Swiss German is characterized by the frequent use of the diminutive. This means that nouns are usually “reduced in size” by adding the suffix “li” to them. The counterpart in High German is the ending “chen/lein”.

Swiss German is very famous for using diminutives
Swiss German is very famous for using diminutives

If you don’t speak Swiss German yet or want to imitate the dialect, you simply add the ending “li” to every word. This sounds halfway Swiss and is funny, but is grammatically correct in the rarest cases. Here are a few rules as to when and how the diminutive form “li” is used in the right way.

A few application forms of the “li”

“li” is most used for nouns.

Substantiv Diminuitive
Maa (man) Männli
Berg (mountain) Bergli
Öpfel (apple) Öpfeli
Huus (house) Hüsli
Vogel (bird) Vögeli
Tüfel (devil) Tüfeli
Be careful, not every "li" is a diminutive
Be careful, not every “li” is a diminutive

But attention: a “Zältli” is not a small tent, but a candy! There are also cases where the reduction has a negative or derogatory effect. If the “Franke” (Swiss franc) suddenly becomes “Fränkli”, it preys that the thing you want to buy or pay for is not worth much. At the same time, the ending “li” can have a weakening effect, especially on swear words. There is a difference whether I call someone a “tubel” (idiot) or a “tubeli”. The latter is to be understood almost affectionately.

Lots of “li” when talking to children

When talking to children "li" is being used lots
When talking to children “-li” is being used lots

Besides nouns, other word types can also be reduced in size by using “li”. In this case it is mostly a question of trivializing or ironic statements. Such reductions are often used when talking to children and wanting to sound very cute. Therefore such expressions, as you find them in the list below, should only be used when dealing with kids. If you said “waaseli wetsch wüsse?” (what do you want to know?) to your friends or colleagues at work, then they will think that you lost it completely!

Interrogative Diminuitiv
what waaseli
who wääreli
why wiesodeli
where woodeli

“Li” does not always work

With verbs, however, the reduction by means of the ending li does not work. The correct diminution for verbs is the ending -le, -ele or -erle.

Verb Diminuitiv
to take a bath (baden) bädele
to sleep (schlafen) schlöfele
to snow (schneien) schneiele

Learn how to use “li” correctly

Of course you can now just add the ending “li” anywhere and with a bit of luck, you will get about 50% right. If, on the other hand, you want to learn Swiss German properly, then sign up for our online course today. And find out when it’s appropriate and when it’s not.


What’s up with the «li» in Switzerland? An explanation for the Swiss German diminutive
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