12 March 2020

Diminutives and augmentatives in Spanish

So you’ve grown your vocabulary, memorized verb tenses, what’s the next step in making you sound even more like a local? Diminutives and augmentatives are suffixes added to words that change their meaning and can make you sound more casual.

3 strawberries on an orange background growing in size from left to right.
Fresita, fresa and fresota. We can describe the size of things with simple suffixes.

What is a diminutive?

A diminutive is a word formed by adding a specific suffix to express a smaller size or express affection. The most common diminutive endings are:

-ito (-cito, -ecito)
-ico (-cico, -ecico)
-illo (-ecillo)
-in (-ina)
-uelo (-uela)
-ete.

Diminutives to indicate small size

Diminutive suffixes can be used to show an object’s small size:

calle – callejuela (tiny street)
fresa – fresita (small strawberry)
pájaro – pajarito (small bird)

¡Mira ese pajarito!
Look at that little bird!

Diminutives to show a friendly tone

If you want to come off as more friendly or use more colloquial language (generally spoken) diminutives can come in handy. Sometimes, this type of language is also used to talk to children.

cafe – cafecito (little coffee)
momento – momentito (small moment)
despecio – despacito (slowly)

Os apetece un cafecito?
Do you fancy a coffee?

Un momentito, por favor.
Just a moment, please.

¿Tomamos un cafecito? Shall we have a coffee?

Diminutives can decrease importance

When we want to show something is unimportant, we can use a diminutive.

problema – problemilla
dolor – dolorcito
centavo – centavito

Tengo un dolorcito de muelas.
I have a little toothache.

Diminutive to form new words

Some words appear to be diminutives, although they mean something different altogether. These new words have no relation to the original word.

mantequilla (butter), from manteca
caballitos (merry-go-round), from caballo
bolsillo (pocket), from bolso
barbilla (chin), from barba
bombilla (lightbulb), from bomba

What is an augmentative in Spanish?

Augmentatives are usually used to indicate that something is large but can also augment a word’s meaning or intensity. The main augmentative suffixes in Spanish are:

-azo(-aza)
-ón (-ona)
-ote (-ota)
-udo.

Augmentatives to show large size

The most common use for augmentatives is to express the large size of something.

mujerona (big or tough woman)
perrazo (a big dog)
casona/casota (large house)
fresota (a big strawberry)

Ese perrazo me da miedo.
That huge dog scares me.

¿Has visto las fresotas que venden en Mercadona?
Have you seen the huge strawberries they sell at Mercadona?

Augmentatives to show intensity

Augmentative suffixes can also be used to indicate that an object has more of the quality than usual and are usually used with adjectives and nouns.

Some examples:

bueno – buenazo (very good)
fuerte – fuertachón (very strong)
película – peliculón (a blockbuster/hit film)

La peli Koreana Parásitos es un películon – ganó muchos premios este año.
The Korean movie Parasite was a blockbuster – it won many awards this year.

Sometimes, these words can have negative or derogatory connotations, but it also depends on the context and tone of the sentence. The most common negative

Ese tío tiene una narrizota.
That guy has a big nose.

-azo used to indicate a strike or a blow

There is one particular use of the suffix -azo that shows a hit with parts of the body or objects. These words are always masculine.

balazo (gunshot wound)
cañonazo (a cannon shot)
puñetazo (a punch with a fist)
codazo (a hit with an elbow)
portazo (a door slam)
cabezazo (a head butt)

Ana salió de la casa con un portazo.
Ana left the house with a door slam.

Mi di un golpazo cuando me caí.
I hit myself hard when I fell.

A hammer breaking glass
El ladrón dió un martillazo al cristal del coche. The thief gave a hammer blow to the car window.

Augmentatives that make new words

In some cases when augmentative suffixes are added, completely new words with their own meanings are formed.

Examples:

ratón (mouse), from rata
cordón (shoelace), from cuerda
cinturón (belt), from cintura