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Are there any rules how to build the diminutive?

I was reading this article on Duden's webpage and began wondering about the diminutive forms of "-lein" and "-chen". Duden points out that the diminutive form, as you know, is often more a Koseform rather than always indicating a reduction in size, etc. And it states that "-lein" originated in the south (where obviously we still find various forms of it, such as the Schwäbisch "-le" usw), but that today "-chen" tends to be more frequently used.

Now, I think grammar books do teach that "-lein" and "-chen" really are completely interchangeable. But aren't there some words that always show up using only one form or the other? If so, is that simply because of how the words have developed from common or practical usage, or are there some words that grammatically can only use "-lein" or "-chen" but not both?

I appreciate the discussion between Takkat and Jan with Takkat's earlier question here, and they seem to agree that there may be some words that prefer one form or the other, but I'd like a more definitive answer on whether it's grammatical or just practical, if anyone knows.

  • I agree to @Takkat that I can't see any difference. Can you point out more precisely what you are looking for? Frankly speaking, I don't understand your last sentence: What should be grammatical or just practical, exactly? I want to add here, that in my opinion there are only rare words which can take -lein and -chen (without sounding awkward). Actually, I don't know one word right now. So, I wouldn't say that they are interchangeable. – Em1 Apr 18 '12 at 7:29
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    Takkat's question is about "how" to form the diminutive. I'm going beyond that. Books and web posts I find say both endings are interchangeable, though one tends to be more common. But sometimes one ending can change the meaning a little (consider "Männchen" vs "Männlein") or is more traditional ("Mädlein" vs "Mädchen") or awkward ("Löchchen" vs "Löchlein"). From what I find, it seems either ending is technically always possible (grammatical) but sometimes too awkward (impractical). I'm asking if some words just cannot by some rule use both endings or simply will not for impracticality. – Kevin Apr 18 '12 at 15:59
  • @Kevin Ok, the example Männchen - Männlein is acceptable but note that Männchen is the common name for a male animal, while only Männlein can be the diminutive of Der Mann. The others examples... I don't know. Mädchen is a regular word. – Em1 Apr 18 '12 at 19:33
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    I wish somebody who thinks mine is a duplicate issue could show me where on the other page this information can be found. :-p – Kevin Apr 19 '12 at 0:13
  • As the answer to the other question point out, there are only a few words with lein at the end. The usual way is to take chen. Note that not all words of the links are diminutives but they are in the list, too. It's just for comparing. But that means for you: Most words only have chen and no - they are not really interchangeable. What is unclear yet? – Em1 Apr 19 '12 at 11:56