German Wiktionary defines Kontur as:

ein durch Kontrast oder meist Linien erzielter Umriss eines Körpers

Why is ein separated from Umriss? Would one of these rewrites be more acceptable:

durch Kontrast oder meist Linien erzielter ein Umriss eines Körpers

ein Umriss durch Kontrast oder meist Linien erzielter eines Körpers

ein Umriss eines Körpers durch Kontrast oder meist Linien erzielter

Is this separation of article and noun common in German?

  • As stan says it has an adjective function but think of it like an insertion. You interrupt the actual sentence – by giving precise details about the object in question – and then you continue.
    – Em1
    Oct 14, 2013 at 13:40

2 Answers 2


It is very common especially in written German, in spoken language one would use a construction with a subordinate clause:

Ein Umriss, der durch Kontrast oder meist Linien erzielt wird.

Your rewritten sentences are all wrong. Let me try to explain you why, without using a lot of fancy grammatical terms (because I don't know them, maybe someone can add the required information?).
the part of the sentence embraced by the article and the noun (in your case durch Kontrast oder meist Linien erzielter) plays the same role as an adjective would play. Thus, replacing this part by a simple adjective reveals immediately the correct placement of the words, since in general adjectives are placed between the article and the noun, as well as in subordinate clauses. Take for example schwarz.

Ein schwarzer Umriss.
Ein Umriss, der schwarz ist.

Not correct: (in analogy to the way you have rewritten the above sentence)

Schwarzer ein Umriss.
Ein Umriss schwarz.

  • My examples actually sound very silly! Don't know why I couldn't see it before. A very helpful answer. Thanks!
    – Voriki
    Oct 14, 2013 at 19:30

We do it in English too, except with hyphens, e.g: "my soon-to-be-ex girlfriend..."

  • Would be a lot of hyphens in the translation of my example! The thing that struck me as odd is how long the description between the article and noun was. I can't think of any examples in English where that'd be commonly written.
    – Voriki
    Oct 14, 2013 at 19:31
  • No, that's what the Germans are famous for. Oct 14, 2013 at 21:53

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