Can a native German speaker kindly explain this horrible inconsequence in his language?

An adjective generell but a noun die Generalprobe

Another example...

An adjective individuell but a noun die Individualkondition

Not to mention...

An adjective offiziell but a noun der Offizialverteidiger

and of course

An adjective speziell but a noun die Spezialabteilung

and even one more...

An adjective traditionell and an existing adjective traditional. The last one is an example of a total inconsequence.

Why are not those nouns written like that: die Generellprobe, die Individuellkondition, der Offiziellverteidiger and die Speziellabteilung?

  • I don't see why this is a horrible inconsequence. "Generalprobe" is not derived from "generell" but both "General..." and "generell" share–of course–their origin in Genus
    – Em1
    May 27 '14 at 12:33
  • 1
    Sorry but there is no separate word general and individual in German, so could you please explain more your point.
    – Jagger
    May 27 '14 at 12:36
  • The same is true for individuell and Individual-. They share a common root (Latin individualis) and have since diverged a bit. In this case, the noun is Individuum, which is directly derived from the Latin root.
    – Hulk
    May 27 '14 at 12:37
  • Just looked at canoo.net "Fiktive Einträge sind Wörter, die es geben könnte, die man aber in der wirklichen Sprache nicht gebraucht." Just great, even more fun learning.
    – Jagger
    May 27 '14 at 12:39
  • @Jagger They are words that have been introduced into German as scientific/scholarly Latin terms that have been later absorbed into the language. The Duden article I linked above indicates that the adjective used to be individual too, but got modified over time.
    – Hulk
    May 27 '14 at 12:40

Look at another example real vs. reell vs. real-. The difference in usage is totally inconsequent. But that's how the words developed in German after they'd been borrowed from Latin. The grammatical features in Latin and German differ, so such a borrowing cannot properly transfer grammatical features. generalis is a latin adjective used after the noun.

In German, an adjective can be used differently:

  • attributive
  • verbally
  • in compounds similar to prefixes

These different usages changed over time, possibly differently.


The apparent inconsequences when building adjectives from non-German loanwords can be easily understood with the examples you gave.

All adjectives ending with -ell are very likely loaned directly from French (individuel, officiel, traditionnel, réel) or were built to just sound French (generell, speziell) in the 18. Century when French was the hip language amongst Continental and German aristrocrats. Some of the adverbs already preexisted in their Latin or germanized Latin forms, and many of these still coexist happily next to each other.

Today we likely make our loanwords sound English rather than French (e.g. Handy, Public Viewing, Provider). It's just a matter of fashion (and taste), really.

  • 2
    And maybe some hundred years in the future, someone will wonder what relation a Germanised "Proweider" has to a "Weide" ... :-)
    – celtschk
    Jun 24 '14 at 20:39
  • Why use Public Viewing when there is a beautiful German word Rudelglotzen for it? ;-)
    – Jagger
    Jun 25 '14 at 6:58

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