6 Suffixes in Spanish to Multiply Your Vocabulary
Just like in English, Spanish makes use of many suffixes to change the meaning of words. Sometimes suffixes take objects and modify them to people and places and sometimes they can change the type of speech, making an adjective an adverb, for example.
Many of the suffixes draw on basic vocabulary words that early learners might recognize to create more complex words. Knowing those vocabulary words and knowing the general meaning that the most common suffixes have can help learners deduct the meaning of new words, even if they’ve never heard of them before.
We’ve talked about the most common suffix in Spanish, “ito” and its variations, in our post about diminutives. Diminutives work really well in informal speech and they’re a great way to play with vocabulary because they can be applied to just about any word.
The suffixes in this list work a little differently than diminutives, though, because unlike diminutives, which are mostly informal, these suffixes fit just as easily into formal conversation as they do informal conversation. You can think of them as entirely separate vocabulary words with entirely different meanings because oftentimes, they are.
1. – ERO/A
Our first suffix is “-ero/a.” There are a few different ways to use it:
It is most commonly added to a noun to create an occupation. For example, you can take a noun like “pan” (bread) and add the suffix “-ero” to create the word “panadero” to refer to a baker. Other examples of this use are as follows.
Helado (ice cream) -> heladero (ice cream man)
Camion (truck) -> camionero (truck driver)
Verdura (vegetable) -> verdulero (vegetable stand clerk)
You can also use this suffix to refer to the tree where a certain fruit grows (like, limon, lemon -> limonero, lemon tree, coco, coconut -> cocotero, coconut tree) or to refer to a space where something is stored (azucar, sugar -> azucarero, sugar bowl).
2. – ÍA
The second suffix on our list is one that you might already recognize. It appears often in the name of restaurants or stores. When added onto a word, it takes an object noun and makes it into a place. Usually the place is where the object is sold or made. Here are a few ways to use –ía:
Again, we’ll look at the example of “pan” (bread). Like with -ero/a, you must slightly modify the word to make the suffix fit, but with the suffix, “pan” becomes “panadería” or bakery.
The same can apply with “verdura” (vegetable). It is changed to “verdulería” to become a vegetable stand.
Some other examples:
helado (ice cream) -> heladería (ice cream shop)
café (coffee) -> cafetería (coffee shop)
taco -> taquería (restaurant that sells tacos)
carne (meat) -> carnicería (butcher’s shop)
3. – ISTA
This suffix is another incredibly common one and it’s also a really easy one to pick up. That’s because it can almost always be translated as “-ist” (look familiar?).
Here’s a few examples.
Arte (art) -> artista (artist)
Recepción (reception) -> recepcionista (receptionist)
Dental (dental) -> dentista (dentist)
In addition to more every day occupations, “ista” is also used to imply membership to a group or subscription to an ideology. It can be slapped onto the end of just about any political name or group to show belonging. For example:
Socialismo (socialism) -> socialista (socialist)
Marxismo (Marxism) -> marxista (Marxist)
Clinton -> Clintonista (someone that supports Clinton strongly)
Macri -> Macrista (a strong supporter of Mauricio Macri – the president of Argentina)
There are a few exceptions to this rule, but when in doubt, remember that -ista usually refers to an occupation or something that someone is. One notable exception is from the word “futbol” (football, soccer), which becomes “futbolista,” meaning “footballer” or “soccer player.”
4. – DOR/A
The suffix “-dor” is the most dynamic one on our list – it can be used in many different ways, but what all of the different uses have in common is that they are a noun derived from a verb. If you know the verb, then you know that a noun ending in “-dor” is a noun that performs the action of the verb or it is somewhere where that action is performed.
Some examples of words that turn a verb into a noun that does the action that a verb describes:
Secar (to dry) -> secador (hair dryer), secadora (clothes dryer)
Aspirar (to suck) -> aspiradora (vaccuum)
Jugar (to play) -> jugador (player)
Lavar (to wash) -> lavadora (washing machine)
Some examples of words that turn a verb into a noun that describes the place where the action of a verb is carried out:
Probar (to try) -> probador (fitting room)
Comer (to eat) -> comedor (cafeteria)
5. – MENTE
This suffix works almost the same way that the English suffix “-ly” can be applied to adjectives to make them adverbs. You can add “-mente” to just about any adjective to make it an adverb. It’s important to note in the formation of these words, if the adjective has a feminine form, then the feminine form is paired with the suffix.
Fácil -> fácilmente (easily)
Rápido/a -> rápidamente (quickly)
Sencillo/a -> sencillamente (simply)
Solo/a -> solamente (only)
Sutil -> sutilmente (subtly)
6. – ANTE
With this suffix, you’ll really start to multiply meanings. Like “-dor/a,” it is paired with verbs, but instead of creating a noun, it actually can create a noun and an adjective. The noun is usually an object or person carrying out the action of the verb and the adjective implies that the person or thing it is describing has the quality that it denotes.
Here are some examples. We’ll list the noun first, then the adjective in our translations.
Amar -> amante (lover, loving)
Calmar -> calmante (painkiller, calming/soothing)
Parlar -> parlante (speaker, speaker of a specific language, as in angloparlante, or English speakers)
With just these six suffixes, you can take familiar words, like “pan” or “comer” to the next level and create whole new words. And, when you encounter words that use these endings, you’ll be all the more ready to take a guess at their meaning.