Word formation: Compounds

Compounds: nouns that are combined

In German, you can combine two or more nouns to make a new word with a different meaning. You can find many such compound nouns that have become part of German vocabulary.

A compound noun consists of one base noun that always comes at the end of the combination and one or more further determiner words that help to explain the base noun in more detail. The article of the base noun is also the article of the compound noun.

Look at a few compounds that can be formed from the base word Schrank, together with different modifiers:

der Spiegel + der Schrank: 
der Spiegelschrank

(a cupboard with mirrored doors)

die Küche + der Schrank
der Küchenschrank*

(a cupboard in the kitchen)

das Schlafzimmer + der Schrank
der Schlafzimmerschrank

(a cupboard/wardrobe in the bedroom) 

die Bücher + der Schrank
der Bücherschrank

(a cupboard for books)

*When a word is made up of two or more nouns, a letter may be added between the determiner word and the base word. After -e (e.g., Küche) this is often an -n. In many cases an -s  is used, sometimes also -es, -ens or -er. Since you usually do not form compound nouns yourself but learn them like other words, you do not need to learn the rules for this.

The determiner word is often a noun, although it can also be a verb or an adjective, e.g.:

schlafen + das Zimmer
das Schlafzimmer

mini + die Bar
die Minibar

billig + der Wein
der Billigwein

Grammatical terms in German:

das Kompositum: A composite is a compound word. This word is often a noun, but it can also be, for example, a verb or adjective. The different components of a compound can also be different types of words. The base word defines which type of word this compound is.