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Today I stumbled upon the word Imbissstand and was pretty fascinated by it having three of the same letters in a row (in this case, s) and I was wondering if there were any other German words like that.

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Theoretically you could even have four identical letters in a row, though any examples I can come up with are rather contrived -- "Wollllama" (a llama made of (or producing) wool) and "Oberlaaaal" (an eel from Oberlaa). – Felix Pahl Feb 25 at 15:47
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@FelixPahl: Unfortunately, in German, Lama is spelled with only one L. – Heinzi Feb 25 at 19:29
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@FelixPahl: Or simply "Aaaal". – r0estir0bbe Feb 26 at 10:08
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When I was living in Zürich I came across the word Rollladen. – kasperd Feb 26 at 13:49
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I like "Teeei". – Landei Feb 27 at 15:57
up vote 33 down vote accepted

While there are no atomic words with three identical letters in a row, this pattern can sometimes be found in compounds. Compounds (the German word is Kompositum) are a combination of two or more words. One way to form them is by prepending a descriptive word in front of the main word (there are many other ways, they are all described here). Now, if such a compound creates a sequence of three times the same letter, the rule is to keep it that way. Note: this has been changed 1996 with the 'Rechtschreibreform'.

Some examples (from duden.de):

  • Brennnessel
  • Schifffahrt
  • grifffest
  • schnelllebig

There are, however, some exceptions (these are not considered compounds):

  • dennoch
  • Drittel
  • Mittag
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Since you mention the 1996 spelling reform: Note that even before, three identical letters in a row were possible, as only triple consonants between vowels were reduced to two, leaving words such as Seeelefant and Sauerstoffflasche untouched. – chirlu Feb 25 at 2:51
    
Note that you are allowed to drop one if the three letters so "Schiffahrt" is considered correct as well. – AlexR Feb 25 at 6:48
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@AlexR This is not true anymore. The Duden link in the answer above states that you may add a hyphen for readability ("Schiff-Fahrt"), but you must not drop any of the three letters even without the hyphen. – Tim Feb 25 at 9:49
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If there are any more obsolete comments that can be removed don't hesitate to flag them as well... it is not easy to read through such long comment threads to find out which comment was resolved, and which was not. Also, you can always self-delete your own comments. – Takkat Feb 26 at 10:44

Take an open source dictionary or a closed one, if you have access and it is in textform and a scripting language of your choice, like bash, and search yourself:

for c in {a..z}; do grep $c$c$c ~/lib/dicts/utf-german ; done

This leads to a lot of examples, starting with Armeeeinheit and ending in Wettturnen for my dictionary.

de_de.dict, however, gives Kleeernte and Skelettteil.

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+1 for the extra work – tofro Feb 25 at 8:22
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What extra work? Some regular expression engines even support back-references as in (.)\1\1 or (.)$1$1, so avoiding the external for loop. – Crissov Feb 25 at 8:27
    
Where might I get such a text file? – lejonet Feb 25 at 10:26
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@lejonet: Hier: heise.de/download/office/sprache/elektronische- woerterbuecher-50000505028/ oder von deutschen Linuxinstallationen. de_DE.dic wäre ein weiterer Dateiname um danach Ausschau zu halten. OpenOffice (LibreOffice) sollte auch eine dt. Rechtschreibprüfung haben, evtl. auch mit leicht lesbarem Wörterbuch. – user unknown Feb 25 at 12:01
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@lejonet This answer provides a better searchable version. – March Ho Feb 25 at 14:59

Rules

If I didn’t miss something, the official regulations specify triple letters only implicitly, because they contain no rule for collapsing them into two, except for the three “exceptions” Drittel, Mittag, dennoch in § 4 (8). Three equal letters are mentioned as a reason to use a hyphen in § 45:

§ 45 Man kann einen Bindestrich setzen zur Hervorhebung einzelner Bestandteile, zur Gliederung unübersichtlicher Zusammensetzungen, zur Vermeidung von Missverständnissen oder beim Zusammentreffen von drei gleichen Buchstaben.
Dies betrifft (…)
(4) Zusammentreffen von drei gleichen Buchstaben in Zusammensetzungen (…)

Duden is more explicit in Regel 169.

