In Dutch, a suffix can be added to the noun to indicate that the object in question is of a relatively small size. This suffix is usually –je, but it can take other forms as well (see Formation). A noun to which this suffix has been added is called a diminutive. Diminutives are very popular in the Dutch language (see Use).
Diminutives are het words (in the singular; in the plural they are de words like all plurals).
The basic suffix of the diminutive is –je. However, under certain circumstances this form changes. These circumstances are connected with the ending of the noun in question. The following are the most important rules for the formation of the Dutch diminutive:
- –kje is used if the noun ends in unstressed –ing:
woning woninkje ending in -ing small dwelling, house koning koninkje ending in -ing small king
Note that the letter –g is dropped when adding the suffix –kje.
- –pje is used if the noun ends in /m/ preceded by a long vowel, a diphthong, /l/, /r/ or /ə/:
raam raampje long vowel before /m/ small window duim duimpje diphtong before /m/ small thumb film filmpje /l/ before /m/ small/short film scherm schermpje /r/ before /m/ small screen bezem bezempje /ə/ before /m/ small broom
- –tje is used if the noun ends in /n/, /l/, /r/ or /w/ preceded by a long vowel, a diphthong or /ə/:
baan baantje long vowel before /n/ small job (job on the side) konijn konijntje diphtong before /n/ small rabbit lepel lepeltje /ə/ before /l/ small spoon kamer kamertje /ə/ before /r/ small room spa spaatje ending in long vowel small glass of mineral water kou koutje ending in dophtong small/minor cold dame dametje ending in /ə/ little lady
- –etje is used if the noun ends in /m/, /n/, /ng/, /l/ or /r/ preceded by a short vowel:
gram grammetje short vowel before /m/ little gram (measure) pan pannetje short vowel before /n/ small pan ding dingetje short vowel before /ng/ little thing bel belletje short vowel before /l/ little bel ster sterretje short vowel before /r/ small star
Mind the spelling rules for doubling the end consonant after a short vowel.
A singular diminutive is always a neuter noun, whereas the plural is alwasy a de-word, e.g. de film, het filmpje, de filmpjes.
Note that the plural of a diminutive always ends in –s: plakjes, woninkjes, raampjes, baantjes, spaatjes, grammetjes.
The diminutive is not only used to indicate small size, but also affection and affinity. Thus, someone can refer to a grown man as mijn broertje (literally ‘my little brother’), or a normal sized car as een lekker autootje (literally ‘a nice little car’). Indeed, the word kopje (‘small cup’) is almost exclusively used in this way: you hardly ever hear someone talking about een kop koffie.
On the other hand, diminutives can also be used in a derogative manner:
Some diminutives have no non-diminutive counterpart:
Sometimes the diminutive is used with a specific meaning which does not quite correspond with the non-diminutive:
|diminutive with specific meaning||translation||translation of non-diminutive|
|een briefje (van tien euro)||a (ten euro) bank note||letter|
|een etentje||a dinner||food|
|een kaartje||a ticket||map, card|
|een broodje||a bread roll||bread|
|een slaatje||a salad||lettuce|
Some nouns have two diminutive forms with two distinctive meanings, e.g. bloem has the diminutives bloempje, for ‘small flower’, and bloemetje which, in addition to the meaning ‘small flower’ is also used for ‘bunch of flowers’.
A very colloquial use of the diminutive is to substitute the ending –je for –ie in spoken Dutch: