Composition (grammar)

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In grammar, the composition or word compound is the formation of a new word by combining at least two existing words or word stems . A compound word is compound ( Pl. : Composites ), composition or double word called.

A compound which is a noun (meaning noun does) as a basic word is, compound noun or nominal composition mentioned. This is the most common type in German; however, the method of composition as such is not restricted to a particular part of speech.

Composition is (in many languages ​​and especially in German ) the most important type of word formation alongside derivation . Alongside borrowing - which is not, however, considered a word formation - it is the most important means of expanding the existing vocabulary if necessary . The formation of the composition follows the principle of universality , which leads to information compression ; in the sense of economy of language A is Syntagma in a single word expressed.


In some representations it is required for a composition that the interconnected elements can appear independently, i.e. should be words. The right member is then also referred to as the basic word of the compound, the first member as its determining word . That words are used would be the case in examples such as:

Letter + carrierpostman , departure + timedeparture time , drive + guestpassenger , foot + ballsoccer , soccer + stadiumsoccer stadium.

Usually, however, the term composition includes all compounds whose parts have the same status as the word stem of a content word (i.e. in the simple case they are lexical morphemes ), even if they cannot be used independently. Formations that use so-called confixes , such as in the library or video library, also count as compounds . Here the element -thek is a confix, i. H. does not occur freely, but forms a root word for adding inflected endings, as in video stores .

Composition can then generally be defined as the connection between two stems of words, each stem may or may not be composed of its own. The second stem , i.e. the right-hand member of the composition, behaves as the head of the compound, i.e. H. specifies the grammatical characteristics of the whole ( e.g. gender ) and the meaning class.

  • Pottery opening = {pottery} + {s} + {opening} (composition with joint element {s}). Right member: (the) opening is the head and makes the whole word a feminine.
  • Pottery business = {pottery} + {business} (again composition)

Word formation morphemes such as the -ei in pottery are visible here as a component inside the first link , but as such are not involved in the process of composition. The derivation of pottery from pot is a word formation process that leads to the formation of a complex word stem pottery :

  • Pottery = {potter} + {-ei} (derivation with word formation morphem {-ei})
  • Potter = {pot} + {-er} (derivation with word formation morphem {-er})

However, only the complex root word pottery formed in this way as a whole is used by the composition rule in the formation of pottery + business .

Differentiation from other types of word formation

The composition is to be distinguished from the derivation (derivation) and from the conversion - as far as one does not regard this as a special case of the derivation. The conversion works without the addition of sound material, while the derivation consists in adding, prefixing or inserting an affix . The compound word, however, is formed by combining (free) word stems.

The distinction between composition and derivation, however, is to be called ideal-typical: “The transition from composition to derivation ... is both synchronic and diachronic .” This is due to the fact that previously independent words that appear in compounds can fade and are later understood as derivative affixes become. For example, in the Fleischer & Barz handbook, the element - being - as in finance, higher education, health care - is classified as a suffix, so the mentioned formations are not a composition, even if the noun essence is still recognizable in the meaning of "characteristic property".

"Head" and "core" in the composition

The grammatical head of a construction transfers its grammatical properties to the whole word and is usually placed on the far right of the compound in German (and other Germanic languages) (it is therefore said that the compound is right-headed) . The grammatical head can be distinguished from the core : While the head determines the grammatical properties of the compound expression, the core is responsible for the semantic properties. As a rule, head = core, i.e. the semantic core is contained in the compound ( endocentric construction ), but there is also the option head Kopf core, i.e. the semantic core is outside the compound (=  exocentric ).

In the case of determinative compounds (see the next section for an explanation), the head is also referred to as the determinatum .

Composition types

In linguistics , different types and types of compound words are distinguished. The division into determinative compounds , possessive compounds and copulative compounds is widespread . In addition, be Rektionskomposita (deverbal composites) as synthetic compounds and cases cited. Compounds can also be systematized according to the type of constituent . A semantic typing is possible.

