Using Diminutives in Spanish

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 ofun 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

How to from the diminutive ending?

These general rules will help you form the diminutive, though there are always exceptions.

Spanish words ending in O or A

Eliminate the last vowel (o or a) and add ‘ito/ita’. This is the most common form of diminutives:
casa -> casita
pollo -> pollito
pájaro ->pajarito

Spanish words ending in E

Keep the last vowel (e) and add ‘cito‘:
café -> cafecito
fuente -> fuentecita
suave -> suavecito

Spanish words ending in n or r

add ‘cito‘ to the end:
amor -> amorcito
rincón -> rinconcito
camion -> camioncito

Words ending in other consonant (besides n or r)

Add ‘ito/ita‘ to the end of the word:
pastel -> pastelito
puñal -> puñalits
reloj -> relojito

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

The Big List of Common diminutives in Spanish and their meanings

The list below highlights some examples of commonly used diminutives in Spanish. Note how the diminutive sometimes changes significantly from the original meaning of the word.

Diminutives with Nouns

Typically when you create a diminutive out of a noun you are emphasizing a smaller or lighter version of it as in the case of pollo (chicken) and pollito (baby chick).

casa
house
casita
little house
perro
dog
perrito
doggy / puppy
gato
cat
gatito
kit cat / kitten 
caja
box/case
cajita
little box / case
puerta
door
puertita
little door / doggy door
chaqueta
jacket
chaquetita
little jacket
lápiz
pencil
lapicito
little pencil
pez
fish
pececito
little fish / goldfish
flor
flower
florcita / florecita
little flower (sometimes used as pet name for a loved one)
luz
light
lucecita
night light
pollo
chicken
pollito
baby chick
pájaro
bird
pájaro
tweety bird
camion
truck
camioncito
small truck
puñal
dagger
puñalito
small knife
reloj
watch
relojito
small clock
fuente
fountain
fuentecita
small fountain
café
coffee
cafecito
little coffee / small coffee shop
coche
car
cochecito
baby stroller
zapato
shoe
zapatito
little shoe / slipper

Diminutives with People

Using a diminutive with a person typically shows affection for them.

papa
dad
papito
daddy
mama
mom
mamita
mommy
hermano
brother
hermanito
little brother (affectionate, not necessarily younger)
abuelo
grandfather
abuelito
gran pappy
joven
youngster
jovencita
lovely young lady
chica
girl
chiquita
little girl
amigo
friend
amiguito
boyfriend / little friend
amor
my love
amorcito
lover/sweetheart

Diminutives with Time

When we use a diminutive with time, we are typically being more precise about the time.

momento
moment
momentito
just a moment
segundo
second
segundito
just a second
rato
time
ratito
in a jiffy
ahora
now
ahorita
right now
mañana
morning
mañanita
early morning

Diminutives with Adjectives

Diminutives and adjectives can take on a few meanings.  In regard to characteristics of people, using a diminutives usually makes it more polite, so instead of saying someone is fat (gordo) you can say they’re a little chubby (gordito).

gordo
fat
gordito
chubby
guapo
handsome
guapito
hot
calvo
bald
calvito
thin on top
feo
ugly
feito
not so good looking
pobre
poor
pobrecito
poor baby (usually sarcastic)
solo
alone
solito
all alone
verde
green
verdecito
greenish
poco
little
poquito
a little bit
cerca
close
cerquita
quite close
nuevo
new
nuevecito
brand new

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!

Test your knowledge of diminutives in Spanish.  Can you write the correct diminutive form of the following words?

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