As has been mentioned, this has also been possible in most classic orthographies of German in certain cases. The usual restriction was that a consonant (but not h) immediately followed the sequence, which would basically be limited to r or l after f, p or t. This old rule had been understood worse than the new one, but the reform has been met with some criticism, too: mostly for aesthetic reasons, some people would rather have all such instances of three letters replaced by just two. This would rarely yield ambiguity as in Bettuch = [ bet(en) | Bett ] + Tuch.

Frequency

Still, the phenomenon is not encountered all that often, because for it to happen, a letter needs to appear twice at the end of the first part of the compound and once at the start of the second part, e.g. Geschirr + Reiniger = Geschirrreiniger. Since a final schwa e may disappear from a noun and any suffix from a verb stem, the left-hand base word does not need to end in a double letter, e.g. Pappe + Plakat = Pappplakat and dämmen + Material = Dämmmaterial.

Possible sequences

Anyhow, the only triple letters possible in German (without place names and foreign spellings) are fff, lll, mmm, nnn, ppp, rrr, sss, ttt and aaa, eee. One could also contrive examples for ooo or ooö, e.g. Zoo + Ordnung = Zooordnung, and for the “soft” letters bbb, ddd, ggg, e.g. Ebbe + Brandung = Ebbbrandung, Kladde + Deckel = Kladddeckel, Egge/eggen + Gerät = Egggerät, but ddd in particular feels unnatural. There would also be lots of instances of ckk, tzz, chh (standing in for *kkk, *zzz, *hhh), but few people seem interested in those, although maybe it’s one reason why we don’t have kk, zz, hh in regular German graphotactics.

The most common sequence, by far, is sss. It didn’t occur at all with the older orthography, because the first two letters would always have been written as eszett ß (and are still in Litfaßsäule). It’s somewhat frequent in street signs, e.g. Schlossstraße. Common left-hand components include Schuss, Schluss, Fluss, Guss, Pass, Genuss, Nuss, Prozess; messen, essen; nass.

All cases of lll are also new, because there couldn’t be a consonant following. Most compounds are ones with still, schnell, hell, voll; fallen, rollen; Kontrolle, Müll, Ball with derivates of stilllegen making the majority.

Most cases of fff, which is about as common as lll, are compounds of Schifffahrt or Stoff, especially in (applied) chemistry (Sauerstoff, Kohlenstoff, Stickstoff, Kunststoff, Schadstoff, Baustoff, Werkstoff) and fashion. Some of them existed before, especially with frei or Flasche as second part.

Both mmm and ttt account for a relevant number of further cases. The other possibilities, nnn, ppp, rrr and eee, are rare, although found in some “common” words like Brennnessel and Schneeeule.

The only letter that may appear doubled at the start of a native German word is a, e.g. in Aal and Aas, but it doesn’t occur doubled at the end of native words, so any four-letter repetition would be an artificial construed example, e.g. *Sanaaaal ‘eel from the capital of Yemen’. That’s also why aaä impossible, while äaa might be construed, e.g. *Säaas. I suggest to make use of the optional hyphen in the rare case of aaa, others recommend it for all cases of triple vowels, or at least in nouns.

Top Ten

The Derewo 320000 corpus includes 457 examples (0.14% or less than 1 in 700 words), by the way. The 10 most frequent ones are:

  1. Missstand #7398
  2. Schifffahrt #8858
  3. stilllegen #10506, Stilllegung #10819
  4. Anschlussstelle #11050
  5. Schlussstrich #12644
  6. Stillleben #14243
  7. Eisschnelllauf #19875
  8. Fitnessstudio #20613
  9. Essstörung #23298
  10. Schlussspurt #23406

Style

In handwriting, many people will intuitively form ligatures for the first two letters. In digital fonts, designers should use the technology available to them to select distinct glyphs at the compound inner boundary.

