Diminutives, the Dutch just love them

Diminutives, the Dutch just love them


Small house, little tree, small beast - what a little bug's life, huh? But first an espresso. Nice little weather, by the way! We love diminutives and use them often. Is that something typically Dutch or do people in other countries also love them? In this blog article we will tell you more about diminutives.

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What are diminutives anyway?

Diminutives in Dutch are nouns with a suffix that express that we are dealing with "something small". The most commonly used suffixes in Dutch are -je, -tje, -etje and -pje. Which suffix you use depends on the original word. For example house, with huis you use -je, resulting in huisje. And a small tree boompje consists of boom + -pje. Fortunately, the rules for diminutives are not difficult. You usually get it right.

By the way, there are quite a few adverbs from which you can make diminutives. Think of softly, quietly and slightly. Some adjectives can also be followed by a diminutive suffix. But then something crazy happens: the adjective becomes a noun. Take for example being a little green, derived from green. Or a smaller half, derived from half. And have you ever turned a little blue?

Diminutives by no means always have to do with 'small'

If you look at the Dutch diminutives for green and blue, you probably notice something else: they do not refer to "something small and green" or to "something small with the color blue. These words have taken on a meaning all their own over time. Only in form are they still diminutives, but not in meaning. Such shifts in meaning are common. For example, the viooltjes are plants in your garden, not little violins. And if there are afrikaantjes growing on your balcony, they are usually not children from Africa.

There are also nouns with multiple diminutives, each with its own meaning. The best-known 'flowery' example is bloem: a bloempje is a small flower, but a bloemetje is a bunch of flowers.

A special category is formed by diminutives whose original word has fallen into oblivion. Fairy tale or Sprook you won't find in the Dutch dictionary, but everyone knows what a fairy tale or sprookje is. And you eat poffertjes, not poffers (although of course you can say "Those are big poffertjes!" about very large Dutch mini pancakes- the flexibility of Dutch is endless).

With diminutives you add color to reality

Even if a diminutive does not have a meaning all its own, the emphasis is often not on the "small" aspect. Speakers use diminutives mainly to color reality, to give what they say a certain connotation. Usually these are positive connotations such as affection, involvement or sociability. huis, boom, beest' sounds clumsy and distant; 'huisje, boompje, beestje' sounds friendly. The word little colleague may horrify you, but it is usually pronounced with affection. And in "You're already getting a nice little belly!" you can feel the good-natured mockery.

What about diminutives in other languages?

Diminutives are also widely used in the countries around us. German is good at it, but you also come across them frequently in French and Spanish, for example. And that is actually true of most Indo-European languages. In Russian, you can even combine several diminutive suffixes to express a high degree of affection. Fun fact: in Russian, you also have an enlargement suffix. For example, домище (дом is house, -ище the enlargement suffix) means a "huge house. Finally, did you know that there is also a major Indo-European language in which there are virtually no diminutives? English!

So, now you're all caught up and know all about diminutives. A 'little' greeting to you!

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