chapter  16
3 Pages


The diminutive

While English uses adjectives such as ‘small’, ‘little’, ‘tiny’ to indicate that something is small, the Dutch use diminutive endings on nouns, even on proper names (English would add -y or -ie, as in Johnny, Ronnie, etc.). The diminutive is not only used to indicate that something is literally small in size, but it is also used to express different attitudes: positive or negative, endearment or contempt. We like our kopje koffie, our glaasje wijn, our biertje, our koekje and our broodje kaas. Some words exist only in the diminutive form: meisje ‘girl’, sprookje ‘fairy tale’, toetje ‘dessert’. Children’s games and proverbs often use diminutives: touwtje springen ‘rope jumping’/‘skipping’, vadertje en moedertje spelen ‘play mom and dad’, belletje trekken ‘ring someone’s doorbell and run away’. The proverbial huisje, boompje, beestje, Jantje, Pietje, Keesje is the equivalent of the (American) English expression ‘a house, a dog and a mini-van’. In short, the diminutive is as much a state of mind as it is a grammatical ending.