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Both, "Ellbogen"", and "Ellenbogen" are German synonyms for elbow. All dictionaries I consulted, including English-German dictionaries, don't say that one or the other is correct but they sometimes offer only one of both.

Even in the corresponding Wikipedia "Ellbogen" article both expressions are used, sometimes within a single parapraph. Therefore I believe we can not say which of both versions is the "better" one.

Are there indeed no expressions, be it in the figurative, or the literal meaning of "Ellbogen" where we prefer one over the other? Are both variants entirely interchangeable? Was the letter 'n' introduced, or was it omitted?

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Interestingly Duden has exactly the same content for both except for word frequency which is "one bar" higher for Ellenbogen. –  musiKk Mar 2 '12 at 13:48
    
If you study your Duden links, you see that it is derived from Old High German "el(l)inbogo". So the "n" was omitted. –  John Smithers Mar 3 '12 at 1:20
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3 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

It definitely makes no difference wether you use "Ellbogen" or "Ellenbogen". Even if you build another word by connecting "Ellenbogen" with a second on, let's say "Gesellschaft", both versions are correct: "Ellbogengesellschaft" is the same as "Ellenbogengesellschaft".

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"Ellenbogen" is the older form. E.g. it appears in Walther von der Vogelweides poems around 1200:

Ich saz ûf eime steine
und dahte bein mit beine,
dar ûf satzte ich den ellenbogen;
ich hete in mîne hant gesmogen
mîn kinne und ein mîn wange.

http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reichston#Erster_Spruch

"Ellbogen" is a contraction, hence slightly less formal. There is no difference in meaning, and the same person might use both versions depending on the context, or just because of the "flow" of the sentence.

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It might have used to be less formal. I certainly wouldn'#t say it still is, though. Nevertheless, +1 from me. –  sbi Mar 4 '12 at 21:22
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Both forms come from the feminine "Elle" bone of the arm. Compound nouns where the first noun ends in "-e" often added "-n" to smooth over the transition into the second word (though I saw someone once using "Ellebogen" with the "-e" and without the middle "-n"). In hurried speech, however, words are often contracted, perhaps originally out of laziness.

In modern usage, both forms are used interchangeably in and out of the medical field. Of note, Leo.org gives medical examples for "Ellenbogen" and daily life examples for "Ellbogen", though there is not a grammatical requirement for this.

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"Ellebogen" (note the missing "n") doesn't even sound strange to me. I must have heard that before. –  sbi Mar 4 '12 at 21:23
    
In truth German has so many dialects and regionalisms, that I wonder sometimes if there really is a standard German, or if it even matters. ;-) –  Kevin Mar 4 '12 at 22:21
    
There definitely is a standard German. It's what you find in books and in the newspaper. The problem, however, is that nobody speaks this. –  sbi Mar 5 '12 at 8:48
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