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The diminutive (also deminutive , diminutive , deminutive from the Latin deminuere “reduce, diminish”, cf. minus ) is the grammatical diminutive of a noun . The opposite is the augmentative . Diminutive are used for belittling, e.g. B. as a pet form and for the formation of pet names (hypocoristics), or the devaluation ("This is not a house, this is a house!").

License plate and origin

As a diminutive form, the diminutive belongs to the means of morphological word formation . Diminutive forms are usually formed by abbreviation , doubling of syllables or adding a prefix or suffix ( affix , prefix or suffix ). The frequency of use of diminutive differs depending on the language and dialect .

In German , the diminutive is identified by the suffix -chen and -lein . Originally, only the suffix -lein was valid in both the Central and Upper German- speaking areas , whereas -chen comes from the Low German and Lower Franconian language areas. From the 17th century -chen became the dominant suffix in the written language.

Both cases are based on the Germanic affiliation suffix -īn . In the case of -chen it was with the suffix k is connected, while -lein a compound of OHG suffix -al, -il (see FIG. Ahd about. Fogal , Vogel ', leffil , spoon') with the OHG diminutive -in is , which was later interpreted as a new, independent suffix and transferred to words that originally had no l-suffix (cf. for example ahd. hūsilin 'little house').

In German there is also a diminutive ending in -i (Hansi, Berti, Karli) for first names ; see also section " Pet forms for first names ". The ending -i is also used to form nicknames from family names.

Reduplications can also be found in German, especially for pet forms ( Papa or Dodo for "Doris", for example).

On the other hand, the suffix -gen, which is popular in early New High German and has an unclear origin, has disappeared (or is overlaid by -chen ) .

Word formation

The formation of the diminutive in German is often associated with changing the vowel of the stem syllable to the corresponding umlaut (sack - sack) and omitting an unstressed last vowel (trousers - panties) (counterexamples are Paulchen, Blondchen ). The umlaut formed into a double-written vowel is only written once (e.g. Boot - Bötchen ).

Motto: "-chen and -lein make all things small."

In the Bavarian dialect , especially in Austria, the diminutive is preferably formed with -erl : z. B. Sackerl, Hunderl, Hoserl, Stüberl.

In the Alemannic dialect space , the diminutive is usually formed with -li : z. B. Platz - Plätzli . There are also other variants such as -ji and -tschi, especially in the highest Alemannic dialects , see the article -li .

In the Swabian dialect area , the diminutive is formed with the endings -le (singular) or -la (plural), e.g. B. Heisle and Heisla .

Grammatical gender (gender)

In the standard German language, diminutives are always neuter, which is why the diminution of masculine or feminine nouns - regardless of their natural gender - brings about a change in gender. Thus the girl (originally: Mägdchen, diminutive of maid ) is grammatically neuter. In dialects, however, diminutions of male personal names are often masculine, e.g. Hansli (little Hans), but Anneli (little Anna).


Street sign in Freiberg am Neckar

Use of the diminutive in German:

  • for small or young people
  • for marking small objects within a class of objects
  • to identify small or young animals or plants
  • as a pet form
  • as a belittling form, especially of nouns or proper names in language addressed to children or loved ones
  • as a valuation: reduction in the reputation of a person or the value of an object as a pejorative or dysphemism
  • as an understatement ("we have a problem")

The use of diminutive (-la, -le, -li, -l, -erl) is particularly common in East Franconian , in the Alemannic dialects (see the article -li ), in Bavarian and (-ke) in Lower Prussian, which is now dying out . The East Frisian Platt uses the diminutive ending -je or -tje ( Kluntje, Antje "Ännchen"), but also knows the suffix -ke ( Happke "Häppchen"). It is less pronounced in Northern Lower Saxony , where the reduction is usually expressed by a preceding adjective ( lütte Deern "little girl"), which corresponds to the extensive lack of diminutive in Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian language areas; the North German diminutive ending in -ing ( Kinnings for "children", Louising for "Louise") is rarely used. The diminutive -l or -el is also not very widespread in East Central German , where it is usually only found in fixed expressions such as Rostbrätel ; However, it lives on in a number of personal names (e.g. Hansel and Gretel ) throughout the German-speaking area.


