I was reading about word formation in German. The writer speaks about productive and unproductive word formation patterns. Productive word formation patterns are simply ways still used today to create new words (e.g., by adding a particular prefix or suffix). My question is whether I could create new words by using such productive patterns, or else such words need to be already widely used or accepted to be correct? If such a new word is understood in its context, does that make it correct?

Examples of some productive suffixes: -erei, -chen, -lein, -schaft, -tum, -ung, -isch, -mässig, -ig

I tried to create some words that are non-available in my dictionary and I don’t know if they are correct:

  • Scherzerei – repeated annoying jokes (like Fragerei),
  • Stiftchen oder Teppichlein – small pencil or carpet,
  • Lehrerschaft oder Ingenieureschaft – collection or body of teachers or engineers (like Studentenschaft),
  • Lügung – the act of lying (like Landung),
  • gerüchtmäßig – according to rumors,
  • diamantig (like goldig, milchig),
  • lehrerisch (like studentisch),
  • springeln – jump weaker (like lächeln)

Are these words that are formed by productive suffixes acceptable knowing that all of them are not in my dictionary?

Are such productive patterns always applicable when there is a context for the new word?

2 Answers 2


Are such productive patterns always applicable when there is a context for the new word?

Almost always. The main problem is new words don't have established meanings and there may be a lot of different interpretations for compounds. You have to be aware of all of them because it often creates a comical effect. Native speakers create new compounds for that kind of word play all the time. It's a main part of German humour.

My thoughts on your examples.

Scherzerei — a type of Bäckerei that focuses on Scherzkekse.

Scherzerei — a not-so seriously meant practice of herzen

Stiftchen — a tiny bolt

Stiftchen — the apprentice of the apprentice (these are traditionally called der Stift)

Teppichlein — a cute small carpet

Teppichchen — an absurdly small carpet (definetely insulting)

Lehrerschaft — teacher body (of a school etc – established word!)

Ingenieurschaft – assembly of engineers

Ingenieurschaft – the pride to be an engineer

gerücht(e)mäßig/gerücht(e)weise – according to rumors (established word!)

No match:


The act of lying is das Lügen. Nouns ending in -ung draw a bigger picture. Consider das Fügen (the act of putting things together) vs. die Fügung (an act of god had put things together). Das Leugnen (the act of denying) vs. die Leugnung (practising denial). I couldn't make a sense of die Lügung that is different from die Lüge.


This is valid but leaves me puzzled what it may mean. There's diamantene Hochzeit, which is a fixed phrase for the 60th anniversary but almost no other phrases which I could rely on. I would suspect it's something very hard.


Valid, but there are two existing words for that, either belehrerisch or oberlehrerhaft. Both mean annoying through teaching.


This is quite a nice idea for a valid word, but I doubt it would immediately ring a bell (klingeln). At most, I'd say it means falling apartspringen also means to crack.

Mein Wecker ist kaputt. Statt klingeln nur springeln.

I imagine the Stiftchen and Federchen jumping out of their metal cage into freedom happily.

  • That answers my question. 1. Productive suffixes can't be always applied like Lügung. 2. Even when they are applied, they might have different meaning than the basic meaning of the suffix like Stiftchen can't mean a small pencil. 3. Not all established words are in dictionaries since Lehrerschaft and gerüchtmäßig are non-available in 6 out of 7 dictionaries I have. I checked them out again till I found them in Linguee.
    – user34137
    Sep 22, 2018 at 22:22
  • Oh, Stiftchen can indeed mean small pencil, but small bolt is much more likely. There are much more small bolts than small pencils to talk about in the typical German workplace.
    – Janka
    Sep 22, 2018 at 22:25
  • Die Lügung it simply makes no sense because die Lüge already exists. Such -ung nouns are made from verbs which aren't made from a noun themselves. But lügen is. Just check if there is a noun already.
    – Janka
    Sep 22, 2018 at 22:27
  • I am aware of Lüge but I used Lügung as part of my question to see if it can fit as an acceptable alternative
    – user34137
    Sep 22, 2018 at 22:29
  • No alternatives. If there is a noun which draws the bigger picture already, you have to use it.
    – Janka
    Sep 22, 2018 at 22:30

quote: "I was reading about word formation in German. The writer speaks about ..."

