Curiosities of the German Language

A man is holding a laptop computer that has a German flag on the screen and says "Learn German"

German is the 11th most widely spoken language in the world and one that has many interesting characteristics.


One of them is that all nouns—not just proper names—are capitalized. Unlike romance languages in which nouns are either feminine or masculine, German nouns have three genders: masculine, feminine and neutral.

In addition, German and English share 60% of their vocabulary.


Although the German alphabet is similar to the English one, it has an additional consonant: the ß, called "Eszett.” When it follows a long vowel or the combination of two adjacent vowel sounds within the same syllable, it has the sound of a double "s".


Another unique aspect of German is that some extremely specific words have been created to describe certain aspects of life. Schadenfreude, for example, means happiness that comes from someone else’s misfortune or pain. Kummerspeck or “grief bacon” describes the weight you gain from stress eating. And to describe what people do when they're obsessed with details, the Germans created the word Erbsenzähler—a tally of peas.


German is also notorious for its extremely long words. One of the longest—Grundstücksverkehrsgenehmigungszuständigkeitsübertragungsverordnung—translates to “regulation on the delegation of authority concerning land conveyance permissions.”;


Now obsolete, the 63-letter Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz once described a law having to do with the supervision of cattle marking and the labeling of beef.


And long words that are hard to pronounce aren’t the only challenge to learning German. The grammar and pronunciation rules taught in schools and language courses are most closely followed by people in northern and central Germany. However, there are many different dialects and accents spoken around the country that may prove more difficult to understand, even for some Germans.