  • Diminutive of "the tree " is "the little tree" or "the little tree", in Switzerland "Bäumli".
  • The diminutive of " Hans " is "Hänschen" or "Hansi", rarely "Hansel", in Switzerland "Hansli".
  • Diminutive of “the man” is “the male” or “the little man”, rarely “the man”, in Switzerland “man (d) li”, in Tyrol also “Mandl”.
  • Diminutive of "the rib" is "das Rippchen", rarely "das Ripple (in)", in Bavarian often "das Ripperl", in Switzerland "Rippli".

Independent diminutives

Certain words are formally diminutive, but are used as an independent term and not (no longer) as a diminutive of the original term. Examples:

Pet forms for first names

Diminutive in other languages

Romance languages


The original French diminutive ending in -ette only appears lexicalized today, that is, the words formed with it are independent and are no longer the function of reducing other words. An example is sandal "light sandal", to sandal "sandal".

In Quebec French , diminutive forms are formed by prefixing or doubling syllables , for example ti-chat "kitty", ti-gars "little boy", Ti- (L) ouise "Louise", Ti-Mi "Michelle", Dédé "André", Didi " Diane ”, Dodo “ Dominique ”. There are similar forms in the French Creole languages (namely Haitian ) and various West African languages.


Diminutive are very common in Italian , especially as a nickname and affectionate, but also jokingly or ironically. The typical endings are -ina and -ino, or -etta and -etto; and sometimes -ella and -ello .

Examples: Annina to Anna , Raffaellino to Raffaello, Giuseppino to Giuseppe , Nicolino to Nicola or Niccolò , Nicoletta to Nicola, Giulietta (Giulietto) to Giulia (Giulio), Antonino or Antonello to Antonio .

The suffixes -accio or -uccio are less common: e.g. B. Antonaccio instead of Antonio , Matteuccio for Matteo .

Formations that have become independent are:

  • spaghettini (especially fine, thin spaghetti ),
  • violoncello (small violone , forerunner of the double bass ),
  • piazzetta (small square), to piazza,
  • pastorella to pastora (shepherdess).

Italian also has a form of enlargement ( augmentative ) that ends in -one .


See also: Section "Portuguese" in the article "Diminutive affix"
In the Portuguese language , diminutives are extremely common, very often belittling, joking or ironic, or as an enhancement. The typical diminutive ending in the masculinum is -inho (pronounced: -iɲu), -sinho, -zinho and in the feminine -inha (pronounced: -iɲɐ), -sinha, -zinha . Examples: bola "ball" - bolinha; bolo "cake" - bolinho; pomba "dove" - pombinha; peixe "fish" - peixinho; melão melon - melãosinho .

There is also -ito (pronounced: -itu) or -ita (pronounced: -it,), which sounds a little bolder or cheekier than -inho / -inha and can sometimes be used as an alternative, e.g. E.g . : bébé "baby" - bébésinho / bébésinha or bébésito / bébésita .

Diminutive are also used with adjectives or adverbs , this is difficult to translate into German, e.g. B. pequeno "small" - pequeninho or pequenito; bom "good" - bomzinho; devagar "slowly" - devagarinho .

Word formations that have become independent are: um bocadinho “a little bit” (but also: bocado ), or carregadinho (from carregar “to carry”): uma árvore carregadinha de fruta “a tree full of fruit”.


Basically similar to Portuguese or Italian, but tends not to be as popular as Portuguese. The endings are -ito or -ita, e.g. B. Manuel / Manolo - Manolito, Manuela / Manola - Manolita; José - Joselito; flor "flower" - florita; muchacha / -o "girl / boy" - muchachita / -o .

Sometimes -illo, illa is also used, e.g. B. Angelillo to Angelo .

