Diminutives in SpanishTweet
Diminutives are suffixes that change the meaning of a word, usually a noun, although adjectives and in less measure adverbs, typically to give it the idea of it being small or unimportant. At times they can also be used to express endearment or affection, and on the other hand they can have a derogatory meaning. These suffixes are very common in the Romance languages, but there are also many other language families that have this capability.
Many of the examples given below are interchangeable, so the diminutive of gato can be gatito, gatico or gatino or the diminutive of abuelo can be abuelito, abuelete or abuelino. And in many cases the use of the diminutive changes the meaning of the word, so while a mesita is just a little table, a mesilla is usually a bedside table. Similarly, while ahora is now, ahorita means in a little bit. Mano is hand while manecilla is the hand of a clock, bolso is a handbag while bolsillo is a pocket, and finally balanza is a balance (for weighing) while balancín is a see-saw.
-ITO: The diminutive -ito is undoubtedly the most commonly used by Spanish speakers. Its use is quite simple; the word “gordo”, adding the root becomes “gordito”. Other common uses (let’s call them irregularities) include words that end in the syllable “co” such as “flaco” which becomes, “flaquito” just like “Paco/Paquito” or “, “toque” becomes “toquecito” as “suave” becomes “suavecito” or “luz” becomes “lucecito”, “pez” becomes “pececito”, “coche” becomes “cochecito”
Perro – perrito, gato – gatito, casa – casita, oso – osito, ventana – ventanita, barco – barquito, toalla – toallita, pelota – pelotita, mano – manita (notice that, although mano ends in an -o it is feminine, and the diminutive respects gender), silla – sillita, boca – boquita, libro – librito, café – cafecito, cielo – cielito, pájaro – pajarito, hermano – hermanito, papá – papito (or papaíto)
One last aside, when a son or a daughter has the same name as his/her father, it is often customary to give them this diminutive, as in Julio – Julito, Rocío – Rociíto or Jesús – Jesusito
-ICO: The diminutive -ico is common in eastern Spain and in countries bordering the Caribbean. It is especially common as a substitute to “ito” in order to avoid a cacophony when the last syllable of the word begins with “t” so instead of saying “gatito” or “potrito” (which, having said that, are both perfectly valid uses of the diminutive) you may also use “gatico” or “potrico”
-ILLO: The diminutive -illo is very common in the south of Spain and especially in Andalusia. Examples include chico – chiquillo (the noun, very different from the adjective chico, meaning small, whose diminutive is chiquito or chiquinino), plato – platillo, error – errorcillo, reja – rejilla, vaca – vaquilla, palo – palillo, cuaderno – cuadernillo, almohada – almohadilla, carreta – carretilla, escoba – escobilla, vieja – viejecilla or canción – cancioncilla.
-INO: The diminutive -ino is used especially Asturias, Extremadura, Castilla y Leon and Western Andalusia is another substitute diminutive “ito”. It is often used to express affection. Examples include chico – chiquinino, perro – perrino, niebla – nieblina, or the mini yoghurts for kids Danonino, which are made by the company Danone. Related to -ino is the diminutive -ín, which is used in a more exclamatory way, for example the word “pelo” (hair) is often reduced to “pelín”, especially in the phrase “se salvó por un pelín” (he was saved by the skin of his teeth) or “faltó un pelín”. A similar use is pequeñín, which is particularly affectionate.
While all the previous diminutives usually indicate smallness or affection, the following add their own particular meaning or connotations:
-ETE: The diminutive -ete is from Catalan and Valencian. Its use gives an additional degree of informality to the meaning. Examples include amigo – amiguete, Manolo – Manolete or viejo – viejete
-UCO: The diminutive -uco is very common and though it may denote affection or love, it can also be of a pejorative nature: hermano – hermanuco, pueblo – puebluco (in contrast to pueblito or pueblecito, which means little and which also contains the idea of the town being pleasant) or ventana – ventanuco
-UELO: The diminutive -uelo usually has a pejorative or belittling meaning. Examples include pillo – pilluelo, paño – pañuelo, pícaro – picaruelo, pájaro – pajaruelo, ladrón – ladronzuelo, mujer – mujerzuela or actor – actorzuelo
-EJO (or -AJO): Similarly belittling is the diminutive -ejo, which can mean dirty. Examples include the cities of Almendral (the Almond orchard) in comparison to Almendralejo (the dirty Almond orchard) libro – librejo or hierba – hierbajo.
-IJO: Another pejorative or belittling diminutive. Examples include lagarto – lagartija or baratija, which is a cheap piece of jewellery (from barato)
-IZNO: This diminutive gives a sense of softness to lluvia – llovizna, meaning drizzle or fine rain
-UCHO: A particularly pejorative diminutive: Médico – medicucho, pueblo – pueblucho or casa – casucha.
Photo by: Marite2007