Updated: Apr 4, 2020
Diminutives are commonly used in Spanish, and especially in conversations between friends. Perhaps you’ve already noticed Spanish diminutives in use – because you’ve told people you speak ‘un poquito’ of Spanish instead of “un poco“
What is a Spanish diminutive?
A diminutive in Spanish is a word with an added suffix that slightly changes the meaning of the word. Typically, diminutives reference smaller version of something or serve to add an emotional or endearing emphasis. Sometimes they can convey sarcasm or negativity. The closest English equivalent might be adding a “y” to the ending of a word, like “doggy” as opposed to “dog”, or just adding “little” in front of a word.
How diminutives are formed
Typically diminutives are formed by adding either ‘ito‘ or ‘ita‘ to the ending of a noun or adjective. An alternative formation is using ‘cito‘ or ‘cita‘. Keep in mind that diminutives also agree with the gender of the noun in question.
The ending of the diminutive needs to match the gender of the object or person about whom you are speaking. For example, we would call a dog perrito because dog is masculine (el perro) and if we were talking about a female person we would say
“pobrecita“, and with a male “pobrecito“.
perro + ito= perrito momento + ito = momentito pobre + cito = pobrecito
Here are the most common ways the diminutive suffixes are used in Spanish:
To indicate something is small: casita (little house, cottage), perrito (puppy or little dog), rosita (little rose, rose blossom)
To indicate something is charming or endearing: mi abuelita (my dear grandmother), un cochecito (a cute little car), papito (daddy), amiguete (pal)
To provide a nuance of meaning, especially with adjectives and adverbs: ahorita (right now), cerquita (right next to), lueguito (quite soon), gordito (chubby)
To give a friendly tone to a sentence: Un momentito, por favor. (Just a moment, please.) Quisiera un refresquito. (I'd like just a soft drink.) ¡Despacito! (Easy does it!)
To talk to very young children: pajarito (birdy), camisita (shirty), tontito (silly), vaquita (cowie)
To indicate something is unimportant: dolorcito (tiny ache), mentirita (fib), reyezuelo (petty king), me falta un centavito (I'm just a penny short)
To form a new word (not necessarily a diminutive of the original): mantequilla (butter), panecillo (bread roll), bolsillo (pocket), cajetilla (packet), ventanilla (ticket office), carbonilla (cinder), caballitos (merry-go-round), cabecilla (ringleader), nudillo (knuckle), vaquilla (heifer), de mentirijillas (as a joke)
How to form the diminutive ending?
To create the diminutive form add the suffix -ito/ita,-ico/ica, -illo/illa, -ín/ina at the end of the word. The choice among the different suffixes is up to the person who’s speaking, as it especially depends on their geographic origin.
The diminutive form can be used with nouns (gatito), adjectives (tranquilito) and adverbs (rapidito).
One way is to replace the last vowel of a word with the suffix ito:
gato- gatito: Me encontré un gatito en el callejón y lo adopté. I found a kitten in the alley and adopted it.
perro- perrito: Mi perrito ya tiene 6 meses y ha crecido mucho. My puppy is already 6 months old and has grown a lot.
casa- Casita: Qué bueno es estar en casita. It's good to be in a house.
Exceptions and Spelling Changes:
ECITO In some cases we add ‘ecito/ecita’ either following a consonant or replacing the final vowel. This is common also in words with c or z.
nuevo -> nuevecito
flor -> florecita
luz – > lucecita
Watch out for small changes in spelling when the word contains c, z or g.
C to QU If you are constructing the diminutive and the last letter is c, it is often transformed to ‘qu’ to keep the harder ‘c’ sound, as in:
poco -> poquito
cerca -> cerquita
chica -> chiquita
Z to C Similarly, if a word is ending in z, it will likely need to be changed to c in order to smooth the pronunciation as in:
lápiz -> lapicito
pez – > pececito
cerveza -> cervcita
G to GU When we have words that end in g-a or g-o (as in amigo), instead of just eliminating the a/o and adding ‘ito/ita’ as we normally would, we also add a ‘u’ following the g to smooth the transition. For example:
amigo -> amiguito.
Other diminutive endings There are a few other endings that can be used in Spanish as diminutives. These include ‘illo’, ‘zuelo’, or ‘ico’. Sometimes the diminutive used varies based on the country. This is especially the case for ‘ico‘ which is much more common in countries like Columbia, Cuba and Costa Rica and particular parts in Spain. For example:
bolso -> bolsillo
mujer -> mujerzuela (negative)
perro -> perrito vs perrico
There are also some defective words which do not have a diminutive form.
i.e. bondad, lenguaje, apetito, útil, lunes, viernes, ciudad, edad…
Diminutives are an easily way to add a little bit of color and character to a common word. This is by no means an exhaustive list of diminutives in Spanish. There are many more used among Spanish speakers. Try using them every now and then, or even try making up your own!.
Do you use diminutives in Spanish? Do you have a favorite one to share with us? Let us know with a commentito! (ok, that’s technically not correct)
Practice your Diminutives in Spanish!
Listening Activity No. 1: Video "Despacito"
Diminutives are an important part of Latin American conversations. This video show an example how to use them in Spanish with this very popular song by Luis Fonsi (Puerto Rico). Watch the video a couple of times, search words you do not know in a dictionary and, finally, do the exercises below.
Quiz Activity No. 2: Test yourself
Can you write the correct diminutive form of the following words? Before starting with the activities, remember to contact your tutor with any question you have or to ask for more homework. ____ zapato a) poquito ____ despacio b) mesita ____ suave c) despacito ____ paso d) zapatito ____ mesa e) suavecito ____ silla f) sillita ____ poco g) pasito
Quiz Activity No. 3: What is the infinitive of these verbs?
sabes __________ llevo __________ tengo __________ eres __________ soy __________ quiero __________ deja __________ pido __________ cabe __________ vamos __________
Let's dance No. 4: Let's keep practicing. Now let's dance. (Choreography)
Learn Spanish online with our resources specially created for English speakers from level A1. It doesn’t matter if you have never studied Spanish before, you will be able to start speaking Spanish sooner than you think, with just a few minutes every day. Whatever are your reasons, circumstances or learning style, stay with us in this journey and you will discover, not only a beautiful language but the fascinating and diverse Spanish-speaking world.
¡Hasta la vista!,
The Español Latino Team.