Conventional typing

Traditionally, compounds are typified according to semantic criteria as determinative compounds, possessive compounds and copulative compounds. In the case of the determinative compound, one word component determines (determines, specifies) the other, while in the copulative compound the terms are semantically equal. One speaks consciously of typification and not of classification. Typing into determinative compounds and copulative compounds is not (always) regarded as a final, unambiguous division.

a compound that cannot be assigned is “forget-me-not”.

The possessive compound is mostly a special case of the determinative compound. In addition, a prepositional section compound is also used .

Determinative compounds (hypotactic compounds)

The determinative compound (in the broader sense) is a compound in which there is a superordinate and subordinate relationship (a "hypotactic (subordinate) relationship", a determining relationship) between the connected words (constituents). This means a word composition in which one part of the word (basic word, determinatum ) is specified in more detail by another part of the word (defining word, determinant ).

In many cases, a determinative compound (in the narrower sense) is only spoken of if there is also an endocentric relationship of meaning between the words / morphemes (constituents) . Since the possessive compound is also understood as a hypotactic, but not endocentric compound, a distinction is made here between a determinative compound in the broader and narrower sense.

Endocentric hypotactic compounds (determinative compounds (in the narrower sense))

The determinative compound (in the narrower sense) (also: "endocentric compound" or for Sanskrit " Tatpurusha ") (head = core) is a determinative compound (in the broader sense) in which there is an "endocentric relationship of meaning" between the two constituents. This is the case when the meaning of the compound is contained in the basic word and is given a restrictive specification by the determinant.

Skyscraper, cooking oil.

In the case of determinative compounds in Germanic languages, the first part (determinant, defining word) defines the second part (determinatum, basic word, base word). Semitic languages and Romance languages proceed in reverse : There the basic word comes first.

German filter coffee - but French café filtre
Hebrew - cheder 'room' + ochel 'food' = chadar ochel 'dining room'.

The determinant semantically restricts the determinatum, determines it. The syntactic properties such as part of speech and inflection class ( case , gender , number ) are still determined by the base word.

grass green, green grass.

Even as a transition to the Simplizia one regards words like bachelor or those with a unique morpheme in the first term, like raspberry, chimney, for which the formal analysis according to determinatum and determinant no longer makes sense.

Eccentric hypotactic compounds

Compounds in which there is a superordinate or subordinate relationship between their constituents , but the meaning relationship is eccentric, are called here exocentric determinative compounds. The relationship of importance is eccentric if the meaning of the composition is not explicitly mentioned in the composition. Eccentric hypotactic compounds are conventionally called possessive compounds, and occasionally also prepositional rejection compounds.

Possessive compounds

In the possessive compound (also: possessive (possessive) composition, Bahuvrihi , exocentric compound) (scheme: head ≠ core), as with the determinative compound, there is a relationship of determination. However, going beyond the second link (exocentrically) "another entity is denoted than the second link."

Determinative compound: "facial milk"; Possessive compound: "milk face".

One can as formations also pars pro toto interpreted (the second member): Großmaul, potbellied, robin etc.

All of these formations can be paraphrased with a have syntagm ("someone who has a big mouth"). With a time lag, however, the sensation of the individual components can be lost and the paraphrasing becomes pointless: in the case of greenhorns or robins, dandelions, etc., the idiomatization is so advanced that it can be perceived as simplizia.

Segregate once more thereof are developments such as elephants, millipedes, left-handed etc. still a derivative -er have. They are so-called assemblies , a form of derivation .

Rectoral compounds

In headings, the second member has an argument structure that is fulfilled by the first member. For example, the head of a compound noun can be derived from a transitive verb .

drive <_AGENS, _THEMA> → driver <_THEMA> → taxi driver <_>

Many linguists only consider a compound as a rule compound if the first term is actually a realized argument of the verb : taxi driver = someone drives a taxi. If this is not the case, as for example in accident driver ≠ someone drives an accident, this is not analyzed as a rule compound, but as a non-rule compound (Olsen (1986)) or as a determinative compound (Selkirk (1982)). Often, however, this distinction is not made.

