According to Wikipedia: A diminutive
is a word that has been modified to convey a slighter degree of its root meaning, to convey the smallness of the object or quality named, or to convey a sense of intimacy or endearment.
Examples of diminutives
in English include: “Dog” becoming “Doggy”, “Book” becoming “Booklet”, “James” becoming “Jim”, and so on.
Other than terms of endearment, familiarity or addressing children, diminutives are not necessarily a large part of the English language.
By way of contrast, diminutives play a large role within spoken Spanish. Almost anything can be and often is made diminutive.
There are many reasons in Spanish why we might use a diminutive form. They include: To indicate something is small, to indicate something is less important, to indicate something is endearing, to show affection, to give a more friendly tone, to nuance a meaning, addressing children, or simply to create a new word.
Let’s see some examples. Remember, diminutives can be used for a number of reasons, including just to create a different tone, rather than any distinct new meaning:
|Original ||Diminutive ||Example Type |
|un perro (a dog) ||un perrito (a small dog, doggy) ||Noun |
|un café (a coffee) ||un cafecito (a small coffee) ||Noun |
|una cerveza (a beer) ||una cervecita (a small beer) ||Noun |
|una casa (a house) ||una casita (a small house) ||Noun |
|una bolsa (a bag) ||una bolsita (a small bag) ||Noun |
|poco (little) ||poquito (little bit) ||Adjective |
|pobre (poor) ||pobrecito (poor thing) ||Adjective |
|gordo (fat) ||gordito (chubby) ||Adjective |
|gorda (fat) ||gordita (chubby) ||Adjective |
|momento (moment) ||momentito (just a moment) ||Describing time |
|un rato (a while) ||un ratito (a little while) ||Describing time |
|segundo (second) ||segundito (just a sec) ||Describing time |
|papa (dad) ||papito (daddy) ||Describing people |
|mama (mum, mom) ||mamita (mummy, mommy) ||Describing people |
|joven (youngster) ||jovencita (young lady) ||Describing people |
|joven (youngster) ||jovencito (young man) ||Describing people |
|chica (girl) ||chiquita (little girl) ||Describing people |
|chiquito (little boy) ||chiquitito (little boy) ||Diminutive of a diminutive |
As you might expect, diminutives follow gender agreement when applicable. For example, if you are referring to a woman as “poor thing”, you would use “pobrecita” in the feminine form. Forming Diminutives
We are always looking for patterns and rules when forming new words. Diminutives have several rules we can observe to help us form them.
For words ending in -o
, we can remove the last vowel, and append either -ito
. Examples are: perro
Words ending in -e
can append either -cito
, depending on the gender. Examples are: café
For words that end a consonant expect for -n
, we append either -ito
. For example: pastel
Whilst for words that do end in -n
, we can simply add -cito
to the end. For instance: amor
Also, watch out for some spelling changes. Whereby the c
can become qu
, the z
can become c
and the g
can become gu
. Examples are: poc
o becoming poqu
a becoming cervec
ita and amig
o becoming amigu
ito. Conclusion | En conclusión
Diminutives play a far greater role in the Spanish language in comparison to English, particularly in the day to day spoken. Their function is not always to give a different meaning, but perhaps to sound more informal, friendly, or even to convey a little more subtlety and nuance to a situation.
Whatever the reason you hear a diminutive being used within Spanish, being able to pick them out and thus work out their origin is a string to any newcomer’s bow. Once you are made aware of these type of words, you will certainly notice them more and more in conversation.