Small events. Verbal diminutives in the languages of the world


  • Jenny Audring Leiden University
  • Sterre Leufkens Utrecht University
  • Eva van Lier University of Amsterdam


verbal diminutive, diminutive, evaluative morphology, attenuation, reduplication, morphology


Diminutives are typically nouns. However, verbs can also be diminutivised, i.e. marked for reduced intensity, duration, seriousness or success of the action or event. This paper is a first attempt at a typology of verbal diminutives, based on a balanced sample of 248 languages. We discuss the analytical and terminological challenges that arise from the study of a category that is not widely recognised and does not have an established place in grammatical descriptions. Our sample shows that verbal diminutives occur across the world, with a slightly higher predominance in the Americas and somewhat fewer cases in Africa. Among the language families, Austronesian has the highest percentage of verbal diminutives in our sample. We present our results for the various formal exponents of verbal diminution on the one hand and the array of semantic effects on the other. Meanings are separated into three categories: attenuation in quantity, attenuation in quality and affective meanings. In many cases, markers of verbal diminution encode additional meanings, some of which contradict the core meaning of attenuation by expressing intensity, durativity or iteration. Such apparent paradoxes have parallels in nominal diminutives. The paper closes with recommendations for further research.


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How to Cite

Audring J, Leufkens S, van Lier E. Small events. Verbal diminutives in the languages of the world. LTC [Internet]. 2021Jan.1 [cited 2021Sep.28];1(1):223-56. Available from: