German linking elements are sometimes classified as inflectional affixes, sometimes as derivational affixes, and in any case as morphological units with at least seven realisations (e.g. -s-, -es-, -(e)n-, -e-). This article seeks to show that linking elements are hybrid elements situated between morphology and phonology. On the one hand, they have a clear morphological status since they occur only within compounds (and before a very small set of suffixes) and support the listener in decoding them. On the other hand, they also have to be analysed on the phonological level, as will be shown in this article. Thus, they are marginal morphological units on the pathway to phonology (including prosodics). Although some alloforms can sometimes be considered former inflectional endings and in some cases even continue to demonstrate some inflectional behaviour (such as relatedness to gender and inflection class), they are on their way to becoming markers of ill-formed phonological words. In fact, linking elements, above all the linking -s-, which is extremely productive, help the listener decode compounds containing a bad phonological word as their first constituent, such as Geburt+s+tag ‘birthday’ or Religion+s+unterricht ‘religious education’. By marking the end of a first constituent that differs from an unmarked monopedal phonological word, the linking element aids the listener in correctly decoding and analysing the compound. German compounds are known for their length and complexity, both of which have increased over time—along with the occurrence of linking elements, especially -s-. Thus, a profound instance of language change can be observed in contemporary German, one indicating its typological shift from syllable language to word language.