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The below paragraph appears in the article from Der Spiegel called "Hollande redet sich um Kopf und Kragen". The article talks about the French President François Hollande and a recently published book documenting his hard-hitting comments about various people of influence in France.

Warum macht er das [that is, why Hollande makes all these nasty comments], rätselt die Nation über die geballte Ladung von menschenverachtender Bosheit. Ausgerechnet der Mann, der sich im Wahlkampf vom Bling-Bling-Stil Sarkozys absetzen wollte und versprach, einen normalen Präsidenten zu geben, erscheint in Wahrheit als giftig-galliger Miesepeter. Und wo ist der Charmeur, der umgängliche Strippenzieher, der geschickte "Mann der Synthese"? Angesichts seiner haarsträubenden Bekenntnisse schrumpft er zum verbitterten, isolierten Rumpelstilzchen des Élysée.

As far as I know, it's not a common practice in German to form compound adjectives by connecting their component parts by a hyphen. In this case, however, it seems clear that hyphen is used for clarity purposes, since giftig(-)gallig is a brand new word (no matches for giftiggallig in Google search).

My question is: If I want to form a compound German adjective for which no dictionary entry currently exists (for instance, politisch(-)erfahren = politically experienced), should I use a hyphen to separate the component parts of such an adjective?

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    politically experienced -> politikerfahren – Janka Oct 16 '16 at 2:57
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    Or politisch erfahren. – Carsten S Oct 16 '16 at 9:20
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The official spelling rules (in German) as published by the Rechtschreibrat have an entire section (section C) devoted to the use of hyphens.

In the prefacing remarks, they note that there are three groups that are covered by the ruleset:

  • Zusammensetzungen und Ableitungen, die keine Eigennamen als Bestandteile enthalten (§ 40 bis § 45)
  • Zusammensetzungen und Ableitungen, die Eigennamen als Bestandteile enthalten (§ 46 bis § 52)
  • Gruppen, in denen man den Bindestrich setzen muss (§ 40 bis § 44; § 46 und § 48 bis § 50), und solche, in denen der Gebrauch des Bindestrichs dem Schreibenden freigestellt ist (§ 45, § 51 bis § 52).

Translated:

  • Compound words and derived words that do not contain proper nouns as their constituents (§ 40 to §45)

  • Compound words and derived words that do contain proper nouns as their constituents (§ 46 to § 52)

  • Groups, in which a hyphen has to be typeset (§ 40 to § 44; § 46 and § 48 to § 50) and those in which the use of a hyphen is at the discretion of the writer (§ 45, § 51 to § 52).

§ 40 concerns single letters, abbreviations and digits (A-Dur, etc.), § 41 concerns suffixes with the aforementioned, (x-te), § 42 concerns digits with a suffix as part of a compound and § 43 concerns a certain set of compound nouns (Auf-die-lange-Bank-schieben). The paragraphs relevant for your question are § 44 and § 45:

§ 44 Man setzt einen Bindestrich zwischen allen Bestandteilen mehrteiliger Zusammensetzungen, in denen eine Wortgruppe oder eine Zusammensetzung mit Bindestrich auftritt, sowie in unübersichtlichen Zusammensetzungen aus gleichrangigen, nebengeordneten Adjektiven.

§ 45 Man kann einen Bindestrich setzen zur Hervorhebung einzelner Bestandteile, zur Gliederung unübersichtlicher Zusammensetzungen, zur Vermeidung von Missverständnissen oder beim Zusammentreffen von drei gleichen Buchstaben.

Translation:

§ 44 A hyphen is typeset in between all constituents of multi-part compounds wherein a word group or compound with a hyphen occurs, as well as in unclear compounds made up of coordinate adjectives. (Ephasis mine in both languages.)

§ 45 It is permitted to typeset a hyphen to emphasise single constituents, to structure unclear compounds, to avoid misunderstandings or when three identical letters would otherwise meet up.

The question is whether a word such as giftig-gallig is to be considered unclear enough for § 44 to kick in or whether it is covered by § 45. So let’s take a look at the official examples presented after § 44:

der wissenschaftlich-technische Fortschritt, ein lateinisch-deutsches Wörterbuch, deutsch-österreichische Angelegenheiten; manisch-depressives Verhalten; physikalisch-chemisch-biologische Prozesse

The examples listed with § 45 do not contain any adjectives and non of the following exceptions make any not to adjectives. However, I can think of compounds such as giftiggrün where I would not want to separate the two constituents with a hyphen because … I can’t really argue properly, but I definitely wouldn’t call it unclear.

To sum it up: § 45 allows hyphen for structuring unclear compounds and § 44 requires it for coordinate adjectives.


Your example is not covered by these rules. Politisch erfahren must be spelt as two words because they are two words. If they were two adjectives, they would not be coordinate (note the lack of a comma); but they aren’t even two adjectives. As you can see from your translation (politically), you are dealing with the combination of adverb and adjective. These are (almost? I feel the need to add a back door here before a counter-example is presented in the comments) never compounds and thus always separated.

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    I actually would consider giftiggallig to look considerable unclear. IMHO, the hyphen is very well covered by §44. I do see, however, another reason for the hyphen not explicitly mentioned in the rules: A non-hyphen compound to me somehow implies the first adjective modifies or details the second - like in giftgrün or messerscharf, which is probably not intended here - Here, I see the intention to be more like "giftig und gallig" – tofro Oct 16 '16 at 7:54
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    My personal advice is this: If you write an application for employment as a teacher for German language: Check your text against all official rules that you know, and make it as correct as possible. If you still re in doubt, then reword your text; use other construction patterns. But if you write anything else: Make yourself understandable. The purpose of any language is to transport messages. It's purpose is not to meet rules. If you write a perfectly correct text that nobody will understand, then you did it wrong. If you can increase understandability only by breaking rules: Do it! – Hubert Schölnast Oct 16 '16 at 9:02

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