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Published on: Grammar Bites

The uses of the diminutives in Spanish

Diminutivos are suffixes added to nouns or adjectives. Although we typically use diminutives to refer to something or someone of small size, sometimes diminutives can be used with a negative connotation as well.

Types of endings to form diminutivos: 

-illo, -illa: pan –> panecillo.
-ito, -ita: casa –> casita.
-ico, -ica: animal –> animalico.
-uelo, -uela: espejo –> espejuelo.
-ín, ina: pelo –> pelín.

Main uses of the diminutivo:

1. We use it to discuss someone or something small in size:

  • Miguel se compró el autito que está en la esquina. Miguel bought the small car in the corner.
  • El baño sólo tiene una ventanita. The bathroom only has a tiny window.

2. We use diminutivos to express love or affection towards a person, animal or object:

  • Mi perro es el animalillo más lindo del mundo. My dog is the cutest little animal in the word.
  • Ella es la pequeñina de la familia. She’s the baby of the family.

3. Diminutivos can be used in a derogatory or insulting way, particularly with the ending -uelo/uela:

Me molesta que nuestro hijo esté de novio con esa chicuela. I hate that our son is dating that little brat.

  • Es un pueblito aburrido. It’s a boring small town.

When los conquistadores españoles settled in the American continent, it’s said that native people would overuse the diminutivos when talking to the Spanish colonizers to avoid causing offence. Today, lots of people across different regions of the Spanish-speaking world continue to use los diminutivos as a form of courtesy.

  • No, no está lejos, está aquisito. No, it’s not far; it’s right here.
  • Camarero, sírvame un cafecito, por favor. Waiter, could you please bring me a cup of coffee?
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