I was wondering, in compound words or "complex" ones, let's say, do the article matches with its last word?

For example, "Kontrollakt". It's made of Kontrolle + Akt, the former being "die", and the latter "der".

Do we say "der Kontrollakt" (the one I believe), or "die Kontrollakt"?

Are there (notable/famous) exceptions?

1 Answer 1


The German language is "rechtsköpfig" ("right-headed" instead of "left-headed"), meaning that the grammatical properties of compound words are defined by its rightmost part/morpheme (this morpheme is called the "head" of the compound).

Therefore, in your example it's indeed a masculine word,

der Kontroll_akt_,

(der) Akt being this compound's head. Kontroll is called the "core" of the compound, which defines its semantic properties, i.e. it strongly influences that compound's ultimate meaning.

There are very few exceptions to this rule, mostly they are about derived compounds with prefixes like "ge", e.g. "Geschrei" or "Gejammer", where the (leftmost) prefix defines the word's gender as neutral.

(The fact that "Schrei" is masculine doesn't really lead to a conflict here, since those words are derived from the verbs "schreien"/"jammern", not from nouns.)

  • Ahah well, it was a concise but nice answer. I noticed you didn't address the exception thing, but you did now so, thank you, or better, vielen Dank! :) By the way, both your links link to the same page, that's intentional?
    – Alenanno
    Jan 25, 2012 at 17:21
  • You're very welcome - in fact, I learned something too, so thank you as well :-) About that duplicate link: I wanted to keep the link to that Wikipedia article right at the beginning, but still felt I should reference the source for the bit about the exception...
    – Jan
    Jan 25, 2012 at 21:36
  • I would like to a different term for "core", that I find more intuitive: "Bestimmungswort". The "Bestimmungswort" determines "Kopfwort" more closely, while the "Kopfwort" is the primary word of the compound.
    – elena
    Jan 26, 2012 at 8:21
  • @elena: actually, the terms used in that Wikipedia article were "Kern" and "Kopf", and I just translated them literally. The folks at Linguistics.SE should know more about it.
    – Jan
    Jan 26, 2012 at 9:53

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