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GERMAN LANGUAGE

Kätzchen and Büchlein: How to make German words smaller

German grammar is notoriously difficult. But the diminutive form – used to express a smaller version of the noun - is surprisingly straightforward.

A girl holds a seven-day-old kitten in her hand.
A girl holds a seven-day-old kitten in her hand. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Patrick Pleul

Diminutives are forms of words that are used to express a smaller, younger or even cuter version of a noun. They are used a lot in German, so it’s definitely worth getting to know how they work.

In English, words often become diminutive by adding the suffix -let (e.g. drop becomes droplet, book becomes booklet). In German, the diminutive form (also called die Verkleinerungsform) is made by adding either -chen or -lein to the end of the word:

das Tier → das Tierchen

the animal → the little animal

der Stern → das Sternchen

the star → the little star

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to pick the right German language school for you

Nouns with a, o, and u change their vowel to ä, ö, and ü. The e at the end of the word is usually dropped.

die Katze → das Kätzchen

the cat → the kitten

die Torte → das Törtchen

the cake → the little cake

die Blume → das Blümchen

the flower → the little flower

A selection of little Törtchen on a table.

A selection of little Törtchen on a table. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Catherine Waibel

The diminutive with -lein is used for words ending in -ch:

der Tisch → das Tischlein

the table →  the little table

das Buch → das Büchlein

the book → the little book

As you might have noticed, regardless of which gender the main noun is, the diminutive form is always neuter. See – told you it was simple!

Can you make any word a diminutive?

Pretty much. You can add the ending to any noun in German that is not itself a diminutive, e.g. Häschen (bunny) and Eichhörnchen (squirrel).

Common diminutives

There are many common German words that are diminutive, some of which you have probably been using without even realising it.

das Brötchen for example is the diminutive version of das Brot and means little bread.

das Mädchen, meaning girl, is actually a diminutive of the antiquated word die Magd meaning maid.

And lastly: Hallöchen! is a cute way to say hello there!

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GERMAN WORD OF THE DAY

German word of the day: Kneipe

This is a spot you might visit at the end of the working day - or Feierabend.

German word of the day: Kneipe

Why do I need to know Kneipe?

Because you may be invited to one or need to find one on the map. 

What does it mean?

Die Kniepe, which sounds like this, is the name for a pub in German where people gather to drink beverages. This isn’t a fancy cocktail bar – it’s a neighbourhood watering hole, and forms part of the make-up of towns and cities across Germany. It’s usually unpretentious, often small and in some places – like Berlin – it can be smoky. In that case, you might see a a Raucherkneipe (smoking pub) sign on the door or window. 

The word has been around since the 18th century and is an abbreviation of Kneipschenke. A Kneipschenke was a super-cramped premise where guests had to pack in and sit squeezed together.

The noun Schenke is a tavern, while Kneipe is said to come from the verb kneipen meaning “to press together” or “be close together”, which has been documented in Middle German and is a loanword from the Middle Low German word knīpen. That word is related to High German’s kneifen, which means “to pinch”. 

Kneipen don’t always have the best reputation. You might also get some suspicious looks if you crash a very local Kneipe that is used to only serving regulars or Stammgäste. But they are usually friendly and charming, and give an insight into life in Germany. So perhaps ask your German friends for a tip on a cool Kneipe to visit. Just don’t expect the staff to speak English like you usually find in hipster bars! 

If you’re hungry, keep in mind that Kneipen usually don’t serve food. Pubs that do serve hot food are more likely to be called a Wirtschaft or Lokal.

You can also do a pub crawl (eine Kneipentour machen) if you can handle the amount of booze (or switch to non-alcoholic drinks). 

How to use it:

Treffen wir uns am Freitag nach Feierabend in der Kneipe.

Let’s meet in the pub on Friday after work finishes.

Ich gehe mit den Jungs in die Kneipe.

I’m going to the pub with the lads.

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