The prepositional rectification compound is an exocentric hypotactic compound which, unlike the possessive compound, has a preposition as the first term .

"Before + noon", "Under + cup", "Over + see"

Copulative compounds (paratactic compounds)

Copulative compounds (also: Dvandva , coordinative compounds) are compounds made up of two or more components of the same category, which are in a relationship of coordination (a "paratactic (secondary) relationship") and not of superiority or subordination. The special thing about copulative compounds is that the constituents are semantically equivalent and that one is not subordinate to the other. That is why one speaks here of headlessness or double-headedness.

Sweet and sour, wet and cold, yellow-red, culottes, but also with a hyphen: Castrop-Rauxel, Alsace-Lorraine, North Rhine-Westphalia and number adjectives like twenty-one, flag colors like black-red-gold, but which are conventionalized in the order.

If the order is not lexicalized, the terms can (theoretically) be exchanged without loss of meaning, as in the case of player-coach and coach-player .

In some cases, formations such as gray-blue can be interpreted determinatively or copulatively depending on the word accentuation and context .

Type formation after Jacob or Wilhelm Grimm

While the type formation in determinative, possessive and copulative compounds is qualified as synchronic, Grimm differentiated from a historical-genetic point of view real / actual compounds through juxtaposition , case compounds (improper / fake compounds) and darkened ("petrified") compounds.

Typing according to the parts of speech involved

The immediate constituents of a compound can belong to different parts of speech . “Almost all parts of speech can be combined with one another.” There are “basically no restrictions.” However, a compound can also belong to a part of speech that has none of its components. Compositions with prepositions as the second term are usually not prepositions themselves (“next door”).


1. \ 2. component noun verb adjective adverb preposition
noun Word + education rope + dance lightning + fast river + down mountain + up
verb Cook + pot turning + drilling knock + firmly Good + nothing Tear + out
adjective Blue + helmet clean + wash bright + yellow around + away around + around
adverb Again + election run away + always + green always + on outside + in front
preposition Opposite + sentence speak against + before + loud before + away next to + on

Further examples:

  • (Noun + noun; N + N compounds ): "Fugue + n + element"
  • (Adjective + noun (+ noun)): "Breit + maul + frosch"; " Thin + board + drill "
  • ( Pronoun + noun): "All + remedy," "I + awareness"
  • ( Participle + noun): "Covered + samer", "Living + weight"

Compounds can also be classified according to the part of speech of the head constituents:

Noun compounds (noun compounds, noun compounds)
"Renn + dagen"
Adjective compounds
"Sky + blue"
Verb compounds
"Put together +"

“There are animals, circles and doctors. There are veterinarians, district doctors and senior physicians. There is a zodiac and a medical circle. There is also an upper district veterinarian. But there is no such thing as an upper circle animal. "

- Roda Roda : silent contemplation .

special cases


Zusammenrückungen , so words like scamp, Hungry, Evil One, nipper, Forget- square foot, from now on , are controversial in research in their assignment. According to Bußmann, they are an exception in terms of composition, since the 2nd term does not determine the part of speech and the inflection class.

Auto compounds, iterative compounds

The reduplication , at multiple repetition also iteration , is a weak productive Wortbildungsart, wherein a composite is formed by a word duplication. The so-called auto - composites ( self- composites) represent a basic form . Günther has demonstrated in experiments that and how self-composites can be interpreted. Familiar examples are accomplices , children's children , compound interest , as genitive constructions helper of helpers can be interpreted etc.. Other examples serve, among other things, to emphasize / intensify, e.g. B. Film-Film, gray-gray shirts.

Occasionally the initial consonant is varied, but more often the stem vowel of the initial word.

Consonant variation / rhyme doubling: Sch icki m icki , l ari f ari;
is often variation vowel / Ablautdoppelung: M i schm a sch , W i RRW a rr , Schn i ckschn a ck .
An iteration with a vowel change is e.g. B. Pipapo .

The wealth of forms and functions of reduplication is by no means exhausted. B. shows an investigation into Chinese and German .

