Is there a rule (or best practice) on how to get from a "Substantiv" to it´s diminutive form and also back again?

What I mean is i.e: How to get from Haus to Häuschen and back to Haus.

It´s a diminutive form. In German it´s a Diminutiv (Verniedlichungsform, Verkleinerungsform)

This form is build from a noun and a suffix like: -lein, -chen, -ette, -erl.

The word Häuschen comes from Haus.
Singular: das Haus     ==> das Häuschen
Plural:     die Häuser ==> die Häuschen


What I found till now is:

One approximation to get the root word:

  • Remove -lein, -chen, -erl, -ette from the end of the word.
  • Replace ä with a, ü with u, ö with o.
    If the word is a "zusammengesetztes Hauptwort" only replace the letters of the "Hauptwort" at the end.
  • Add -e, -er, -en or nothing to the end of the word.

This does not cover all possibilities.


Kärtchen to Karte
1.) Kärt (After removing the -chen)
2.) Kart (After replacing ä with a)
3.) Karte (After adding -e)

Häuschen to Haus
1.) Häus (After removing -chen)
2.) Haus (After replacing ä with a)

Kräutergärtchen to Kräutergarten
1.) Kräutergärt (After removing -chen)
2.) Kräutergart (After replacing ä of the last Hauptwort with a)
3.) Kräutergarten (After adding -en)

Märchen to Mär:
1.) Mär (After removing the -chen)

Stiefelette to Stiefel
1.) Stiefel (After removing the -ette)

Weckerl to Wecken
1.) Weck (After removing the -erl)
2.) Wecken (After adding -en)

Eichhörnchen to Eichhorn
1.) Eichhörn (After removing the -chen)
2.) Eichhorn (After replacing the ö with o)

An example where this approximation is wrong:

Mädchen to Magd:
1.) Mäd (After removing the -chen)
2.) Mad (After replacing the ä with a)
3.) You cant get to Magd by adding something to the end.

  • 3
    Can you give an example for replacing ß with s? I can't think of any and I think this replacement is wrong. For "Mädchen": Nowadays it isn't considered a diminutive of "Magd" anymore and its etymology is obscure for most speakers without any linguistic knowledge. If one did form a diminutive of Magd nowadays, it would be "Mägdchen/Mägdlein"; and furthermore "Mädchen" could (ironically) be analyzed as diminutive of "Made". For "Weckerl" you should know that this is a regional word and all three forms ("Weckerl", "Weck", "Wecken") are used (not necessarily in the same region). – Chris Aug 13 '14 at 16:25
  • 2
    In the olden days, i.e. before the last spelling reform, -ss was verboten at the end of a word. You had to write Schloß, e.g., even though the diminutive would be (still is, in fact) Schlösschen. We spell it Schloss these days, though. – Ingmar Aug 13 '14 at 19:38
  • @Ingmar: I think that's not what Andie2302 meant. Before his edit he had written that to recover the original word from the diminutive you have to replace ß by s. In any case, that's not true. Additionally, the Alte Rechtschreibung of Schlösschen was Schlößchen. With a ß as in Schloß. – Chris Aug 13 '14 at 19:53
  • Ja, es funktioniert nicht für "Mädchen", aber das Wort hat eh schon längst seine eigene Definition und die Herleitung ist den wenigsten bekannt. – Für jegliche 'Verniedlichungen' wie "Häuschen", "Gärtchen" usw. passt die Regel. +1 dafür. – Em1 Aug 14 '14 at 6:56

No, I'm afraid that there is no simple rule that covers all cases.

For some words there are even multiple diminuatives in use (sometimes regional variants, sometimes with slightly different meaning).

For the example of Magd, where your attempt also fails, Austrian German (i.e. the 39th edition of the "Österreichisches Wörterbuch") lists Mäderl as well as the dialect forms Madl and Mädel in addition to the Standard German Mädchen. Also, we use Haserl as well as Häschen for the diminuative of Hase.

I'm afraid you'll simply have to memorize these words and listen to native speakers for quite a while to get an intuitive feeling for how they are constructed in a certain region.

  • You are right that there are many variants to form a diminutive of a word: "-erl" with/without umlaut, "-el" with/without umlaut, "-chen" with umlaut; sometimes even several diminutive endings are combined. (I know the variant "Mädelchen" with both an "-el" and a "-chen".) In my understanding, the hard part about diminutives for non-native speakers is to recover the original word without the diminutive ending. By forming the diminutives, the last syllable containing a "schwa"-sound is dropped and it seems quite impossible to get it back without knowing the original word from the beginning. – Chris Aug 13 '14 at 16:49
  • @Chris I completely agree - there is no way of recovering the original word from a diminuative alone. – Hulk Aug 13 '14 at 17:10

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