Spanish diminutives: how to form and use them (A2)

Spanish diminutives or LOS DIMINUTIVOS  are used very often. For instance, when you hear a family member addressed in Spanish, you may not hear the standard relation terms (review vocabulary about family). In fact, you are more likely to hear variations on those terms. This is true because Spanish allows diminutive suffixes to be added to the ends of nouns. These suffixes are there to signal how the speaker feels about the person (or object) being described.

spanish diminutivesYou will often encounter the –ito and –ita suffixes attached to masculine and feminine nouns and some adjectives. In general, they add a quality of “smallness” or “dearness” to the description of a noun.

Although you are probably not aware of it, diminutives also occur in English. For example, compare the following: kitten/kitty, duck/ducky, dog/doggy. The difference is in terms of ease and frequency of usage: In Spanish, any noun can be easily changed to a diminutive by adding the appropriate suffix, and diminutives are used a lot more frequently.

How to form diminutives in Spanish

When you wish to add a diminutive suffix, you need to keep a few things in mind. In general, nouns that end in vowels have the vowel replaced by the suffix appropriate in gender and number:

la casa (the house): la casita (the little house)

las cucharas (the spoon): las cucharitas (the teaspoons)

el gato (the cat): el gatito (the kitten)

la hermana (the sister): la hermanita (the little/younger sister)

la lámpara (the lamp): la lamparita (the little lamp)

los perros (the dogs): los perritos (the puppies)

As with irregular verbs that require spelling accommodations, some diminutives also require certain modifications to maintain the pronunciation of the transformed nouns. Fortunately, the changes are similar to those you have already encountered:

1. Recall that if you wish a word to maintain a hard “c” sound, it must be replaced with a “qu combination when adding a suffix that begins with “e” or “i”: taco (taco); taquito (little taco)…

2. Similarly, “g” is replaced by “gu”: jugo (juice), juguito (a little juice)…

3. On the other hand, “z” sometimes needs to be replaced by “c”: pedazo (piece), pedacito (little piece)…

4. If the noun ends in an “n” or “r”, add a “c” before the suffix: joven (youth), jovencito (young boy); mujer (woman), mujercita (young girl, woman)…

5. If a noun with more than one syllable ends in “e”, you would also need to add a “c” before the suffix: mueble (furniture), mueblecito (a small piece of furniture)…

6. If the first syllable of a two-syllable noun has an “ie” or an “ue”, and the last syllable ends in an “o” or an “a”, add the combination “ec” before the suffix: cuento (story), cuentecito (short story); pierna (leg), piernecita (small leg)…

Appropriate use of the Spanish diminutives

With respect to proper nouns and relationships, diminutives denote a particular closeness or affection for an individual. Most often, diminutives are used as forms of address. Given the affection that the diminutive implies, not using it may characterize a distance or formality within a relationship.

Keep in mind that diminutives are largely regional and the uses of –ito and –ita may differ from one country to the next. Here you have a map about how, in general, diminutives are used in Spain.

Diminutives may also be employed with a limited number of adjectives. However, whereas diminutive nouns show a small size or affection, adding a diminutive suffix to an adjective will generally make its meaning more emphatic. For example suave (soft), suavecito (very soft); viejo (old), viejito (a warm way of calling someone “old”)…

Exercises to practice the diminutives

Now practice the diminutives with the quizzes below and remember you can contact your tutor with any question you have about the diminutives in Spanish. Don’t you have a Spanish personal tutor yet?

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