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I think the harsh truth is that you have to learn each of them as a separate lexicon entry.

The roots of -los and -frei share the same mental image, so it's difficult to use that to distinguish them from each other:

  • -los comes from the same root as loose (*lausaz)
  • -frei comes from the same root as free (*frijaz)

In both cases, something is separated from something else, metaphorically speaking. Semantically, it makes the same sense to say that something is rostlos (~loose from rust/rust-less) than to say it is rostfrei (~free from rust/rust-free). My guess is that 90% of the reason why rostfrei is the one used (even though rostlos isn't wrong and would be well understood to mean the same thing!) is that it is much easier to distinguish from the similar sounding rastlos (restless). That and the marketing factor tofro mentioned. "Freedom" is always a good association with your product, isn't it.

In some cases, both variations might be used frequently for the same meaning. For example, sinnlos and sinnfrei are pretty much synonyms. In others, both have a distinct meaning and mixing them up would sound very weird to the native speaker. Or one of them won't be used at all. Why is there no endfrei, for example? I can't give you a reason. You have to memorize it like this.

I think the harsh truth is that you have to learn each of them as a separate lexicon entry.

The roots of -los and -frei share the same mental image, so it's difficult to use that to distinguish them from each other:

  • -los comes from the same root as loose (*lausaz)
  • -frei comes from the same root as free (*frijaz)

In both cases, something is separated from something else, metaphorically speaking. Semantically, it makes the same sense to say that something is rostlos (~loose from rust/rust-less) than to say it is rostfrei (~free from rust/rust-free). My guess is that 90% of the reason why rostfrei is the one used is that it is much easier to distinguish from the similar sounding rastlos (restless). That and the marketing factor tofro mentioned. "Freedom" is always a good association with your product, isn't it.

In some cases, both variations might be used frequently for the same meaning. For example, sinnlos and sinnfrei are pretty much synonyms. In others, both have a distinct meaning and mixing them up would sound very weird to the native speaker. Or one of them won't be used at all. Why is there no endfrei, for example? I can't give you a reason. You have to memorize it like this.

I think the harsh truth is that you have to learn each of them as a separate lexicon entry.

The roots of -los and -frei share the same mental image, so it's difficult to use that to distinguish them from each other:

  • -los comes from the same root as loose (*lausaz)
  • -frei comes from the same root as free (*frijaz)

In both cases, something is separated from something else, metaphorically speaking. Semantically, it makes the same sense to say that something is rostlos (~loose from rust/rust-less) than to say it is rostfrei (~free from rust/rust-free). My guess is that 90% of the reason why rostfrei is the one used (even though rostlos isn't wrong and would be well understood to mean the same thing!) is that it is much easier to distinguish from the similar sounding rastlos (restless). That and the marketing factor tofro mentioned. "Freedom" is always a good association with your product, isn't it.

In some cases, both variations might be used frequently for the same meaning. For example, sinnlos and sinnfrei are pretty much synonyms. In others, both have a distinct meaning and mixing them up would sound very weird to the native speaker. Or one of them won't be used at all. Why is there no endfrei, for example? I can't give you a reason. You have to memorize it like this.

2 added 102 characters in body
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I think the harsh truth is that you have to learn each of them as a separate lexicon entry.

The roots of -los and -frei share the same mental image, so it's difficult to use that to distinguish them from each other:

  • -los comes from the same root as loose (*lausaz)
  • -frei comes from the same root as free (*frijaz)

In both cases, something is separated from something else, metaphorically speaking. Semantically, it makes the same sense to say that something is rostlos (~loose from rust/rust-less) than to say it is rostfrei (~free from rust/rust-free). My guess is that 90% of the reason why rostfrei is the one used is that it is much easier to distinguish from the similar sounding rastlos (restless). That and the marketing factor tofro mentioned. "Freedom" is always a good association with your product, isn't it.

In some cases, both variations might be used frequently for the same meaning. For example, sinnlos and sinnfrei are pretty much synonyms. In others, both have a distinct meaning and mixing them up would sound very weird to the native speaker. Or one of them won't be used at all. Why is there no endfrei, for example? I can't give you a reason. You have to memorize themit like this.

I think the harsh truth is that you have to learn each of them as a separate lexicon entry.

The roots of -los and -frei share the same mental image, so it's difficult to use that to distinguish them from each other:

  • -los comes from the same root as loose (*lausaz)
  • -frei comes from the same root as free (*frijaz)

In both cases, something is separated from something else. Semantically, it makes the same sense to say that something is rostlos (~loose from rust) than to say it is rostfrei (~free from rust). My guess is that 90% of the reason why rostfrei is the one used is that it is much easier to distinguish from the similar sounding rastlos (restless). That and the marketing factor tofro mentioned. "Freedom" is always a good association with your product, isn't it.

In some cases, both variations might be used frequently for the same meaning. For example, sinnlos and sinnfrei are pretty much synonyms. In others, both have a distinct meaning and mixing them up would sound very weird to the native speaker. You have to memorize them like this.

I think the harsh truth is that you have to learn each of them as a separate lexicon entry.

The roots of -los and -frei share the same mental image, so it's difficult to use that to distinguish them from each other:

  • -los comes from the same root as loose (*lausaz)
  • -frei comes from the same root as free (*frijaz)

In both cases, something is separated from something else, metaphorically speaking. Semantically, it makes the same sense to say that something is rostlos (~loose from rust/rust-less) than to say it is rostfrei (~free from rust/rust-free). My guess is that 90% of the reason why rostfrei is the one used is that it is much easier to distinguish from the similar sounding rastlos (restless). That and the marketing factor tofro mentioned. "Freedom" is always a good association with your product, isn't it.

In some cases, both variations might be used frequently for the same meaning. For example, sinnlos and sinnfrei are pretty much synonyms. In others, both have a distinct meaning and mixing them up would sound very weird to the native speaker. Or one of them won't be used at all. Why is there no endfrei, for example? I can't give you a reason. You have to memorize it like this.

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source | link

I think the harsh truth is that you have to learn each of them as a separate lexicon entry.

The roots of -los and -frei share the same mental image, so it's difficult to use that to distinguish them from each other:

  • -los comes from the same root as loose (*lausaz)
  • -frei comes from the same root as free (*frijaz)

In both cases, something is separated from something else. Semantically, it makes the same sense to say that something is rostlos (~loose from rust) than to say it is rostfrei (~free from rust). My guess is that 90% of the reason why rostfrei is the one used is that it is much easier to distinguish from the similar sounding rastlos (restless). That and the marketing factor tofro mentioned. "Freedom" is always a good association with your product, isn't it.

In some cases, both variations might be used frequently for the same meaning. For example, sinnlos and sinnfrei are pretty much synonyms. In others, both have a distinct meaning and mixing them up would sound very weird to the native speaker. You have to memorize them like this.