The suffix "-chen" is used as a diminutive, but a "standard" rabbit is already called a "Kaninchen", with the diminutive. How do you say "small rabbit" then?

Ein Kaninchenlein

or simply

Ein kleines Kaninchen

like you would have to in English?

  • If you want to express that one of two animal is smaller, you can say "Kanin" to the other. (Definitely colloquial, but will be understood -- hopefully.) But then, in spoken language you can also say "Kaninchen_chen_" (emphasising the second "chen" to make your point. – Raphael Jun 11 '14 at 13:54
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    @Raphael just want to add, that "Kanin" can also refer to the fur of a "Kaninchen", e.g. when used in skinning jargon. "Kanin" refering to the animal is used in "Mittelniederdeutsch" (= old language), only rarely in modern german language – Pasoe Jun 11 '14 at 14:50
  • @Pasoe I did not know there were actual meanings of the word; I've heard it used colloquially/jokingly to describe particularly large "Kaninchen", in particular such that are bigger than your average "Hase". – Raphael Jun 11 '14 at 14:52
  • @Raphael as I said, it is only used in skinning jargon, your usage is probably more common. – Pasoe Jun 11 '14 at 15:02
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    I've never heard "Kanin". Also, the obvious answer to OP's question is Minikarnickel. – jona Jun 12 '14 at 16:44

Ein kleines Kaninchen

works very well.

You wouldn't say "Kaninchenlein"; I don't think we ever stack two diminutive suffixes, evidence to the contrary reserved.

If you're talking about a young rabbit, the following ones also work:

ein junges Kaninchen

ein Kaninchenjunges

ein Kaninchenbaby (informal)


scroll down for English version


"Kaninchen" ist schon eine Verkleinerungsform, nämlich von "Kanin". Das kann man nicht noch weiter verkleinern. Ein kleines Hündchen ist ja auch kein Hündchenchen oder Hündchenlein oder was einem sonst noch so einfallen mag. Ein Kaninchen ist ein kleines Kanin. Auch dann, wenn das Wort "Kanin" selbst längst ausgestorben ist.

Aus dem lateinischen "cuniculus" bzw. dem altgriechisch "κόνικλος" (kóniklos) entstand das altfranzösische "conin" und daraus wiederum das mittelniederdeutsche "Kanin". Und das fand man so niedlich, dass man ab einem schwer zu bestimmenden Zeitpunkt allgemein nur noch von Kanin-chen sprach.

Dass das Kanin heute nicht mehr im allgemeinen Sprachgebrauch verwendet wird, ändert nichts daran, dass es die "große" Form des kleinen Kaninchens ist.

Das Kaninchen ist nicht die einzige Verkleinerungsform, deren große Urform sprachlich ausgestorben ist. Das Eichhorn, die Mär, der Frett und die Maid begegnen uns heute (fast) nur noch als Eichhörnchen, Märchen, Frettchen und Mädchen.


"Kaninchen already is a diminutive, namely from "Kanin". You can't make it even smaller. A little "Hündchen" is not a "Hündchenchen" or a "Hündchenlein" or what ever you might think of. A "Kaninchen" is a small "Kanin". Even when the word "Kanin" itself is extinct.

The Latin "cuniculus" or the Ancient Greek "κόνικλος" (kóniklos) resulted in Old French "conin" from which the Middle Low German "Kanin" resulted. But everybody found this animal so cute, that, beginning from a hard to determine day, everybody just spoke of a "Kanin-chen".

That the "Kanin" as word has gone doesn't mean that it is not the base-form of the diminutive "Kaninchen".

"Kaninchen" is not the only one diminutive who's base form is extinct. The words "Eichhorn", "Mär", "Frett" and "Maid" are distinct or very rarely used, but we still have "Eichhörnchen", "Märchen", "Frettchen" und "Mädchen".