Not to be Reduplikation onomatopoeia as cuckoo , fanfare Wauwau counted because they are not made of words but are urgeschöpft onomatopoeic.

Affixoid word formations

This type of word formation stands functionally between composition and derivation. Affixoids are word-valued affixes, which means that they have not (yet) reached the level of deconcretization that real affixes (already) have. While in the copulative compound fat-free the second part freely represents an affixoid that does not depend on bold and freely carries a partial meaning of the lexeme , it behaves differently with fat-soluble : the affix lich (from ahd. Lich = body, shape) has (today) no more word value.

The differences between series-forming affixoids and non-series-forming compounds can be illustrated with the following examples:

Affixoid (row-forming) compounds are:

  • Prefixoids: star conductor, problem child, dream woman, huge joy, very tired;
  • Suffixoids: grouchy marriage, low noise, hard-drinking.

Non-row-forming compounds: awareness of the problem, stomachs

It can also happen that compound words are ambiguous , i. H. Compounds that have two meanings due to these two word formation options:

  • Dream work : 1. In psychology: work performed by the dream, namely the transformation and processing of unconscious libidinal desires; 2. (prefixoid) wonderful work.
  • Bomb car : 1. Car with a bomb hidden in it; 2. (prefixoid) a really great car.
  • Shit house: 1. coarse for: toilet, toilet; 2. (prefixoid) house that is perceived as annoying in a certain context, stupid house (because of this shit house I can't go on vacation, I still have to pay it off).

Joint and joint element (in German)

The seam between the stems of the words that form the terms of a compound is called the fugue or composition fugue . This can be characterized by a special joint element.

The "s" in "Composition-s-fugue"

As joint elements appear in German mainly - (e) s, -e, - (e) n and -er- in Love 's song, needed s case, Wart s room and certainly he reasonably. The joint elements in German are from flexion endings or elsewhere geschwundenen parts of the stem occurred but later in analogy made it. A distinction is made between paradigmatic joint elements, i.e. H. Sounds or combinations of sounds that correspond to the flexion paradigm of the first member, e.g. B. Genitive / plural morphology (brainstorm, wrong-way driver) and non-paradigmatic joints that do not belong to the flexion paradigm of the first member, e.g. B. love letter, observation satellite. There are no complete rules for their occurrence. However, some suffixes always require the addition of a fugue-s, such as -keit, -heit, -schaft, -ung, -ut, -ion, -tät, -tum.

Freedom s love; Landscape s horticulture; Opinion s education. Exception: e.g. B. Opinion (no -s-).

spelling, orthography

In German spelling today, compound words are mostly written together. An alternative is to separate the individual compound components from one another with a hyphen. A space in a compound is not allowed in any case. So the barely legible word can inline six-cylinder swirl chamber four-valve turbo diesel engine and six-cylinder in-swirl chamber four-valve turbo diesel engine will be written, but never with spaces.

English spelling

In English, compound nouns are usually written with spaces, but their determiners are combined with a hyphen if it would otherwise impair understanding. This applies particularly to combinations of numbers and nouns, but also to combinations of other parts of the word.

Traditionally, many two-part compound nouns have also been hyphenated, but these days they are increasingly either separated or written together, especially in American English. Traditionally, new terms such as homepage were first written home page for a long time , only much later home-page and only rarely and after a long establishment as a homepage .

The inline six-cylinder swirl chamber four-valve turbo diesel engine would theoretically be an inline six-cylinder swirl chamber four-valve turbodiesel engine . In English, however, compound words with more than four parts are frowned upon; even four-part ones are reformulated with of or other prepositions if possible , e.g. B. four-valve turbodiesel engine with (an) inline six-cylinder swirl chamber .

