It would seem that the rule under point two specifically addresses Liebesgeschichte: Liebe is grammatically feminine and does not end in any of the syllables from point one.

  3. Christian Koch:

    Heute im Physikunterricht: Krokodilklemme, aber Krokodilstränen – für das il am Ende gibt es keine Regel, oder?

    Oder sind es die Tränen des Krokodils und das s ist ein verkürzter Genitiv?

    • Sten:

      @Christian Koch Das klingt plausibel. Es sind die Tränen des Krokodils, also dass das s vom Genitiv kommt, macht Sinn. Ein interessanter Unterschied!