What Is the Longest German Word?

The German Language Likes to Mash Words Together

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The classic longest German word is Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän, clocking in with 42 letters. In English, it becomes four words: "Danube steamship company captain." However, it's not the only super long word in the German language and, technically, it's not even the longest.

Why Are German Words So Long?

Most languages, including English, string smaller words together to form longer ones, but the Germans take this practice to new extremes.

As Mark Twain said, "Some German words are so long that they have a perspective."

But is there really such a thing as the longest German word...das längste deutsche Wort? Some of the suggested "longest" words are artificial creations. They are never used in daily spoken or written German, which is why we'll look at some words that far surpass our 42-letter title winner mentioned above. 

For all practical purposes, this longest-word contest is really just a game. It's more fun than practical and German just happens to offer us some really long words. Even a German or English Scrabble board only has room for 15 letters, so you won't find much use for these. Yet, if you'd like to play the longest-word game, here are a few selected items to consider.

The 6 Longest German Words (Lange deutsche Wörter)

These words are listed in alphabetical order, with their gender and letter count.

Betäubungsmittelverschreibungsverordnung
(die, 41 letters)

It's a mesmerizing word that is rather difficult to read. This lengthy one refers to a "regulation requiring a prescription for an anesthetic."

Bezirksschornsteinfegermeister
(der, 30 letters)

This word may be short in comparison to those below, but it is a real word that you might be able to use some day, but even that's not likely.

Roughly, it means a "head district chimney sweep."

Donaudampfschiffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft
(one word, no hyphen) (die, 79 letters, 80 with the new German spelling that adds one more 'f' in...dampfschifffahrts...)

Even the definition is a mouthful: "association of subordinate officials of the head office management of the Danube steamboat electrical services" (the name of a pre-war club in Vienna). This word is not really useful; it's more of a desperate attempt to lengthen the word below.

Donaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän
(der, 42 letters)

As mentioned, in classic German this is considered the longest word. Its meaning of "Danube steamship company captain" makes it unusable for the majority of us, though.

Rechtsschutzversicherungsgesellschaften
(die, plur., 39 letters)

This is one you might actually be able to pronounce if you take it one syllable at a time. It means, "legal protection insurance companies." According to Guinness, this was the longest German dictionary word in everyday usage. However, the word below is a longer legitimate and official "longest word"—in semi-everyday usage, anyway.

Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz
(das, 63 letters)

This hyper word references a "beef labeling regulation and delegation of supervision law," This was a 1999 German Word of the Year, and it also won a special award as the longest German word for that year. It refers to a "law for regulating the labeling of beef"—all in one word, which is why it is so long. German also likes abbreviations, and this word has one: ReÜAÜG.

German Numbers (Zahlen)

There is another reason why there really isn't a single longest German word. German numbers, long or short, are written as one word. For example, to say or write the number 7,254 (which is not really a very long number), the German is siebentausendzweihundertvierundfünfzig.

That is a single word of 38 letters, so you could imagine what larger and more complex numbers may look like. For this reason, it's not difficult at all to make a number-based word that far exceeds any of the other words we've discussed.

How Do the Longest Words in English Measure Up?

For comparison sake, what are the longest words in English? Contrary to popular belief, the record holder is not "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" (an invented word made famous in the movie "Mary Poppins"). Just as in German, there is disagreement about which word is actually the longest. There's little argument, however, that English can't keep pace with German in this department.

The English language's two contenders are:

Antidisestablishmentarianism (28 letters): This is a legitimate dictionary word from the 19th century meaning "opposition to the separation of church and state."

Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis (45 letters): The literal meaning of this term is "lung disease caused by breathing in silica dust." Linguists claim this is an artificial word and that it does not deserve true "longest word" billing.

Likewise, there are many technical and medical terms in English that qualify as long words. However, they are usually excluded from consideration for the longest word game.