Falling in Love with the Spanish Diminutive

Let’s take a moment to contemplate the Spanish diminutive. In school they teach you that there is a nifty little suffix, -ito/-ita, and that it attaches to the end of words to make an object smaller. Casa is house, but casita is a tiny house. Perro means dog, but perrito refers to a puppy. Magic!

By the time I was ready to graduate from college, I thought I had learned all there was to know about the diminutive form. Spanish grads had to give a capstone presentation detailing their experience with the language, and I chose to focus on my favorite part of learning Spanish: the fun that comes with playing with a language, of breaking it down and building it back up in new ways. I was especially captivated by the diminutive form because of how differently it worked when compared to English. In my presentation I mentioned that I enjoyed knowing that I could simply tack on a diminutive ending as I was rambling along, whereas in English you have to plan to include this emphasis.

Spanish diminutive

In case you wondered what we looked like

I thought I had a terrific grasp of the diminutive. And then I met Andres. We spoke exclusively in English at first, but as time went on we began to speak more and more Spanish to the point that now it’s about fifty-fifty. Not only did I broaden my vocabulary, but more importantly I learned that the Spanish diminutive could be used to show endearment. I would never use these words with a co-worker or an acquaintance,–¡Qué horror! When I meet up with Andres again after a work day, however, it’s diminutive time.

Spanish diminutive

It’s not casa, it’s casita

We don’t go to the casa, we go to the casita. We don’t eat cena, we have cenita. Likewise, taza becomes tazita, siesta becomes siestita, and broma becomes bromita. One caveat: Usually, there’s only one diminutive per sentence. We wouldn’t say ¿Quieres una tazita de cafecito? but rather ¿Quieres una tazita de café? or ¿Quieres un cafecito?

Spanish diminutive

If it’s adorable, call it a cafecito

Of course, there are also plenty of ways to express affection in English, chief among them fawning nicknames like dear, honey, and love. You can adopt a baby-voice, which works for newborns but is obnoxious for adults. However, there are really no English equivalent of the Spanish diminutive. These diminutives gets sprinkled as liberally or as judiciously as the speaker sees fit. While in a group setting, one might subtly slip a diminutive toward their partner in a did-he-just-wink-at-me? moment. Then, in private, this sprinkling could grow to generous proportions, not unlike a loose cap flying off the salt shaker.

Spanish diminutive

Andres ponders which diminutive to use next

Even with our two shared languages, we are able to tailor Spanish in such a way that we create a jargon all our own. Normal, everyday objects get a quick linguistic makeover to become vessels of endearment. I have grown to love showing affection through the humblest of nouns…and I’d wager that my amorcito would agree.

If you speak Spanish, do you use the diminutive to show affection? What’s your fav form of the Spanish diminutive?

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16 Comments

  1. I love the diminutive in Spanish as well! I also love that there are so many ways to form it besides the standard -ito, as you also have -illo and -ico and in Galicia they use -iño as well 🙂

    • Cassandra

      The irregulars used to trip me up, but I’m more used to them now. And I want to hear the -iño suffix in action!

  2. Lynn Burley

    The Nootka use the diminutive to make fun of people–either in a joking way between friends and family or in a mean, hurtful way. Between lovers, it also can be endearing. So much more artful than English!

    • Cassandra

      It’s fascinating to see how different cultures and languages approach these concepts. Thanks for sharing!

  3. The Novi and I speak exclusively in diminutives, and sometimes mix langu as ges, like ” estas my sleepycito” and other nauseating forms.

    • Cassandra

      Haha, I love it! We are guilty of that too, as in “Are you too cansadillo to go out tonight?” Nauseating, indeed 😉

  4. You know, it’s funny because we don’t use it too much, and neither do a lot of Spaniards I’m around. Mario admits to cringing when his mom says things like “Hasta lueguito”! But I do often ask if he’s cansadito, so I dunno.

    • Cassandra

      Interesting–maybe Mario’s English and German shifted focus away from the diminutive?

  5. That mug is adorable, and this post makes me miss speaking Spanish!

  6. One of the many beauties of Colombians! I was lucky enough to just finish writing a book about Colombians and we devoted a whole section to diminutives 🙂

    • Cassandra

      I’m curious to see what you said! If you wrote a whole chapter you must also love these little guys as much as I do (or at least find ’em amusing).

  7. I cannot get over that mug!
    Despite having never lived in Navarra I’ve picked up (-ico/a) from Borja’s mum (who’s from Tafalla) and I love using that form so much!

  8. I love a good diminutivo, especially when it’s used twice in the one word! You could say chico, or chiquito, but doesn’t chiquitico sound fantastic? 🙂

    • Cassandra

      I agree, it does sound great. Glad to hear that you’re a fan of diminutivos, too!

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