Spanish/Diminutives

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Diminutives are suffixes that indicate small size, youth, affection or contempt. English examples are –y in doggy or -let in booklet.

The most common Spanish diminutive suffix is -ito/-ita. Gatito means small cat, particularly kitten. Esté quietecito is a nice way of telling someone to keep still. Unlike English, Spanish diminutives can be applied not only to nouns (gatito) but to adjectives (quietecito) and adverbs (rapidito).

Morphology of -ito/-ita

Diminutives are formed in the following ways

  • replacing the last vowel by -ito/ita, or adding -ito/ita to the last consonant: perro/perrito, papel/papelito. If the word ends in the diphthongs io/ia then only one i is left: despacio/despacito.
  • adding -cito/-cita: corazón/corazoncito, duende/duendecito/duendecita.
  • replacing the last vowel by -ecito/-ecita, or adding -ecito/ecita to the last consonant: quieto/quietecito, pez/pececito, tren/trencito/trenecito.
  • adding -cecito/-cecita: pie/piecito/piececito.

Regular formation of diminutives

  • Words ending in unstressed o/a or diphthongs io/ia replace it by -ito/-ita: gata/gatita, Julio/Julito, vacío/vaciíto, feo/feíto.
  • Words ending in unstressed e/i/u or stressed vowel add -cito/-cita:: duende/duendecito/duendecita, whisky/whiskicito, sofá/sofacito.
  • Words ending in n or r add -cito/-cita: camión/camioncito, motor/motorcito.
  • Words ending in another consonant add -ito/-ita: farol/farolito, lápiz/lapicito.
  • The diminutive is formed from the masculine and/or singular form. Patrón->patroncito/patroncita, not patrona->*patronita. agua->agüita->agüitas->paragüitas and not paraguas->*paraguasito.

(*) indicates non-existent word.

It follows that all diminutives ending in -ecito/-ecita are irregular.

Some irregular diminutives: novio/noviecito, pez/pececito, Carlos/Carlitos,, mano/manito/manita (manita is used in México and Spain), caliente/calentito.

Defective words

Many words lack a diminutive, such as edad/*edadita, bondad/*bondadita, ciudad/*ciudadita (but maldad/maldadita), útil/*utilito (but fácil/facilito), lunes/*lunesito, …, viernes/*viernesito (but sábado/sabadito, domingo/dominguito), espacio/*espacito (but despacio/despacito), lenguaje/*lenguajito/*lenguajecito, apetito/*apetitito, termita/*termitita.

On the other hand there are diminutives that are never used, such as autentiquito, peliagudito, emigrantito, cabellerita.

Diminutives of diminutives

chico/chiquito/chiquitito; poco/poquito/poquitito.

-ico/-ica

In some countries, particularly Colombia and Cuba the endings tito/tita are replaced by tico/tica: zapato/zapatico (preferred to zapatito). Other examples: pato/patico, rato/ratico.

Other diminutive suffixes

  • -illo/-illa: venado/venadillo, mujer/mujercilla. (Affectionate, pejoritive.)
  • -ico/-ica: perrico/perrica
  • -ucho/-ucha:casa/ casucha. (Pejoritive.)
  • -ín/ina: pequeñín/pequeñina. (Affectionate.)
  • -uelo/uela: ladrón/ ladronzuelo/ladronzuela. (Affectionate.)
  • -ete/-eta: viejo/vejete. (Pejoritive.)
  • -uco/-uca: perro/perruco. (Pejoritive. Used mainly in Cantabria.)

Words originated from diminutives

Some diminutives have evolved to be new words. For example, a knob is a small pear (perilla). These words may have their own diminutives (perillita).

  • pera: pear; perilla: knob
  • mano: hand; manecilla: clock hand
  • chico: boy; chiquillo: lad
  • bolso: bag; bolsillo: pocket
  • balanza: scale, balance; balancín: seesaw