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    Was die Niedlichkeit als Grund angeht, wäre ich nicht so sicher. Es dürfte auch das lateinische Wort, das ja selber eine Verkleinerungsform ist, eine Rolle gespielt haben, vgl. die Dialekt- bzw. umgangssprachlichen Formen Ka(r)nick(e)l. Da -l in diversen süddeutschen Mundarten ein Diminutivmarker ist, könnte man das zum Anlass genommen haben, den Diminutiv auch im Hochdeutschen einzuführen. – Marc Schütz Jun 11 '14 at 21:30
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    You reason that "Kaninchenchen" is not possible -- but where is an answer to the question? – Raphael Jun 12 '14 at 5:42
  • @Raphael: The answer is the first two sentences: »"Kaninchen already is a diminutive, namely from "Kanin". You can't make it even smaller.« Its just a "Kaninchen". Period. – Hubert Schölnast Jun 12 '14 at 9:35
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    @HubertSchölnast Yea, no; the OP asks "What do I say to a small Kaninchen?". Other answers provide, well, actual answers to that question. – Raphael Jun 12 '14 at 10:35

In German, the diminutive morpheme [DIMIN] is always realized as the final suffix of a lexical word paradigm and, like most morphemes, it cannot be reduplicated. (Inflective morphemes for number [NUM=Sg|Pl] and case [CAS=Nom|Acc|Dat|Gen] would follow in syntactical word forms, but these grammemes are mostly empty {∅}, e.g. Kindchen[Sg ¬Gen, Pl], but Kindchens[Sg Gen] and Fräuleins[Sg Gen, Pl].) This derivanteme may appear directly after a simple noun stem SBST (usually umlauted, e.g. Bäumchen, incl. names as in Hänschen, Hansi), or after a complex SBST that has been formed from a noun SBST, verb VB or adjective ADJ base with single suffixes like {e, en, ung; heit, keit} or a hierarchical combination {VB > er > ling/in > schaft/tum}, see Eisenberg 2006:280ff (Das Wort).

[DIMIN] uses at least three morphs {chen, lein, i}, whereof the former two have many regional allomorphs {ken, ke, che, sche; li, le, el}. The i morph is often considered a separate morpheme, because it keeps the masculine or feminine gender, whereas the other two result in neuter nouns. (Proper derivative morphemes always determine the gender of the derived word.)

The preferred morph in (non-poetic) Hochdeutsch is chen, but certain phonologic restrictions apply which afford lein in some words, e.g. Büchlein. Although it disturbs the flow of reading (except in Fraktur with long s ‹ſ›), chen is also used after a simple s coda, e.g. Häuschen /hɔʏsçən/ might be misread /hɔʏʃən/ by inexperienced readers. Some special cases have been conventionalized, of course, e.g. Fräulein vs. Frauchen or Bavarianisms Dirndl, Hendl.

There are also some words whose base has fallen (almost) out of use, making them semantically opaque, e.g. Märchen, Mädchen, and others that are only conventional in the diminutive, e.g. Kaninchen, Seepferdchen. These – to answer your question – require an alternative grammatical or lexical solution, which is of course available for other words as well.

ein kleines Kaninchen – small, tiny, little rabbit

ein junges Kaninchen – young 'rabbit

ein Jungkaninchen – 'young rabbit

ein Kaninchenjunges – rabbit offspring

ein ?Kaninchenbaby – informal, just born

ein Babykaninchen – informal variant of Jungkaninchen

ein Minikaninchen – informal, focus on miniature size

ein Zwergkaninchen – special breed

A few false diminutives exist, which look like real ones but don’t derive from a stem, most prominently Eichhörchen which has spawned a whole family of ~hörnchen that have nothing to do with Horn. Nevertheless, they’re occasionally retrofitted, like Eichhorn or Ahörnchen und Behörnchen ‘Chip and Dale’ from Ahorn and A/B, but mostly for comedic effect I believe:

Was ist gelb und hüpft von Baum zu Baum? Ein Posthörnchen!

PS: Another false diminutive is Plätzchen ‘cookie’ which does not stem from Platz, but is related to Placebo.

