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Lesson Transcript

Michael: What are diminutives and how are they formed in Dutch?
Atie: And are they commonly used?
Michael: At DutchPod101.com, we hear these questions often. In the following situation, Hilda Gerrits points out a cute kitten to her daughter, Guus Gerrits. She says, "Look at that kitten!"
Hilda Gerrits: Kijk eens naar dat katje!
Hilda Gerrits: Kijk eens naar dat katje!
Guus Gerrits: Schattig!
Michael: Once more with the English translation.
Hilda Gerrits: Kijk eens naar dat katje!
Michael: "Look at that kitten!"
Guus Gerrits: Schattig!
Michael: "How cute!"

Lesson focus

Michael: In this lesson, we are going to answer the questions of: what a diminutive is, how they are formed in Dutch, and whether or not they are commonly used.
Let's start with what a diminutive is.
Diminutives are words that convey that an object is small and very often that it is cute. The diminutive is formed by the addition of an affix to a word. An affix is something that is added to a root word to change its meaning. In this case, the added affix tells you that the word is a smaller version of its root word. Common types of affixes are prefixes, they come at the beginning of the root, and another one is suffixes, which come at the end of the root.
For example, in English, if you add the prefix "mini" to the word "bus," you get "minibus." "Minibus" is a diminutive, a smaller version of a bus.
Also, if you add the suffix "let" to the word "drop" you get "droplet" and, if you add "ling" to "duck," then you get "duckling." Droplet and duckling are both diminutives. And ducklings are certainly very cute.
Take note that, in Dutch, the diminutive is formed only with suffixes of several different kinds. They are used often and mean more than just "small" or "cute" in the Netherlands. They can also convey contempt or lack of trust that something is good, or that they can create new words altogether. Let's dive in.
Diminutives are often used as a term of endearment when added to a name. In Dutch, one might add the suffix
Atie: -tje
Michael: to the name Jan, especially if Jan is a very cute child or the youngest sibling. One would then say
Atie: Jantje
Michael: as a term of endearment, and also as a description. This is very useful, for example, if the father's name is also Jan.
Another way diminutives are used is to indicate that there is not a lot of something, such as "There are not many fries left."
Atie: Er zijn niet veel frietjes meer.
Michael: Or that there is not a lot of time left. Think, for instance, if you are waiting for the train and someone tells you, "It will only be three more minutes."
Atie: Het duurt nog maar 3 minuutjes.
Michael: In both of these examples, the suffix
Atie: -je
Michael: has been used. It is by far the most common suffix used to form diminutives. Something to remember is that this suffix is added only to words that end with a consonant.
Now, we know that diminutives are formed in Dutch using suffixes. Different suffixes are used depending on the phonetic end of the root word. Let's look at more suffixes that are used.
There are some words that need more than the suffix
Atie: -je
Michael: and so we add one or two letters in front of it, such as a "p." In this way, we get the suffix
Atie: -pje
Michael: Did you hear the letter "p" in front of the suffix
Atie: -je?
Michael: This suffix is used for any root word that ends with the letter "m," for example the root word
Atie: bloem
Michael: which means "flower." This together with the suffix makes the diminutive
Atie: bloempje
Michael: which means "little flower." Another example is the root word
Atie: worm
Michael: which, with the added suffix, makes the diminutive "little worm."
Atie: wormpje
Michael: Moving onto the next suffix, we have
Atie: -kje
Michael: This one is added to words that end with "ing" such as
Atie: koning
Michael: With this suffix, the diminutive is
Atie: koninkje
Michael: which means "little king," but it carries a derogatory connotation. This is an example of how diminutives in Dutch give many different nuances of meaning. It can be difficult for those who are learning Dutch to keep up!
Another example of a word ending in "ing" is
Atie: verrassing
Michael: which then, with its suffix, becomes the diminutive
Atie: verassinkje
Michael: which means "little surprise."
The next suffix we"re going to look at is
Atie: -tje
Michael: This affix is another common one and is added after several different root words.
Let's look at an example.
Atie: vrouw
Michael: combined with the mentioned suffix, makes
Atie: vrouwtje
Michael: which means "little woman." In this example, the diminutive is endearing and can be translated as "wifey" or "darling wife."
An apostrophe is used with this suffix when the root word is abbreviated or ends in "y"
such as
Atie: CD
Michael: We refer to compact discs, of course. Here, the suffix tags along the end of the word like usual, but now it comes after an apostrophe. Let's hear it now in its diminutive form.
Atie: CD'tje
Michael: which means "small CD."
Now, let's see an example where the root ends in "y."
Atie: baby
Michael: which means the same as the English "baby." And, with the suffix to form the diminutive, we get
Atie: baby'tje
Michael: "little baby."
Michael: This last suffix also attaches to several word endings. Let's hear it.
Atie: -etje
Michael: Now, if we add that suffix to the word
Atie: man
Michael: which means "man," we get the diminutive
Atie: mannetje
Michael: which means "male" when referring to animals. Here is an example of where the diminutive, while still related to the original word, has a different meaning. We can also pay special attention here as there is a doubling of the last consonant.
Atie: man
Michael: Note that, in writing, this one gets a second "n" when it is in its diminutive form, which occurs so that the vowel sound remains short.
Let's see one more example of the doubling of the consonant.
Atie: gezin
Michael: means "family." When it is put into its diminutive form using the suffix
Atie: etje
Michael: it becomes
Atie: gezinnetje.
Michael: "little family." Again, the last letter of the root is doubled. Can you hear that the vowel sound stays short?
Michael: In this lesson, we explored what diminutives are, how they are formed in Dutch, and how commonly they are used. We also noticed that diminutives are used to convey a variety of different meanings in the Netherlands.
Michael: Some diminutives do not have a larger version or parental root word. For example, the word "fairytale"
Atie: sprookje
Michael: shares similar roots to the word
Atie: spreken
Michael: which means "to speak." However,
Atie: sprookje
Michael: is its own word and
Atie: sprook
Michael: is not a word at all.
Another interesting fact is that all diminutives are neuter. This is because all the suffixes that make diminutives end in
Atie: -je
Cultural Insight/Expansion
Michael: Let's look at some more examples of diminutives that are not just smaller versions of their root word. One might say
Atie: De kaas heeft een vreemd smaakje
Michael: "The cheese has an odd taste." The word for "taste"
Atie: smaak
Michael: with the suffix,
Atie: -je
Michael: conveys the oddness of the flavor. The following is an example of how something positive can be expressed. For instance, at the end of a long day, you might pour yourself a glass of good wine, and then you could say
Atie: Lekker wijntje!
Michael: "Delicious wine!"


Michael: Do you have any more questions? We're here to answer them!
Atie: Doei!
Michael: See you soon!