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The German language is known for combining words without limit. Here’s a list of casual compound words for German learners.
When it comes to new languages to learn, the German language is considered one of the most intimidating foreign languages. For many English speakers, it is one of the easiest, and also the most confusing languages to learn. The pronunciation and noun genders are scary enough that you can see beginners running away from this language. However, there’s no doubt that German compound words take the cake for being difficult.
Unlike English and other Germanic languages, the German language can sometimes go overboard to use compound words. Its cousins: English, Swedish, and Dutch, also use compound words. But these languages usually limits the number of words you can cram up to form a new one. While a compound word in English looks like this: “wallpaper,” the compound word in German looks like this: “Siebentausendzweihundertvierundfünfzig.”
But that doesn’t mean that there are no simple compound words in the German language. Beginners can still pick up some casual words to start their learning journey. Here’s a list of 25 common compound words for easy and laid-back practice.
Beginner phrases in German can consist of a few compound words, such as the first example. Orangensaft is a simple word that you might find useful in dining or buying in stores. In this example, the connector used is “n,” located right between the words orange and saft.
Take note: compound nouns don’t have any specific rules for connectors. The “n” connector is just one of the letters used to make compound words.
Words used: Orange + Saft
English Equivalent: Orange + Juice
Meaning: Orange Juice
Talking about time or seasonal things are often the easy choice for ice breakers. Interestingly for German learners, the word “season” is also a useful compound word. Combining the essence of “year’ and “time,” or “time of the year,” Jahreszeiti is the closest word you can have for the English “season.” This time, the connector used in the compound word “es”.
Words used: Jahr + Zeit
English Equivalent: Year + time
German compound words sound like tongue twisters. The Deutsch word for tongue twisters is Zungenbrecher, which means a tongue crusher or tongue breaker. It seems like these difficult words don’t just twist the tongue; they break it.
Just like Oragensaft, “n” is used as the glue for this compound word.
Words used: Zunge + Brecher
English Equivalent: Tongue + Crusher
Meaning: Tongue Twister, words that are difficult to enunciate
“Dragon feed” and “peace offering” doesn’t seem to have a similar meaning, right? Well, if you ask a German about the difference between these words, they will not find any. As peculiar as it sounds, Drachenfutter means a peace offering or a gift was given when you want to offer an apology. Words drach and futter are combined together by “en.”
Words used: Drach + Futter
English Equivalent: Dragon + Feeding
Meaning: Peace offering
Have you ever experienced getting a song stuck inside your head? Getting a “last song syndrome” or an earworm in English is hard to ignore. In most cases, you can’t even remember where and when did you get the earworm from. The Deutsch version of this phenomenon is ohrwurm, which translates to “earworm.” No compound word connector was used for this word.
Words used: Ohr + Wurm
English Equivalent: Ear + Worm
Meaning: LSS, earworm
Many consider “sadness” as the most intolerable feelings in the world. But when the internet flourished and took over, “cringe” stole the top of the cake successfully. The Deutsch for “cringe” is Fremdschämen, which literally translates to “secondhand shame.” It is often used to describe the feeling you get when you watch someone do something silly. Unfortunately, Fremdschämen hits the strongest when you’re watching yourself do something stupid from a recording or something similar.
Words used: Fremd + schämen
English Equivalent: Foreign + shame
Meaning: Cringe, shudder
This word comes from verschlimm (to worsen or to exacerbate) and bessern (improve). When combined, it describes the futile effort of someone who worsened the situation while improving it. For example, when you’re trying to fix a stain in a painting, you accidentally spill coffee on it. That’s what’s called verschlimmbessern.
Words used: verschlimm + bessern
English Equivalent: Aggravate + improve
Meaning: make things worst while attempting to make improvement
At first glance, this word seems to describe the feeling when you want to scratch your back, but you cannot reach it. After all, fern means far, and weh means sore or itchy. In reality, this compound word indicates that you’re itching to get away and travel to a place far from where you are right now. It’s the perfect word to say when you’re dying to travel and visit new places.
Words used: Fern + Weh
English Equivalent: far + itchy
Meaning: a desire for traveling
Zeitgeist is one of those German words that you occasionally see in English text. It is actually a compound word that features zeit or time and geist or spirit. Similar to its English meaning, zeitgeist means a thing that signifies the spirit of an era. For example, 2020’s zeitgeist is said to be “pandemic”, because it crams all the things that affected everyone to some extent.