For ttt and fff it’s common, for instance, to have the horizontal line cross the first two letters without interruption or to make it only appear on the right-hand side of the stem in the final letter, e.g. ⟨fff⟩ or ⟨fffl⟩. In aaa, one could mix open and closed variants, i.e. ⟨ɑaa⟩ or ⟨aɑɑ⟩.

Since ß is now treated like a letter and not a ligature, it’s more difficult to suggest something for sss. If the long style was still in use, it could simply be ⟨ssſ⟩. If nothing else, the inter-character kerning should be adjusted.

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+1 for Sanaaaal – March Ho Feb 25 at 14:58
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@MarchHo Der findet sich neben Nausikaaaaaalsuppe, Raaaar, Unfalllloyd, Zoooologe auch in der FAQ zur Usenetgruppe de.etc.sprache.deutsch. Vielleicht etwas korrekter wird die Stadt ⟨Sanaʼa⟩ transliteriert, aber es schreibt ja auch niemand ⟨Hawaiʻi⟩. – Crissov Feb 25 at 20:19
    
⟨ssſ⟩ müsste ⟨sſs⟩ sein, oder? Kein wort kann mit dem langen S anfangen, glaubte ich. – Max Feb 26 at 9:07
    
Important that you mentioned the ß -> ss change which creates many new "sss" compunds. – Peter A. Schneider Feb 26 at 9:21
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@Max: Ganz im Gegenteil, am Anfang von Wörtern wurde ausschließlich das lange s genutzt (sofern sie kleingeschrieben wurden). Selbst innerhalb von Morphemen war das runde s ziemlich selten. – Wrzlprmft Feb 26 at 9:33

The German dictionary linked to by this answer can be searched with a simple regex (for example using Notepad++).

The dictionary file returned 3637 hits for the regex search (.)\1{2,}. Unfortunately, there were no hits in the dictionary for 4 or more repeats.

An interesting hit that hasn't been mentioned is Flussschifffahrt (double triplets in a single word), which was found with the regex (\D)\1{2,}.*(\D)\2{2,}

The full list is linked to on this pastebin. It is excerpted below:

Line 2: AAA
Line 4460: Abfalllager
Line 4461: Abfalllagern
Line 4462: Abfalllagers
Line 4463: Abfallloch
Line 4464: Abfalllöcher
Line 4465: Abfalllöchern
Line 4466: Abfallloches
Line 1736925: Zugschlussstellen
Line 1739001: Zündanlassschalter
Line 1739002: Zündanlassschaltern
Line 1739003: Zündanlassschalters
Line 1752302: Zwangsstilllegung
Line 1752303: Zwangsstilllegungen
Line 1756893: Zwerchfelllücke
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Interesting that there doesn't seem to be the simple "Stilllegung" or "Anlassschalter". The longer I look at such words the more I favour dividing them with a hyphen. They are an imposition (if I may trust my dictionary). – Peter A. Schneider Feb 26 at 9:24

Geschirrreiniger (crockery cleaner) and Nussschokolade (nut chocolate)

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These are just two random examples. We’re looking for more elaborate answers here. – Crissov Feb 25 at 11:07
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@Crissov Na und? Die Frage ist auch nur ein Zweizeiler, ob's da noch mehr Worte gibt. – Jens Feb 25 at 15:33
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Soll er etwa eine andere Antwort kopieren und seine zwei Beispiele hinzufügen? Und +1 weil ich Nussschokolade mag. – gnasher729 Feb 25 at 16:38
    
Totally fair, productive answer. – Peter A. Schneider Feb 26 at 9:25

Schrubbbürste… Some English-German online dictionaries have wildcard search options that you can use to find compound words with letter triplets. On dict.cc and dict.leo.org, type in, e.g., *eee*, *fff*, *sss*, *ttt*, or *lll*

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