  • Large parts of this answer are of a too general nature for this question, but it's in total well put together. – Raphael Jun 12 '14 at 5:42
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    +1: that's the kind of answer we love to see here. Well researched and nicely written up. – Takkat Jun 12 '14 at 6:13
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    I have a problem with your use of the term SBST. It may be common in linguistics, or even high school, but I, like many other users here, have German only as a second language (actually it's my fifth) and it's unlikely that I will encounter it in my 5 years of night school. I tried to look it up but didn't find anything, and even my dictionary doesn't mention it. Please explain, now it sounds pedantic. – stevenvh Jun 12 '14 at 7:23
  • @stevenh, oops, SBST is a common abbreviation in German linguistics for Substantiv which more or less is the same as English noun. I could (maybe should) have used ‘N’ instead. – Crissov Jun 12 '14 at 9:12
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    @Crissov - I could have assumed it was that, but I'd rather not assume too much :-). It's strange because in an all caps abbreviation normally each letter represents a word. I understand that it's common for German-speaking people (Germany, Austria, Switzerland) but like I said many people who study German as a foreign language may not know it. Well, it can easily be solved by adding "SBST = substantive" when you first use it. Peace. – stevenvh Jun 12 '14 at 10:46

There is also Zwergkaninchen, but you probably mean kleines Kaninchen /age unrelated

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    That would be a dwarf or pygmy rabbit. – Takkat Jun 12 '14 at 6:11

Since rabbit has two translations in German

  • Häschen (from Hase)

  • kleines Kaninchen (from Kaninchen)

kleines Häschen would be possible too - just from my feeling the first one fits best.

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    It has been commented on other answers: a rabbit (ein Kaninchen) is NOT a hare (eine Hase). They're different species, for Pete's sake. – stevenvh Jun 12 '14 at 12:53
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    What is wrong with you? I just try to help. dict.cc translates rabbit with both. Go out and ask some people: Less than a half will even know the difference between a "Hase" and a "Kaninchen" – paulgavrikov Jun 12 '14 at 12:55
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    I'm perfectly alright, thank you :-). It's not because people don't know the difference that there isn't any. And if dict.cc translates "rabbit" as "Hase" it's definitely wrong. Suppose you love horses and someone comes here to tell you that horses and donkeys are actually the same species. – stevenvh Jun 12 '14 at 13:26
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    I told you the difference doesn't matter (that) much in German. Langenscheidt (Großes Schulwörterbuch), which I have here on my desk, translates rabbit as: 1. zo. Ka'ninchen n; 2. zo. Am. allg. Hase m. May I humbly suggest to move on to other, more worthy causes? – Ingmar Jun 12 '14 at 13:36
  • Wonder what Bugs Bunny is. A rabbit, isn't he? What's he in German? Ein Hase, oder? – Zane Jun 12 '14 at 18:04

Usually, little difference is made between 'bunny' and 'rabbit' in German. Thus, most Germans would refer to a small rabbit as 'Häschen' (diminutive of 'Hase' - bunny).

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    A bunny is not a Häschen! According to the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) "bunny" is the children's name for a rabbit. Eine Hase (a hare) and ein Kaninchen (a rabbit or bunny) are two completely different animals. – stevenvh Jun 12 '14 at 8:13
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    Who cares? Not the majority of German speakers, that's who. "Hase" has become an almost all-inclusive term. We also call that, uh, springtime giver of eggs "Osterhase", not Easte rabbit (or bunny). So while you are technically correct it really matters little in daily life. – Ingmar Jun 12 '14 at 9:01
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    @Ingmar - So, do Germans in general also think ducks and geese are the same species? I don't think so. Why not, if rabbits and hares are all the same, then I should say ducks and geese are the same as well. Or swans, for that matter. Or a horse and a donkey... – stevenvh Jun 12 '14 at 10:50
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    Well, the vox populi does distinguish between those animals; and yet, sometimes different species are grouped together in the public perception. This is the case with rabbits and hares, or, dare I say it, apes and monkeys. You can certainly stress the differences, you can call people stupid who don't, but you won't make that fact go away. I didn't invent that, by the way, just telling how it is. Make of that what you will. – Ingmar Jun 12 '14 at 10:59
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    I agree with @Ingmar, the same goes for Tintenfisch, Krake(n), Oktopus for instance. English certainly doesn’t distinguish some animals (with basic lexemes) which German does (or rather Germans do). – Crissov Jun 12 '14 at 16:39

"Kleiner Hase" would be the most direct translation

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