The German diminutive

“The bigger, the better” Absolutely NOT! Today we’ll make things rather smaller :pinching_hand: :grin:

And that’s why we’ll speak today about the diminutive in German! :hugs:

In English, this grammatical concept doesn’t really exist. A “little book” is just a “little book”, nothing else :roll_eyes:
But, if you know a bit of Spanish, you may have heard about the “muchachito” and a lot of other “-itos” and “-itas”! Okay, here in the beautiful mountains of Ecuador, where I live, people use the diminutive definitely too oftencito :upside_down_face:, but we’ll speak about that in another post…

Now, let’s go back to the German diminutive!
In German, you can use a bunch of suffixes in order to make things smaller. Here are some of them:

  • chen (used in Standard German)
  • lein (also used in Standard German, but more in the northern part of the country)
  • le (in my home region in Southern Germany)
  • li (in Switzerland)

So, just add one of those suffixes to a noun, and you make it smaller! :muscle:t4: :smiley:
Do you need some examples? Here they are!

  • das Buch --> das Büchlein (book --> small book)
  • das Auto --> das Autole (car --> small car)
  • der Bub --> das Büble (little boy --> very little boy)
  • die Krankheit --> das Wehwehchen (illness --> little aches and pains)

But… WHAT? Is it true, that a masculine or feminine noun changes its gender to neuter, when you put one of the diminutive suffixes? :scream:

Yes, it is! :star_struck: Absolutely every masculine or feminine noun changes its gender to neuter in the diminutive :smiley:

Aaaaaand exactly that’s the answer to the question you have since you started to learn German: “Why do you say “das Mädchen” (neuter), while it’s obvious that we speak about a female person?” :open_mouth:

It’s easy: “das Mädchen” is the diminutive of “die Magd” (maid), just switching its (grammatical) gender to neuter, due to the diminutive :point_up:t4:
By the way: In certain dialects, we also say “das Büble”, referring to a little tot.

In Standard German and most German dialects, we don’t use diminutive very often. But in (rural) Southern Germany and Switzerland, you may hear it more often. In my Swabian dialect, we sometimes use it with a bit of sarcasm. When our neighbor drives along with his big, new SUV, people may say “Ah, da isch er also mit seim nein Autole :rofl:” (Oh, here he is with his new little car). Or, speaking about his monster Rottweiler dog, we may say “Des isch ja a liabs Hündle :dog2: :woozy_face:” (What a lovely little dog).

So, next time, we’ll speak about how making things bigger in German! :arrow_up:

Do you know common German diminutive words?

PD: Even some German family names include diminutive suffixes like “-lein” or “-chen”. For example, the family name of our Chatterbug Chief Learning Officer Inda Härtlein is a diminutive of the common family name “Hartmann” (means: strong or bold man), though meaning “little bold man” :smiley: (Seems that one of her ancestors was extremely bold, but not very big :joy:)


After living in Stuttgart for a while, I must say you are right they use it oftencito :grin:.

Thank you for this explanation! Finally, it makes sense that “Mädchen” is neutral and not feminine :raised_hands:.

If I’m not wrong, one we use a lot is “Brötchen”, it would translate to “panecitos”.


Yes, you are absolutely right!
das Brot --> das Brötchen (diminutive and extremely logic :yum: :innocent:)


If it means I don’t have to remember genders, I will put everything in diminutive!


Oooooo! I’m loving this! :star_struck:
I’ve officially just added two new German words to my vocabulary:

  1. das Büchlein
  2. das Wehwehchen

Thanks so much! :blush:


Wow, what a great post!

I didn’t even know that Mädchen stems from Magd! :sweat_smile:
Since my time in Stuttgart, I use “Büble” all the time, and it’s usually served with quite some sarcasm on the side. :joy:

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That’s a great idea @stefilios, although people won’t understand you any longer… :face_with_raised_eyebrow:

btw: The correct diminutive of “die Magd” would be “das Mägdchen”, but in order to pronounce it better, the “g” disappeared.


Möchtest du noch ein Stückchen Kuchen :cake: :innocent:?
I guess one is supposed to feel less guilty about being gourmand when using the diminutive :sweat_smile:!


Yes! That’s absolutely correct.
It’s a huge difference saying “Ich trinke jetzt ein paar Flaschen Bier.” or “Ich trinke jetzt ein Bierchen.” :innocent: (Well, it’s just a difference in your conscience, not in the effects of the beer itself… :wink: )


btw: One of the most commonly used German diminutives is “das Märchen” (= farytale), deriving from the word “die Mär”, which also means farytale.

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I lol’d … I need to learn more dialect, it’s so much fun!

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so I have two questions, not sure if you’ll see this but I’ll ask anyway, very interesting post
I don’t know if this is even an actual thing that is said but I am trying to craft a fantasy name based off of the word ruhe, and so if I were to follow this form, would it become das Rühelein hypothetically? To basically be like “the little quiet/rest” ?

My other question is did you really make another post about how to make things bigger in German? I can’t find it.


Hey Valerie.
Your questions are very good!
“das Rühelein” would theoretically be a good word, but it doesn’t exist. But “das Päuschen / das Päuslein” (little break) indeed exist!

There’s no way to make things bigger in German, you can just say “eine (ganz / sehr) lange Pause”, “ein (ganz / sehr) großer Garten” etc. So, I’m still on it :wink:


Hey, @valeriedkh!

Here is the promised post :hugs: How to make things bigger in German

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