26.3 Formation of compound words - Determining and Determined

Compound words are always composed of a determining part and a part that is determined. The part, which is determined, is always in the last position within the word and defines what the thing actually is and it also determines the article of the compound word.

Example I (das Telefonkabel)    
das Kabel = cable
das Telefon = telephone
das Telefonkabel = telephone cable


The Telefonkabel is a cable not a telephone. The determined part is Kabel and not Telefon. The Telefon specifies Kabel and gives us the information, what kind of cable it is.

Example II (das Haustelefon)    
das Telefon = telephone
das Haus = house
das Haustelefon = intercom

Once more: The Telefon is the determined; we know it is a telephone. The Haus specifies what kind of telephone it is.

Example III      
determining determined   translation
die Haus- tür entrance (door of a house)
die Eingangs- entrance door
die Metall- door made of metal
die Auto- door of a car

Example IV    
determining determined   translation
Strom- preis (der) price for electricity
leitung (die) electric wire
schlag (der) electric shock
versorgung (die) electric supply

If you find this trivial, fine for us. We just had the experience that learners of German language often mix the order of compound words, and that might result in funny things or total misunderstandings. Just a short example for this:

der Pelzfaul   does not mean anything
but der Faulpelz   lazybones

The Faulpelz is above all a Pelz (fur) and this Pelz is faul (lazy). Meaning, that this fur is lazy, in figurative meaning this person is lazy.

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