Who the heck is that writer, and what did you read where (printed? online?) He or she is not well informed.

As German is my first language, I might be tempted to create new words using one of the suffixes above, but I would instantaneously know whether they would work or not. Even if your German is near native (or near-native?), you'd better refrain from creating words, because this playing around with suffixes is a rather intricate affair. :-))

Instead, you should look up words on https://www.dwds.de/ or good old http://www.duden.de/woerterbuch. If they are not being found, they probably do not exist.

As to your Kreationen:

'Scherzerei' would indeed mean, theoretically, "repeated annoying jokes", but you can't construct this word. The idiomatic expression is "deine blöden Witze" or maybe 'deine blöden Scherze", a sentence would be "Deine blöden Witze kannst du dir sparen!" If you insist on a noun, use 'Witzelei(en)'.

'Stiftchen' is either camp humour or absurd, just as 'Teppichlein', which, by the way, does not flow. You could not even dream it up.

'Lehrerschaft' exists (see https://www.dwds.de/)

'Ingenieureschaft' is grammatically wrong; if, it would have to be 'Ingenieurschaft', which would mean: that coterie / clique / scum of engineers. See what I meant by "a rather intricate affair"?

'Lügung' is a misconception on your part. The noun going with 'landen' is in fact 'Landung', 'Bezahlung' is derived from 'bezahlen', 'Betreuung' from 'betreuen' - but the noun going with 'lügen' is ... 'die Lüge'. Sorry :-)

'gerüchtmäßig' doesn't exist, but 'gerüchtemäßig' does. However, this is lower class slang: "Also, ich weiß das ja nur gerüchtemäßig!" Uaaah! It gives me the creeps!

'diamantig' and 'lehrerisch' would be as strange as 'diamondly' and 'teacherish'. Imagine "diamondly eyes, but a teacherish behavior :-)) :-)) :-))

'springeln' can in fact be found in the venerable GRIMM (Bd. 17, Sp. 81 bis 107). Last occurence: Kramer, 1702. :-)) Um, a bit outdated, isn't it? http://woerterbuchnetz.de/cgi-bin/WBNetz/wbgui_py?sigle=DWB&mode=Vernetzung&lemid=GS37153#XGS37153

And in order to make a long story short, this is The End. Cheers!

  • Thank you. I was reading Hammar's grammar book in chapter of Word formation; Anyway, I don't see a contradiction between the answers here and the book.I would say that it is just not explained enough. You are right, I don't intend to create new words and use them but I don't wanna be shocked when I see such words that I can't find in my dictionary. Of course, I will always depend on dictionaries when choosing words, but I was wondering here about the concept and possibility of such new creations especially after I know it's relatively easy to create new compound nouns and adjectives.
    – user34137
    Sep 23, 2018 at 3:37
  • 1
    I would not be so harsh on attempts to create new words. Eventually this is what later-on praised poets do. "He/she has contributed soooo many words the xxxxx language" is a common praise for writers and poets. Of course, usually only after 200 years when these words have been found established. But still - it was somebody who used them first. Sep 23, 2018 at 10:20
  • 1
    You are harshly criticizing something that you have not read.
    – Carsten S
    Sep 23, 2018 at 12:13
  • @CarstenS I thought I was mildly criticizing something that I have not read.- Joke aside: I found Cheers' attitude towards creative use of language unnecessarily disencourraging. Sep 23, 2018 at 13:15
  • 1
    @ChristianGeiselmann, my comment was not in response to yours but to the answer.
    – Carsten S
    Sep 23, 2018 at 13:42

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