Both, "Ellbogen"", and "Ellenbogen" are German synonyms for elbow. All dictionaries I consulted, including English-German dictionaries, don't say that one or the other is correct but they sometimes offer only one of both.

Even in the corresponding Wikipedia "Ellbogen" article both expressions are used, sometimes within a single parapraph. Therefore I believe we can not say which of both versions is the "better" one.

Are there indeed no expressions, be it in the figurative, or the literal meaning of "Ellbogen" where we prefer one over the other? Are both variants entirely interchangeable? Was the letter 'n' introduced, or was it omitted?

  • 2
    Interestingly Duden has exactly the same content for both except for word frequency which is "one bar" higher for Ellenbogen.
    – musiKk
    Mar 2, 2012 at 13:48
  • If you study your Duden links, you see that it is derived from Old High German "el(l)inbogo". So the "n" was omitted. Mar 3, 2012 at 1:20
  • 1
    There is a town in RP named Katzenelnbogen (named so for not entirely clear reasons) - This shows there used to be a third version of writing it, as place names do not tend to mutate that much over times.
    – tofro
    Aug 19, 2016 at 9:26
  • @tofro: not far from where I grew up :-) Supplemental info: The "Elle" is also a deprecated German distance unit. Anatomically, the Ulna (Elle) is the rear or inner bone from the joint between upper and forearm to the part of the end that ends in the small finger, the other bone is the radius (Speiche) from the same joint to the thumb-side of the hand. Apart from that, I would say all 3 terms are equal and will be equally understood.
    – user41853
    May 1, 2021 at 19:10

4 Answers 4


It definitely makes no difference wether you use "Ellbogen" or "Ellenbogen". Even if you build another word by connecting "Ellenbogen" with a second on, let's say "Gesellschaft", both versions are correct: "Ellbogengesellschaft" is the same as "Ellenbogengesellschaft".

  • You are right, but "Ellenbogen" is used more frequently than "Ellbogen". A Google search gives 4.950.000 vs. 2.690.000 hits.
    – Paul Frost
    May 1, 2021 at 9:26

"Ellenbogen" is the older form. E.g. it appears in Walther von der Vogelweides poems around 1200:

Ich saz ûf eime steine
und dahte bein mit beine,
dar ûf satzte ich den ellenbogen;
ich hete in mîne hant gesmogen
mîn kinne und ein mîn wange.


"Ellbogen" is a contraction, hence slightly less formal. There is no difference in meaning, and the same person might use both versions depending on the context, or just because of the "flow" of the sentence.

  • 1
    It might have used to be less formal. I certainly wouldn'#t say it still is, though. Nevertheless, +1 from me.
    – sbi
    Mar 4, 2012 at 21:22

Both forms come from the feminine "Elle" bone of the arm. Compound nouns where the first noun ends in "-e" often added "-n" to smooth over the transition into the second word (though I saw someone once using "Ellebogen" with the "-e" and without the middle "-n"). In hurried speech, however, words are often contracted, perhaps originally out of laziness.

In modern usage, both forms are used interchangeably in and out of the medical field. Of note, Leo.org gives medical examples for "Ellenbogen" and daily life examples for "Ellbogen", though there is not a grammatical requirement for this.

  • "Ellebogen" (note the missing "n") doesn't even sound strange to me. I must have heard that before.
    – sbi
    Mar 4, 2012 at 21:23
  • In truth German has so many dialects and regionalisms, that I wonder sometimes if there really is a standard German, or if it even matters. ;-)
    – Kevin
    Mar 4, 2012 at 22:21
  • There definitely is a standard German. It's what you find in books and in the newspaper. The problem, however, is that nobody speaks this.
    – sbi
    Mar 5, 2012 at 8:48

I speak German .. and since I read many books all my life, I can also distinguish between dialect and "high" German, the official one. But fair to say, that it is a living language, much more than eg French. Ellebogen is actually hard-core dialect (eg Cologne region), Ellbogen is often used for longer words ( Ellbogengesellschaft = community fighting with Ell(en)bogen more used than Ellenbogengesellschaft .. since the "en" make it really harder to pronounce and a longer word). Ellbogen is more dialect compared to Ellenbogen. And since the sibling word in English is without "en" many people do not even think, but simply use in German also without "en". I believe, many people speak official German, but more do neihter read books, nor are native Germans and such, do not care about those subtle differences.

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