Does exist any rule in German where to form a compound, which is made of an adjective (as first element) + a noun, instead of a noun phrase consisting of adj. + noun. E.g. Wissenschaftszeitschrift vs. wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift; or Nationalpark vs. nationaler Park. How to proceed in such cases? Are they synonymous in some occasions? Is it about free interchangeability, or it is rather about words, fixed by tradition? It is a question of style? Personal choice?

Is it totally wrong to say fremde Sprache instead of Fremdsprache?

Can a trend to be described in this? Do exist any difference in German, Austrian or Swiss usage? What about the style in the former GDR, as it used to be and as far as it still persist and exert some impact today in the eastern provinces?

2 Answers 2


You make it a single compound noun if you want to coin a term that you can then load with meaning that is not covered by the adjective alone.

  • die wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift — a periodical targeted at scienticists
  • die Wissenschaftszeitschrift — a periodical about science

Those are very similar. I would rather use the first one for periodicals as Proceedings of the IEEE or NJW and the second one for Science or Spektrum der Wissenschaft.

  • der nationale Park — a park meant for doing national things. Rallies and such.
  • der Nationalpark — a nature reserve of national significance

This example is entirely different. The first one makes very little sense and is not used in German. The second is actually a calque — the original German term is das Naturschutzgebiet but at some point someone had the idea to adopt the American term national park even when our Nationalpark is nothing like an American national park. It's still a nature reserve and you may explicitely not camp there for example.

  • die fremde Sprache — an unknown language
  • die Fremdsprache — a language that isn't one's native language

This example demonstrates the shift in meaning really good. The adjective fremd means unknown so a fremde Sprache is a language one can't even identify. A Fremdsprache on the other hand is one that you can learn or have learned.

  • 1
    "the original German term is das Naturschutzgebiet" - I'd say there is quite a difference. A Naturschutzgebiet is just a patch of land (might even just be a few meters along a river, for instance), basically wherever you encounter the typical signage (e.g. a triangular sign with a green frame and a bird on it). There are several thousands of these across Germany, but it would seem silly to claim each of these is a "Nationalpark". That term is rather reserved for much larger contiguous areas. Commented Apr 22 at 12:30
  • @O.R.Mapper Didn't previously knew that, but apparently Germany has 16 Nationalparks en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_national_parks_of_Germany which are Category II protected areas acording to the IUCN, while Naturschutzgebiete are Category IV protected areas (the difference seems be be largely in terms of size and scope).
    – haxor789
    Commented Apr 22 at 23:17

Not a full answer I guess, but at least from the look and feel of these words the use of adjectives over compounds emphasizes the noun and it's feature while the compound feels more like an established concept shaped by tradition.

Like a Wissenschaftszeitschrift implies a magazin dealing with scientific topics, while a wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift sounds like a magazin that is particularly scientific in it's work ethic. Or a Nationalpark sounds like a park that belongs to the nation while a "nationaler Park" sounds like the park is particularly nationalistic, whatever that means. Like as a compound you're much more likely to accept it as a name for a thing, while using it as adjective + noun kinda puts more focus on the nature of both of these words. Like a "Fremdsprache" is just any language other than German, while a "fremde Sprache" emphasizes that the language is particularly foreign. Sure it could be synonymous to Fremdsprache, but even Fremdsprachen don't have to be unfamiliar like with most of the European based languages you'd not be able to tell what people are saying when they speak (if you haven't learned the language) but you'd nonetheless be able to identify the language, so it's not that foreign. While a local dialect of a tribe from far away could be so foreign that you'd not even be able to do that and so you'd rather call it a "fremde Sprache" to further emphasize that.

Though yeah likely the adj+noun merge into compounds when the meaning gets fixed by tradition.


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