In one article from Der Spiegel, it's written Investitionsstaatssekretär; in the other article linked to the first one, it's Investitions-Staatssekretär. Which one is correct?

Here are the two excerpts:

(1) Es handelt sich um den zweiten Rücktritt eines Kabinettsmitglieds binnen einer Woche, nachdem Verteidigungsminister Michael Fallon vergangene Woche nach Vorwürfen sexueller Belästigung sein Amt niederlegte. Zuvor war außerdem bekannt geworden, dass Investitionsstaatssekretär Mark Garnier in seiner Zeit als Parlamentsabgeordneter eine Sekretärin mit Geld losgeschickt hat, damit sie zwei Vibratoren kauft. Daraufhin wurden zahlreiche Vorwürfe wegen sexueller Belästigung laut.

(2) Wegen eines ungewöhnlichen Auftrags an seine frühere Sekretärin ist ein Mitglied der britischen Regierung unter Druck geraten. Die "Mail on Sunday" berichtete am Sonntag, Investitions-Staatssekretär Mark Garnier habe der Frau in seiner Zeit als Parlamentsabgeordneter Geld gegeben, damit sie in einem Londoner Sexshop zwei Vibratoren kauft. Zudem soll Garnier vor Zeugen anzüglich über die Sekretärin gesprochen haben.


Official grammar rules require compound substantives that are built from two or more substantives to be joined without a space. This is the general rule:

§37: Substantive, Adjektive, Verbstämme, Pronomen oder Partikeln können mit Substantiven Zusammensetzungen bilden. Man schreibt sie ebenso wie mehrteilige Substantivierungen zusammen.

The exception to this rule follows in §45, that basically says "in case a word becomes irritatingly long or complex, hyphens between the compound words are allowed":

§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.

Now, it's definitely disputable whether Investitionsstaatssekretär qualifies for the "unclear" attribute and justifies the exception - you will have to take your intended audience into account. But, as has already been said in another answer, in principal both your examples are valid, the non-hyphenated version may be a bit more by the book.

  • 3
    Although the cited articles are laudable, once more I want to oppose the use of the term official grammar rules. There is no such thing. German language is not subject to regulation by government authorities (all the more as it is not bound to one single state), and even if a government tried to regulate it regarding usage in civil service and the school system (various attempts are being made), this is of course in no way binding for citizens. I recomment using expressions like "accepted rules", or just name the book or the body that has issued a set of rules you are referring to. Nov 9 '17 at 9:16
  • @ChristianGeiselmann Ahh, he's back with his usual "enforcement" paranoia... Nobody said anything about "regulation" or "binding". The rules as issued by the Rechtschreibrat are the most "official" rules you can get and they are in fact partially binding - for German state authorities and public education. And I consider "amtliches Regelwerk" (the name of the rule set) properly translated as "official rules" or "official rule set". "accepted rules" is definitely a wrong translation, as it involves interpretation.
    – tofro
    Nov 9 '17 at 11:04

Both are correct.

Some people put hyphens into long on-the-fly compounds, so more widely-known compounds stick out, but there isn't such a requirement. The only place where you should really use a hyphen are proper names used in a compound, e.g. Selters-Wasser vs. Selterswasser. The latter isn't of the Selters brand.


In addition to Janka's and Tofro's answers:

I think a good criterion to decide whether a hyphen should be used to structure overly long compounds would be if the word is in common use (in the specific audience). E.g.


is clearly in common use (in those parts of society who use the word at all), and pronunciation is usually very "smooth", with no dicernible stop or pause.

On the other hand


is neither in common use (even not in the ministry where this person resides, I suppose); the official job title would rather be Staatssekretär im Bereich Investitionen, Blablabla und Blablablabla, and journalists made that word up ad hoc in order to have a more or less practical name for the guy. In such a case


may be considered a good idea as it helps the reader's eye to quickly recognize the parts of the compound.

As everybody knows, reading is not decoding words letter by letter. Reading is recognizing words by their overall "face" (or gestalt if you like). Therefore, in unusual compounds, a hyphen may be helpful.

On the other hand, hyphens should be avoided in words that are known (by the audience in question) because in such words they add an unnecessary stop.


is not a good way to write that word. Every child knows a Hamsterkäfig and is used to the word (or should be used to it). However


is wisely spelled with a hyphen because


although technically possible is not a word that is in common use even in hamster-breeding parts of society, and deciphering it will take unnecessary effort by the reader that can he be spared of when the better-known parts of the compound are separated by a hyphen.

Conclusion: you need very good knowledge of common use of the language, and also of your audience, in order to take good decisions on zusammenschreibing or getrenntschreibing of these words.

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