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The Curiosity of the German Word “Orange” Posted by on Nov 28, 2019 in Food, History, Language, listening, Practice, vocabulary

German has some quirky words, and that’s what we explore in this series. Today, we’ll have a look at the word Orange. Nothing curious, it seems, right? Wait until you hear how it is pronounced…

Click here for previous entries in the series on curious words in German

Orange or Orange?

Image modified by author, original by Noah Buscher at

Listen to the clips above, and notice how the word Orange sounds different when it refers to a Frucht (fruit) or when it refers to a Farbe (color)! The Frucht retains the -e ending, whereas the Farbe cuts it off.

Curious. Why is that?

Both words come from the French word orange,which, in turn perhaps comes from the word or (“gold”), referring to the gold-yellow colour of oranges. And yet, they developed a different pronunciation. The differing pronunciations for each word are each widespread in Germany and you can use whatever you feel most comfortable with.

But that ending -e: that makes a world of a difference. Das Orange refers to the color, with its own page in the DudenDie Orange, the Zitrusfrucht (citrus fruit) has its own page, too. And while the Zitrusfrucht only has the pronunciation with -e, the page for the Farbe allows both!

But why is there a difference? I could not find a conclusive answer. So I have some theories!

Theory 1: Time discrepancy

In German, the Farbe seems to have come after the Frucht and the term Orange were imported into the language. Before the color was called Orange, it was referred to as rotgelb (red-yellow) and the like. Only later, the fruit’s color became the normal way to refer to rotgelb.

This difference in time of introduction may be why there is a different pronunciation. But I think it may be much simpler, actually.

Theory 2: emulating the French

French pronunciation is a bit between orange with the -e and without it. It becomes clear from the nasal and non-nasal pronunciation of Orange that Germans make an effort to sound more like the “original” French. Though maybe it’s also just born out of convenience.

Theory 3: Linguistic convenience

Perhaps it simply comes from what’s easiest for Germans. Since the Frucht is used as a Substantiv (noun) with endings that change in German (e.g. in plural: die Orange, die Orangen (pl.)), the Farbe does not change in plural (die Orange, die Orange (pl.)), and is not used as much (how often do you say the plural of a color?). With die Orangen, you definitely pronounce the to bridge to the -n. This is not really needed for the Farbe. So perhaps because people are more used to pronounce the -e with the Frucht, it exists there, and not with the Farbe, where sounding more true to the original French is emphasised.

Also, I am used to use the color as an adjective with orangene with the -ne at the end. If you want to be very strict, you cannot change it, and it should be die orange Mauer. If that sounds weird, you should say die orangefarbene Mauer. Though umgangssprachlich (colloquially), orangene Mauer is totally fine and more widespread (at least in my experience).

Whatever theory holds, it is a curious little word!

Have you heard different variations or had other experiences than me with the word Orange and its pronunciation? Which theory is most plausible you think? Or do you have a better one? Do you have such curious words in your language? Let me know in the comments below!

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About the Author: Sten

Hi! I am Sten, and I am half Dutch and half German. I was on exchange in the United States, and I really enjoyed that year! So in that sense, I kind of have three nationalities... I love all of them!


  1. Allan Mahnke:

    Fascinating! Of course my family came from northern Germany, so we called the fruit Apfelsine.

    • Sten:

      @Allan Mahnke Yes!
      I thought about including the Apfelsine part, but that’s a different story again… I’ll post about it tomorrow! 🙂

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