My German teacher (a native German) taught us that eine Flasche Wasser means that the bottle is either full or still had some liquid in it.

However, eine Wasserflasche means it’s an empty bottle of water.

This goes for any [Bier/Wasser/Wein]flasche combo.

I asked a few friends about this, and also posted it in Slack at work (all native Germans) and everyone claimed she was wrong.

Is this an example of typical language teacher jargon, that the general public doesn’t care about?

Or is there an actual difference in meaning here?

If it is a difference in meaning, can you please give a simple example that clarifies it?

Also if we could avoid Duden I’d appreciate it.

  • 2
    Why don't you like Duden?
    – Iris
    Commented Sep 9, 2016 at 17:17
  • It's informative, but too many people that are non-native speakers rely soley on it as their German Bible. I prefer simple, real world examples rather than a hyperlink to Duden is all.
    – Jimmerz28
    Commented Sep 10, 2016 at 17:16
  • Oh, simple hyperlinks to Duden would be removed on the long-run as a link-only non-answer anyway, if that was your main concern ;)
    – Jan
    Commented Sep 11, 2016 at 14:53

4 Answers 4


It's really pretty much the same in English, a bottle of water vs. a water bottle. While a Flasche Wasser certainly has some water in it, a Wasserflasche can be both full or empty.

It's even more obvious with, say, wine or beer:

Ich habe eine Flasche Wein zum Essen mitgebracht. Die leeren Weinflaschen geben wir nachher zum Altglas. Bring mir bitte eine Flasche Bier aus der Küche mit! Für leere Bierflaschen bekommt man Pfand.

  • The example is exactly the one my teacher used "Bring mir bitte eine Flasche Bier aus der Küche mit!" except she used "Gib mir deine Bierflasche" when your friend wants a drink. She said that was incorrect, but Germans don't pay attention to the failure (since Bierflasche is empty).
    – Jimmerz28
    Commented Sep 10, 2016 at 17:18
  • 3
    I don’t think the example is really helpful, since it attempts to contrast full and empty bottles with the two different constructions. How about ‘Meine Bierflasche ist noch voll, du brauchst mir kein zweites zu bringen’?
    – Jan
    Commented Sep 11, 2016 at 14:55

I (native German speaker) disagree with the assessment that your teacher is "full of waste products", but I do think she is being unnecessarily unsystematic.

eine Flasche Wasser is a quantity of a substance.

eine Wasserflasche is a container normally used for a particular substance.

Both can be used to indicate the container filled with the quantity (i.e. the sum of both meanings), and this normally becomes clear from context.

This rule applies quite generally, as in the narrow sense

  • "number container substance" is the quantity
  • "number substance-container" is the container

The first, eine Flasche Wasser, is a partitive apposition, that was recently covered in this question. Its meaning is a bottle filled with water.

The second, eine Wasserflasche, is a simple compound noun. To analyse compound nouns, look for the last noun – German is a head-last language with respect to compound nouns so the last noun will tell you what the entire compound is taking about. The last noun is Flasche, so we are dealing with a bottle. Wasser is merely a specifier about the type of bottle; in this case a bottle for water.

While eine Flasche Wasser clearly implies that the bottle is full (or at least more filled than unfilled) with water (and no other liquid), eine Wasserflasche gives us no information about the contents of the bottle — it only tells us it was made or designed to contain water. Compare the following examples.

Hast du eine Flasche Wasser für mich?

Ja, meine Wasserflasche ist voll. Wenn die Wasserflasche leer ist, habe ich noch eine Colaflasche voll Wasser.

 Ich hab dir eine halbvolle Wasserflasche übergelassen.


I’m a native speaker as well. I want to add the difference between every day language and more formal language. All points below are my experiences in Germany (in the north, middle and south).

Eine Flasche Wasser:

  • is normally full or filled with water (or beer or what ever)
  • is used when you order a bottle in an restaurant
  • if this bottle is empty, you normally add this info “eine leere Flasche Wasser” to make sure that this bottle was filled with water but now it isn’t

Eine Wasserflasche:

  • “gib mir mal ’ne Wasserflasche” is the not so formal request for a bottle filled with water
  • is a synonym for bottles filled with soft drinks (water, cola etc.). For example: glad bottle “Deutscher Brunnen Leihflasche”
  • can be both, full, half or empty.
  • 1
    So your point is a contrast of register with Flasche Wasser being a more formal register than Wasserflasche?
    – Jan
    Commented Sep 11, 2016 at 14:57
  • Yes, this is what I use and what I heard in the north, middle and south of Germany. But I would say every person can understand what you want because of the context. Some people use these expressions interchangeable.
    – Mike1993
    Commented Sep 11, 2016 at 15:09
  • 1
    If that is what you intended to say, I must downvote this since there is no difference in register according to my perception.
    – Jan
    Commented Sep 11, 2016 at 15:13
  • As I said: it's my experience. I haven't said that there is any difference in meaning. Both ways are totally fine to use and speak and write.
    – Mike1993
    Commented Sep 11, 2016 at 15:15

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