“The bigger, the better” Absolutely NOT! Today we’ll make things rather smaller
And that’s why we’ll speak today about the diminutive in German!
In English, this grammatical concept doesn’t really exist. A “little book” is just a “little book”, nothing else
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 , 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!
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?
Yes, it is! Absolutely every masculine or feminine noun changes its gender to neuter in the diminutive
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?”
It’s easy: “das Mädchen” is the diminutive of “die Magd” (maid), just switching its (grammatical) gender to neuter, due to the diminutive
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 ” (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 ” (What a lovely little dog).
So, next time, we’ll speak about how making things bigger in German!
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” (Seems that one of her ancestors was extremely bold, but not very big )