Long Words in German and Why You Shouldn’t Fear Them

Kohlensäurehaltiges Orangenfruchtsaftgetränk. Yes, that’s what the average American would refer to as an orange soda. 

The German language is notorious for its massive words. However, I’m here to tell you that these words are not to be feared, and are often shorter than their English equivalents.

German words may appear long, but they are very often compound words which are essentially individual words with separate definitions combined into one word for the purposes of one definition.

Let’s take the example above and break it down.

  • Kohlensäure = carbonation
  • -haltiges = -containing
  • Orangen = orange (in this case, the flavor)
  • Frucht = fruit
  • Saft = juice
  • Getränk = drink

So, it’s essentially the carbonation-containing orange fruit juice drink. 

The key to reading and pronouncing the long compound words is recognizing what components (words) make up the whole (compound word). This can be difficult for beginners who lack the vocabulary to recognize where the words are divided (for example, one could think Saftgetränk is one word, instead of Saft and Getränk being two words). Yet, as one learns more vocabulary and becomes more familiar with the language, it becomes easier to detect the divisions. 

The word divisions are also necessary for pronunciation. In a long compound word, the individual components are pronounced accordingly, putting stresses on the individual words’ syllables instead of one confusing and long syllabic pronunciation mess.

Additionally, the components are often connected with connector letters to assist in smoother pronunciation, the most common being -s, -es, -e, -er, -en, and -n. For example, a cat door, eine Katzentür, is made up of Katze (cat) and Tür (door), using “n” to assist pronunciation.

Because of this aspect of the German language, very specific words can be “created” for very specific purposes. As an international “Wiener” (resident of Vienna), I once sent an email with the subject line: Aufenthaltstitelverlängerungsantrag, translatable as “the application for the renewal of the residency permit”.

While this word is not to be found in a dictionary, a knowledge of the components allows a clear understanding of the message, and thus I personalized our communication with the help of the word-building capacity of the language. 

What to Read Next

Or go back to our Learn German Language page for more learning resources.