Using Diminutives in Spanish for More Colorful Conversations
Have you ever wondered why Latin American people use so many diminutives in Spanish?
In other words, have you ever heard an abuelita (grandma) calling her grandson mijito and wondered what that’s all about?
Well, today I’ll explain to you what diminutives are and why they’re so widely used in Latin American Spanish. You’ll also learn how to use diminutives in Spanish, how to form them, and the different rules, suffixes, and exceptions related to the topic.
Definition of Diminutive
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary diminutive is “a word, affix, or name usually indicating small size.” Sometimes, diminutives not only make reference to a smaller version of something, but they also allow you to add an endearing meaning or emphasis, reduce the importance of something or even to convey sarcasm or contempt.
To better understand diminutives, think about how the letter “y” in English added to the ending of a word such as “dog,” changes the meaning of the term into something more endearing like “doggy.” In English, you usually add “little” before a word and that works as your diminutive, as in “little boy.”
Diminutives in Spanish
It’s common to use diminutives in Spanish, and that’s why it’s important to learn how they work. In Spanish, we form diminutives with suffixes (usually -ito, -ita) that alter the meaning of the original word.
However, using diminutives in Spanish is much more than just a way to express that something is small or endearing. The extensive use of diminutives, especially in some Latin American countries, such as Mexico and Cuba, is an expression of a warm, affectionate culture of friendly manners—and a marked aversion to confrontation.
You could say that Latin American people have a “soft” way of speaking Spanish, and diminutives play a big role in that.
How to Use Diminutives in Spanish
The most common way to form diminutives in Spanish is by adding the suffix -ito or -ita at the end of a noun or adjective, as in perrito (doggy) and cortita (shorty).
However, in reality, there are many ways to form diminutives in Spanish, as we’ll see. Just remember that the diminutive you use has to agree with the gender and number of the noun in the sentence.
Diminutives in Spanish Can Be…
Although the most common use of diminutives in Spanish is as nouns, you can also form diminutives with adjectives, adverbs, people, and names.
First, let’s see examples of each one of them, and then I’ll focus on the different endings and variations.
casa – casita
house – little house
león – leoncito
lion – little lion
silla – sillita
chair – little chair
guapo – guapito
handsome – handsome-ish
malo – malito
bad – a bit bad
viejo – viejito
old – oldie
abajo – abajito
despacio – despacito
poco – poquito
maestro – maestrito
teacher – teacher in a disrespectful way
cura – curita
priest – little priest
hija – hijita
daughter – little daughter
Cultural note: when you combine the possessive noun mi (my) and the diminutive of hijo or hija (son/daughter), you form a new word widely used in Latin American Spanish: mijito and mijita. This slang word is a great example of the way Latinos use diminutives to express love and affection.
Carlos – Carlitos
Marcela – Marcelita
Pedro – Pedrito
List of Diminutives Rules and Suffixes
Now, let’s see each of the different variations and suffixes needed to form diminutives in Spanish:
-o, -a Endings
If a word ends in the letters o or a, all you have to do to add a diminutive is eliminate that last vowel and add either -ito or -ita.
pato – patito
duck – little duck
mesa – mesita
table – little table
For Spanish words ending with the letter e, just add -cito or -cita after the e.
calle – callecita
street – little street
café – cafecito
coffee – little coffee
-n, -r Endings
For words ending in n or r, just add -cito or -cita at the end of the word to form the diminutive.
favor – favorcito
favor – little favor
volcán – volcancito
volcano – little volcano
Other Consonant Endings
For all the other consonants besides n or r, just add -ito or -ita at the end of the word.
árbol – arbolito
tree – little tree
papel – papelito
paper – small paper
reloj – relojito
clock – small clock
The -ecito, -ecita Exception
Sometimes, instead of simply adding -ito/-ita to words, you have to add an -ecito/-ecita ending replacing the final vowel or following a consonant. This is mostly due to conventional use and sometimes, even regionalisms. Consider them exceptions to the rule.
flor – florecita
flower – small flower
nuevo – nuevecito
sol – solecito
In Argentina, for instance, they actually say solcito, which shows you how rules of usage about diminutives in Spanish change from one place to another.
Some words require a spelling change to be used as diminutives.
z to c
For words that end in z, or have a z near the end of the word, you need to change it for a c and then add the diminutive ending.
ajedrez – ajedrecito
Chess – little chess
cerveza – cervecita
beer – small beer
pez – pececito
fish – small fish
c to qu
If you want to form a diminutive of a word that has a c near the end of the word, you need to change that c to qu in order to keep the harder c sound.
banco – banquito
chica – chiquita
girl – little girl
foco – foquito
light bulb – small light bulb
g to gu
Just like in the c to qu spelling change, when you have a word with a g near the end, you need to add a u after the g, in order to keep the g sound in Spanish.
trago – traguito
sip – little sip
amigo – amiguito
friend – little friend
Tips and Notes About Diminutives in Spanish
Let me conclude this post about diminutives in Spanish with a few comments, tips, and notes about their use.
Don’t Confuse it with the Past Participle
Some irregular past participles look like diminutives because they finish in -ito/-ita. Some examples of this are:
frito – fried
escrito – written
descrito – described
These words just happen to have the -ito/-ita ending, but they aren’t diminutives.
3 Rare Diminutives
Although the -ito/-ita and -cito/-cita are the most common diminutives in Spanish, there are others that you can use to impress your Spanish speaking friends.
bolso – bolsillo
This one is common in countries such as Cuba, Venezuela, and Colombia.
pequeño – pequeñico
momento – momentico
This diminutive ending has a negative connotation, so make sure that you really understand its meaning, before using it.
hombre – hombrezuelo
¡Practica tus diminutivos!
Practice your diminutives! Let’s face it, that’s the only way you’ll ever master the grammar aspect of them—and the cultural meaning they convey. Start using diminutives in Spanish for everything you can think of, and you’ll start seeing the world like Latin American people.
Sign up for a free class with one of our certified teachers from Guatemala and practice using diminutives in Spanish today!
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