How To Form And Use Italian Diminutives

In English, we often add the endings -let, -ie, or -y, onto a word or name to "diminish" it — that is, to make it cuter, smaller, or more personal. For example, the words pig, eye, boot, and horse become piglet, eyelet, bootie, and horsey, and the names Kate and Mike become Katie and Mikey.

Most languages have such mechanisms for diminutives, and in fact, most languages use them a lot more than we do in English.

Italian diminutives

There are several diminutive endings in Italian. These are the ones I was able to find: -ino, -icino, -etto, -ello, -olo, -olino, -uzza. Frankly, though, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that there are even more!

Mostly, they appear to be varations of the following:

-inoragazzo (boy)
momento (moment)
salata (salt)
ragazzino (little boy)
momentino (a quick moment)
salatino (a salty snack)
-ettocamera (room)
casa (house)
cameretta (little room)
casetta (small house)
-elloalbero (tree)
vecchio (old man)
scrittore (writer)
alberello (small tree)
vecchiorello (poor old man)
scrittorello (bad writer)
-uccioMaria (Mary)
cappello (hat)
Mariuccia (little Mary)
cappelluccio (old, worn-out hat)

And the -ino and -olo diminutive endings can then be added to these to make the even more diminutive forms: -olino, -oletto, etc...

Grammar note: if a noun ends in -ono or -ona, the letter c must be inserted before appending an -ino or -ello diminutive, to ease pronunciation. Hence, the diminutive of leone (lion) becomes leoncino.

Augmentatives

An augmentative is the opposite of a diminutive; it increases the significance of the noun it modifies. There are two one augmentative suffixes in Italian: -one for nouns, and -issimo for adjectives and adverbs.

-onelibro (book)
casa (house)
librone (heavy book)
casone (big house)
-issimolargo (wide)
bene (well)
larghissimo (extra-wide)
benissimo (very well)

Pejoratives

Pejoratives attach a negative connotation to a noun. Italian has one pejorative ending: -accio, and I can see that it's going to be very important to recognize the difference between the endings -accio (bad), and -uccio (dear)!

-accioroba (stuff)
Alfredo (Alfred)
robaccia (rubbish)
Alfredaccio (naughty Alfred)

Pejoratives can also be stacked with diminutives and augmentatives, to interesting effect: ladro (thief) can become ladrone (terrible theif), which can then become ladroncello (terrible little thief).

Now, I wonder how far I can go with this, and also what rules there might be for choosing one diminutive ending over another. I'll be keeping an eye out for examples and patterns, and maybe I'll revisit this topic later.


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  • Very good things to learn, as they all get used a lot in Italian, especially -issimo. It's hard to get past a few sentences in Italy without hearing "é bellissima" or something to that effect. Also remember that you can take it over the top with -ississimo, so "bellississima" would be super-extra-beautiful, basically.
    -ino also gets used a lot. Telefonino is cell phone (little phone) and motorino is scooter/vespa/motorbike

  • One can't help but to love any language that makes it possible to say "super-extra-beautiful"!

  • I like these little posts on Italian topics. I'm finally starting to get back into studying Italian and they're helpful for refreshing my memory. Buona continuazione!

  • I love the choice of words -- "these little posts" -- on an article about diminutives!

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