Quantitative aspects

Various quantitative considerations can be made about compounds. One of them looks at the question of how many lexemes compounds are made up of and how often the compounds of different lengths occur. Another is the question of what part of speech the compound words are made up of. To this end, Gnatchuk has carried out studies on compound words in English prose texts as well as in English scientific texts. Further investigations were the compounds in a German-language textbook on business informatics and those in books on computer science in Ukrainian. The means with which the transition point between compositional members is designed is an additional topic of Gnatciucs & Gnatchuks using the example of a book on business informatics. Yet another aspect is that shorter words are more involved in compounding than longer words. In all of these cases it could be shown that the observed relationships satisfy mathematical models.

See also


  • Wolfgang Fleischer, Irmhild Barz: Word formation in contemporary German. 4th, completely revised edition. de Gruyter, Berlin 2012, ISBN 978-3-11-025663-5 .
  • Hadumod Bußmann (Ed.) With the collaboration of Hartmut Lauffer: Lexikon der Sprachwissenschaft. 4th, revised and bibliographically supplemented edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2008, ISBN 978-3-520-45204-7 .
  • Elke Donalies: The formation of words in German: An overview. 2nd, revised edition. Narr-Verlag, Tübingen 2005, ISBN 978-3-8233-6131-2 .
  • Bernd Naumann : Introduction to the theory of word formation in German. 3rd, revised edition. Max Niemeyer Verlag, Tübingen 2000, ISBN 978-3-484-25004-8 .
  • Johannes Erben : Introduction to the German theory of word formation. 3rd, revised edition, Schmidt, Berlin 1993, ISBN 3-503-03038-7 .
  • Maria Pümpel-Mader, Elsbeth Gassner-Koch, Hans Wellmann with the collaboration of Lorelies Ortner: Adjective compounds and participle formations. (Compounds and composition-like structures 2). de Gruyter, Berlin 1992, ISBN 3-11-012445-9 .
  • Susan Olsen: Word formation in German. An introduction to the theory of word structure. Kröner, Stuttgart 1986, ISBN 3-520-66001-6 .
  • Susan Olsen: "Argument-Linking" and unproductive rows in German adjective compounds ; in the journal for linguistics. Volume 5, pp. 5-24, 1986b., ISSN (online) 1613-3706, ISSN (printed) 0721-9067.
  • Lorelies Ortner, Elgin Müller-Bollhagen u. a .: noun compounds. (Compounds and composition-like structures 1). de Gruyter, Berlin 1991, ISBN 3-11-012444-0 .
  • Elisabeth O. Selkirk: The syntax of words. 2nd edition, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass. 1982, ISBN 0-262-19210-1 / ISBN 0-262-69079-9 .
  • Ludwig Tobler : About the psychological meaning of word composition with reference to national characteristics of languages. In: Journal for Völkerpsychologie und Sprachwissenschaft. Volume 5, 1868, pp. 205-232.

