In English a noun can be used as an adjective to describe another noun in the sentence. Take flat screen TV as an example; what's its German translation?

Ein flachbildschirm Fernseher
Ein flachbildschirmes Fernseher

Does the noun acting as adjective need a suffix, or is it noun-noun order just like in English? Examples: bean soap, a five-year-old child, etc.

  • Two minor things: The TV is called "Fernseher" and ends in R, the act of watching is called "Fernsehen". If you consider "flachbildschirm(es)" as an adjective (disregarding the fact that your assumption was wrong), you need to write it lowercase. I just fixed these issues.
    – Em1
    Dec 3, 2014 at 8:13
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    As nobody mentioned it up to now: German is actually quite famous for doing that.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Dec 3, 2014 at 8:37
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    English is just the same as German in this regard, except that,by convention, you write it as two words. The underlying mechanics are the same though
    – Emanuel
    Dec 3, 2014 at 8:57
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    Die Fugenelemente des Deutschen hat das Englische nicht, @Emanuel.
    – Carsten S
    Dec 3, 2014 at 9:30
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    Interessant wäre noch, ob Deutschsprachige zusammengesetzte Substantive mehr als eigene Wörter empfinden als Englischsprachige das tun, und falls ja, inwiefern das durch die andere Schreibung bedingt ist.
    – Carsten S
    Dec 3, 2014 at 10:24

3 Answers 3


No. However, you can use a "Nominalkompositum" (nominal composition) to achieve the same effect.



The first part of this compound word is called the Determinans ("Flachbild"), it determines some kind of attribute about the following part, the Determinatum (Fernseher).

Notice that "Flachbild" is a compound word in itself, but this time the word has been formed using an adjective and a noun ("flach" and "Bild") rather than two nouns.

Fun fact: if you come across one of those impossibly long German words, it's likely to be a nominal composite:

  1. Sozialversicherungsfachangestelltenauszubildender
  2. Rechtsschutzversicherungsgesellschaften

Which, in English, could be rendered by the equivalent noun phrases:

  1. Trainee social insurance broker
  2. Legal expenses insurance companies

It is worth distinguishing between noun phrases and nominal composition because English uses nominal composition too; even though noun-noun compound words, like "fingerprint", are quite rare.

  • 4
    Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz: de.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Also in english: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Dec 3, 2014 at 8:30
  • In the Determinans, is the adjective part simply not declined at all? For example, how would you say "green apple juice" in German? Grünapfelsaft? Or does it have to be declined because it describes Apfel?
    – Arc676
    Dec 22, 2016 at 7:20
  • It doesn't. Like an Adjektiv that is used as a Prädikat, it's Endungslos. It has no special ending. Dec 22, 2016 at 13:59
  • Yours is a good example because it also contains an Adjektivkompositum (grün+Apfel; even though that's not really in use). Komposita can be made with all types of words (no restriction) and they can result in nouns, adjectives and verbs. For instance, außenvor ("excepting") is word made with an adverb and a preposition. Dec 22, 2016 at 14:04

I'm going to go ahead and throw some controversal opinion into the ring by saying:

English and German are pretty much the same. Only that in English you write it as two words.

One word or two words - that is pure convention. Both languages are "head right", so the descriptor usually comes before the described. One instance of that are adjectives, another the compound nouns/noun chains. Ultimately I would argue that English has compounds too. It just doesn't want to admit it.

secretary of defense - not a compound
Verteidigungsminister - compound
defense secretary - compound in denial

If you want to see a language that REALLY doesn't have compounds, then look at French (or other Romance languages). They are "head left" and they use a preposition for everything.

  • Le portemanteau...
    – Kristina
    Jan 25, 2017 at 17:20
  • Un vire-lingue
    – Jan
    Mar 15, 2017 at 1:17
  • El lavavajillas ... Mar 15, 2017 at 6:06

The premise of your question is skewed. The first noun of such an English noun phrase does not describe the following noun. Rather, the two nouns together form a compound noun whose meaning may or may not be derivable from its components. I have written a lengthy answer in German on the topic.

For reasons that are probably historical, English often prefers to write compounds as two words (i.e. with a space between the components) but sometimes it does choose to write compounds with a hyphen or as one word. French most typically chooses to use prepositions to connect two components into a compound. Finnish and German typically write compounds as one words without separator (although Finnish does separate by hyphens if two identical vowels would otherwise meet — this is based in the phonetic spelling it uses). And finally there are languages that do not have a notion of ‘interword space’ in writing and thus just add symbols onto each other because they always do (e.g. Chinese).

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