Words used: Zeit + geist
English Equivalent: time + spirit
Meaning: “spirit of the age,” the trend of the period
Faultier is a casual expression and can be used to describe people who are lazy or isn’t active. Its root words are faul, which means “lazy,” followed by tier, the German term for “animal.” Combined together, faultier is the Deutsch term to describe a sloth or a sluggard. If pertaining to more than one person, you can add “e” or “es,” which gives the word faultiere or faultieres.
Words used: Faul + tier
English Equivalent: lazy + animal
Meaning: sloth, laziness, inactivity
If you want a German term that perfectly describes your hapless day, the word for that is Pechvogel. This word means “unlucky bird”, a person who is always attracting bad luck or a human jinx. But why “bird”? It is believed that the term started gaining popularity due to the use of avian creatures as unlucky characters (such as the bird that follows Wil E. Coyote in Road Runner).
So if you or someone you know is always plagued by misfortune, you can call that person a Pechvogel.
Words used: Pech + Vogel
English Equivalent: bad luck + bird
Meaning: an unlucky person
Germans are known for using words with multiple meanings to create a funny or silly joke. It seems like they also do this in naming items found in daily life. For example, the word for refrigerator is Kühlschrank, which translates to “cool cabinet.” In a sense, this word is a fitting term for a fridge, which tells how Germans combine words to make a new meaning.
Words used: Kühl + chrank
English Equivalent: Cool + cabinet
Glückspilz is the reverse word for Pechvogel, as it describes someone who is extremely lucky. The word’s literal meaning is “lucky mushroom” or “lucky devil”. Pilz or mushroom is a symbol of luck for Germans and is often an ornament added to Christmas trees. For plural use, just add an “e” at the end of the word, transforming it to Glückspilze or Glückspilzes (for genitive).
Words used: Glück + Pilz
English Equivalent: Luck + Mushroom
Meaning: Lucky guy
Remember the word Kühlschrank? Its logic applies here. The word regenschirm is formed by the German words for “rain” and “screen” or “shield.” And it’s true in some sense; an umbrella acts like a rain shield that prevents the user from getting soaked. Although it seems very complicated, German compound words are just like this in most cases.
Words used: Regen + schirm
English Equivalent: Rain + screen / shield
Kontaktverfolgung is a word that people started using more due to this year’s unfortunate events. It is the German equivalent of the term “contact tracing,” which is an essential process in fighting the pandemic’s spread.
Words used: kontakt + verfolgung
English Equivalent: contact + tracking
Meaning: Contact tracking, contact tracing
The hausschuh, or “house shoe,” pertains to an item known in English as “flip flops” or sandals. Don’t forget to add “e” for hausschuhe, which is the word’s plural form. If you’re looking for the general footwear term, the proper word is Fußbekleidung, which is also a compound word for “foot” and “clothing.”
Words used: haus + schuh
English Equivalent: house + shoe
Meaning: slippers, flip flops
If someone says, “Haben sie Freizeit?” the speaker is asking if you have free time. Freizeit is the combination of “free” and “time,” which means spare time or leisure. It is quite a handy term for making new German friends and acquaintances.
Words used: Frei + zeit
English Equivalent: Free + Time
Meaning: spare time, leisure
People cope with stress differently. Some would want to take a walk or run a mile or two just to get the stress out of their body. On the other hand, some people eat a lot when stressed. The weight gain that comes from stress eating is called Kummerspeck, which means “sorrow bacon.”
When you’re stressed at work, and your co-worker noticed it, you can answer by releasing a big sigh and say, “Kummerspeck.”
Words used: Kummer + bacon
English Equivalent: sorrow + bacon
Meaning: getting weight gain due to stress eating
An electric kettle is called a wasserkocher in German. And as you can guess, this compound word is the combination of “water” and “cooker” or “stove”. The “water cooker” analogy makes this word easier to remember.
Words used: wasser + kocher
English Equivalent: water + stove
Meaning: electric kettle
Televisions are quite out of the trend these days, now that YouTube and other streaming platforms are dominating the market. However, this should not stop you from learning the German word for television: fernseher. The composition of this word is quite odd, with an English equivalent of “far observer.” Which is a nod to the fact that the viewer is the far observer, and the machine used to make this possible is the television.
Words used: fern + seher
English Equivalent: far + observer
There is no official guide on how to combine common German words to make a compound practice in practice. There are certain connectors that signify the word you’re using is a combined one. Instead of using space or hyphen, these connectors are used to help a little with pronunciation.
Getting help from a native German speaker is another great way to learn more about compound words. If you’re having trouble recognizing different parts of a compound word, you can benefit from online tutoring. Book a session from Justlearn and meet your online German tutor today.
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