Web links

Wiktionary: determinative compound  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Composition  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Copulative compound  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Composition  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. So z. B. Duden , spelling and grammar - made easy. 2007, p. 126.
  2. So also Duden, The Grammar. 7th edition. 2005, marginal no. 1002
  3. After Michael Schlaefer: lexicology and lexicography. 2nd Edition. E. Schmidt, Berlin 2009, p. 22.
  4. Hadumod Bußmann (Ed.): Lexicon of Linguistics. 3rd, updated and expanded edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-520-45203-0 (composition).
  5. Fleischer & Barz (2012), p. 231 (see list of references).
  6. ^ So Clément: Basic Linguistic Knowledge. 2nd edition, 2000, p. 39.
  7. ^ Reimann Kessel: Basic knowledge of contemporary German. 2005, ISBN 3-8252-2704-9 , p. 104.
  8. This distinction was not found in the literature examined.
  9. Langemann, Felgentreu (Ed.): Duden, Basiswissen Schule: German , 2nd edition, 2006, ISBN 3-411-71592-8 , p. 112.
  10. a b Hadumod Bußmann (Ed.): Lexicon of Linguistics. 3rd, updated and expanded edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-520-45203-0 (possessive compound).
  11. a b Kessel, Reimann: Basic knowledge of contemporary German. 2005, ISBN 3-8252-2704-9 , p. 104 f.
  12. ^ Kessel, Reimann: Basic knowledge of German contemporary language. 2005, ISBN 3-8252-2704-9 , p. 105.
  13. Hadumod Bußmann (Ed.): Lexicon of Linguistics. 3rd, updated and expanded edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-520-45203-0 (copulative compound).
  14. a b c Hadumod Bußmann (ed.): Lexicon of Linguistics. 3rd, updated and expanded edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-520-45203-0 (composite).
  15. Details from Hadumod Bußmann (Ed.): Lexikon der Sprachwissenschaft. 3rd, updated and expanded edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-520-45203-0 (composition).
  16. Langemann, Felgentreu (ed.): Duden, basic knowledge school: German. 2nd Edition. 2006, ISBN 3-411-71592-8 , p. 111.
  17. ^ So Reimann Kessel: Basic knowledge of German contemporary language. 2005, p. 102.
  18. Examples mainly based on Kessel, Reimann: Basic knowledge of contemporary German. 2005, p. 102.
  19. This is about reduplication as a method of word formation, not inflection.
  20. Andrzej Zdzisław Bzdęga: reduplicated word formation in German. Praca wydana z zasiłku polskiej akademii nauk, Poznań 1965.
  21. Hartmut Günther: N + N: Investigations into the productivity of a German word formation type. In: Leonard Lipka, Hartmut Günther (editor): Word formation. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1981, ISBN 3-534-08128-5 , page 258-280, self-composita: page 270ff.
  22. Hilke Elsen: Basic features of the morphology of German. de Gruyter, Berlin / Boston 2011, ISBN 978-3-11-023791-7 , page 67.
  23. Jingyang Zhu, Christine Culp, Karl-Heinz Best: Forms and functions of duplications in Chinese compared to German. In: Oriens Extremus 38, 1995, pages 183-208.
  24. Helmut Glück (Ed.): Metzler-Lexikon Sprach. 4th updated and revised edition. Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2010, ISBN 978-3-476-02335-3 , article Reduplikationsbildung
  25. ^ Damaris Nübling : Historical Linguistics of German. An introduction to the principles of language change. 2014; Pp. 73-74.
  26. ^ Herbert Ernst Wiegand (ed.): Lexicographica Series Maior 84: Dictionaries in Discussion III , 1998; In it: Wolfgang Müller: Dictionaries of the future or Terrae incognitae , pp. 212–222.
  27. a b Kürschner: Grammatical Compendium , 4th edition, 2003, ISBN 3-8252-1526-1 , p. 70.
  28. Altmann, Kemmerling, 2005.
  29. German as a foreign language .
  30. ^ Gabriel Altmann : Hypotheses about compounds. In: Rolf Hammerl (Ed.): Glottometrika 10 , 1989, pp. 100-107. Bochum: Brockmeyer. ISBN 3-88339-700-8 .
  31. ^ Karl-Heinz Best : Lengths of Compounds in German , in: Glottometrics 23, 2012, pp. 1-6 (PDF full text ).
  32. Hanna Gnatchuk: A quantitative investigation of English compounds in prose texts , in: Glottometrics 32, 2015, pp. 1–8 (PDF full text )
  33. Hanna Gnatchuk: A Quantitative Analysis of English Compounds in Scientific Texts , in: Glottometrics 33, 2016, pp. 1–7 (PDF full text ).
  34. Ekaterina Shmidt, Hanna Gnatchuk: German Compounds in the Texts of Technical Science , in: Glottometrics 35, 2016, pp. 1–5 (PDF full text )
  35. Denys Ishutin, Hanna Gnatchuk: Ukrainian compounds in the texts of computer science , in: Glottometrics 39, p. 88-92 (PDF full text )
  36. Anastasia Gnatciuc, Hanna Gnatchuk: Linking Elements of German Compounds in the Texts of Technical Science , in: Glottometrics 40, 2018, p. 46–50 (PDF full text )
  37. Christopher Michels: The relationship between word length and compounding activity in English , in: Glottometrics 32, 205, pp. 88–98 (PDF full text )