Scandinavian languages

Diminutiva are unknown in the Scandinavian languages . Differences between the diminutive forms and the corresponding augmentatives are made clear by placing the words for "small" and "large" in front. In lexicalized cases, these connections are written together, for example Danish lillebror "little brother, younger brother".


In the Lithuanian language there are diminutives with several first names ( Laimutė , Sigutė , Birutė etc.).


In the Latvian language , diminutives are very common. So it says in the folk song:

Pie lower laivu sēju, pie auziņas kumeliņu.
Pats uzkāpu kalniņāi zeltenītes lūkotiesi.

There are five diminutives in two short lines of the song: "niedīte" is diminutive of "niedre" (reed), "auziņa" from "auza" (oat), "kalniņš" from "kalns" (mountain), "zeltenīte" from " camp ".

Slavic languages

Two ascending forms of the diminutive are often used in the Slavic languages , e.g. B. in Czech : strom "tree" → stromek "little tree" → stromeček "little tree".

In Russian , the typical ending of the diminutive is -a, which is often extended by -ka -ja, -schka , such as B. baba "old woman, grandmother" next to babushka "grandmother, grandma".

Modern Greek

In the Greek language , a variety of different diminutive suffixes are used for diminution . The most common are:

  • Masculine: -άκης [-ákis], -άκος [-ákos], -ούλης [-oúlis]
    Example: the father (ο πατέρας [o patéras]) → the father (το πατερούλης [o pateroúlis])
  • Feminine : -ούλα [-oúla], -ούδα [-oúda], -οπούλα [-opoúla], -ίτσα [-ítsa]
    Example: the beer * (η μπίρα [i bíra]) → the beer (η μπιρίτσα [i birítsa]) [* the gender in Greek is feminine]
  • Neutra: -άκι [-áki], -ούλι [-oúli], -ούδι [-oúdi], -ουδάκι [-oudáki], -οπούλο [-opoúlo]
    Example: the house (το σπίτι [to spíti]) → that Little house (το σπιτάκι [to spitáki])

"The meaning of the Greek diminutive goes beyond the diminutive , because they are very often used to express a tender remark, a polite request, an approximate calculation, sometimes also a negative [trivializing] assessment" (Pavlos Tzermias: Neugriechische Grammatik, A. Francke Verlag, Bern 1967.).

The Greek knows not only diminutives, but also forms of enlargement ( augmentatives ), which are sometimes very plastic.

See also


  • Franz Januschek : About Fritz and other discontinued models. A contribution to lingology. In: Elisabeth Berner, Manuela Böhm, Anja Voeste (eds.): Ein gross vnnd narhracht. Festschrift for Joachim Gessinger. Universitäts-Verlag, Potsdam 2005, ISBN 3-937786-35-X , pp. 221-231, full text (about pet forms of first names) .
  • Alfred Lameli : The Replacement of Diminutive Suffixes in the New High German Period. A Time Series Analysis in Word Formation. In: Journal of Historial Linguistics 3, 2018.
  • Maria Schiller : Pragmatics of diminutives, nicknames and endearing words in modern Russian colloquial literature (= language and literary studies. Vol. 22). Herbert-Utz-Verlag, Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-8316-0683-2 (also: Munich, University, dissertation, 2006).
  • Henri Wittmann , Heinz Fischer : The distribution of the diminutive / še / and / jə / in Middle Franconia (Aschaffenburg, Neuwied). In: Études germaniques . Vol. 14, 1964, pp. 165-167, digitized version (PDF; 203 KB) .

Web links

Wiktionary: Diminutive  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ A b Alfred Lameli : The Replacement of Diminutive Suffixes in the New High German Period. A Time Series Analysis in Word Formation. In: Journal of Historial Linguistics 3, 2018.
  2. Wolfgang Pfeifer : Etymological Dictionary of German. Berlin 1989 (with further editions), s. v.
  3. Duden.de: Girls
  4. DWDS: Girls
  5. Girl, that. In: DWDS - Digital Dictionary of the German Language. Retrieved February 18, 2019 .