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The German language is very productive in compounding words. It is virtually possible to great a never-ending word. Of course, Germans do not carry word compounding to extremes, that is, compound words of everyday language do never consist of more than two or three separate words.
Anyway, this characteristic of the German language can be very useful for second language learners because it enables you to gain more communicative competence and you can understand words or “make up” words that you even would not find in any dictionary but still be grammatically correct. Therefore, it might be helpful to know the rules how you can compound words, that is, inserting a linking “s” or not.
In my previous post I told you where and when the linking “s” is used in German, and I already began to talk about compound words in which this “s” is not inserted. In this post I’d like to focus on compound words in which the German Fugen-s or linking „s“ is not used.
Before I go on, I want to let you know that the linking “s” is only inserted in some words to contribute to a smooth speech flow. In other words, the “s” is a connector for an easy pronunciation.
The linking “s” is not used in German with compound words in which the first word end with –er. Compare:
der Angler – angler -> das Anglerlatein – fish tale
der Bäcker – baker -> die Bäckermütze – baker’s cap
die Feier – celebration -> der Feierabend – quitting time; closing time
die Folter – torture -> der Folterknecht – torturer
der Jäger – hunter -> das Jägerschnitzel – escalope chasseur
der Keller – cellar -> die Kellertür – cellar door
der Metzger – butcher -> der Metzgerladen – butcher’s shop
Exceptions are: Hungersnot – famine; Henkersmahlzeit – last meal
2. First words of compound words that end with -el
The linking “s” is not used with compound words in which the first word ends with –el.
der Hagel –hail -> der Hagelschauer – hailstorm
der Hebel – lever -> das Hebelgesetz – lever rule
das Kabel – cable -> die Kabeltrommel – cable drum
der Kegel – skittle -> der Kegellklub – skittles club
die Mandel – almond -> die Mandelaugen – almond eyes
das Pendel – pendulum -> die Pendeluhr – pendulum clock
der Nebel – fog -> das Nebelhorn – foghorn
3. First words of compound words that end with -en
The linking “s” is not used with compound words in which the first word ends with –en and in which the first word is not a nominalized verb. – Check my previous post on linking “s”.
der Boden – soil, floor, ground -> der Bodensatz – sediment
der Garten – garden -> das Gartentor – garden gate
eben – even, smooth, exactly -> das Ebenbild – likeness
neben – next -> die Nebenstraße – side street
4. First words of compound words that end with sibilants
The linking “s” is not used with compound words in which the first word ends with a sibilant (-sch, -s, -ss, -ß, -st, -tz, -z).
der Preis – price -> die Preisliste – price list
der Gruß – greeting -> die Grußkarte – greeting card
die Last – burden, load -> der Lastwagen – truck
der Sitz – seat -> das Sitzkissen – seat cushion/pad
das Herz – heart -> die Herzkammer – heart chamber
Some first words of compound words can derive from verbs, for example, “waschen” (to wash) and “putzen” (to clean). In these cases, you simply remove the ending from the stem, which results in “wasch-“ and “putz-“.
der Waschsalon – laundrette
das Waschmittel – washing powder
das Putzmittel – polish, cleaning agent
das Putztuch – cleaning rag
Note: The German word “Putz” does also exist and means: plaster, rendering, grout.
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)