In this article, we’ll be looking at different kinds of suffixes in Spanish. First we’ll talk about what they are, then we’ll look at the different types!
In this article, we're going to look at the type of suffix that changes the shade of meaning: diminutive, augmentative, and pejorative. Then we’re going to list a load of suffixes that group together certain types of words. Ready? Let's go!
Pequeño -> pequeñito
Mejor -> mejorcito
El nieto -> el nietecito
La flor -> la florecita/la florecilla
La manzana -> la manzanilla
El cerebro -> el cerebrín
La palabra -> la palabrota
El favor -> el favorzote
There are loads of rules relating to this. Instead of trying to learn them all at once, try first to recognise the patterns you see as you go along.
A diminutive suffix is used to make a noun seem cuter, smaller, or less significant. There are several diminutive suffixes in Spanish, so let’s look at some of them one by one
-ito often denotes smallness.
Quiero un poco de leche.
I want a bit of milk.
Quiero un poquito de leche.
I want a little bit of milk.
Me gusta tu perro.
I like your dog.
Me gusta tu perrito.
I like your little doggo.
This suffix can be used to add a warm tone to a noun. It makes everything a little less harsh.
She’s looking fat.
She’s put on a little weight.
It can denote affection.
Voy a la casa de mi abuela.
I’m going to my grandmother’s house.
Voy a la casa de mi abuelita.
I’m going to my granny’s house.
A cool way to use this suffix is when you’re not really saying anything about the noun at all! You’re actually just using the cutesy language to convey a warm, friendly attitude to whoever you’re speaking to.
¿Alguna cosa más?
¿Alguna cosita más?
Would you like anything else?
Colloquially, it can be used to add specificity to an adverb. This would sound odd to a Spaniard, and is much more common in Latin America.
It’s there/right there.
This is a versión of -ito that’s used in some Latin American countries, such as Colombia and Venezuela, as well as some parts of northern Spain.
You’ll hear this one a lot in Southern Spain. The most obvious use is to refer to something smaller.
Mira la flor.
Look at the flower.
Mira la florecilla.
Look at the little flower.
It can be used to decrease the importance of something.
Hubo un problema.
There was a problem.
Hubo un problemilla.
There was a small problem (easily solved, no biggie).
Sometimes we want to say something but we’re worried it might come across rude, so we use -illo.
It’s also used to portray affection.
No llores, chiquilla.
Don’t cry, honey.
Some nouns have -illo/-illa on the end to refer to a specific sub-type of that noun.
el cigarro/el cigarillo
el bolso/el bolsillo
la ventana/la ventanilla
This suffix is used to create a word for a smaller version of something.
el arroyo/el arroyuelo
el paño/el pañuelo
When you end a noun with this suffix, you can be referring to a specialized version of it.
el camión/la camioneta
This one can be used in the same way as -eto.
el caballo/el caballete
horse/easel (has similarities to a sawhorse)
Alternatively, it can add a bit of humor to what you’re saying.
el amigo/al amiguete
This is used most in Asturias, Spain usually as an expression of affection.
¿Cómo está el chiquitín?
How’s the little baby?
There aren’t that many augmentative suffixes in Spanish, and they all do pretty much the same thing, which is to show intensity or largeness. Quite often, there’s also a pejorative (insulting) undertone implying awkwardness, unpleasantness, or the idea of ~too much~.
Mi hermano ganó una fortuna.
My brother won a fortune.
Mi hermano ganó un fortunón*.
My brother won an absolute fortune.
*N.B. it becomes masculine rather than being ‘fortunona.’
As we mentioned, some augmentatives can have insulting undertones.
Tengo un catarro.
I have a cold.
Tengo un catarrazo.
I have one heck of a cold! (Too much cold!)
Confusingly, it can actually be used to show admiration.
Fue un éxito.
It was a success.
¡Fue un exitazo!
It was a great success! (Admirable/impressive level of success!)
Sometimes you can add –azo to an object to denote a physical clash with that object.
El puño/el puñetazo
La cabeza/el cabezazo
Shows largeness, with pejorative undertones.
Hazme un favor.
Do me a favor.
Mi ex me pidió otro favorzote.
My ex asked me another massive favor.
Shows largeness, with pejorative undertones.
Mira su cabeza.
Look at his head.
Mira su cabezudo.
Look at his big head.
When we say that something is pejorative, we mean that it’s insulting or derogatory. It’s certainly not nice!
Remember that diminutives and augmentatives can also be used in a nasty way. Use your common sense and you’ll be on the right track!
For example, if someone is referred to as una mujercilla rather than una mujer, it’s usually being used in a patronizing way. She’s not being called small, she’s being called unimportant.
Pejoratives include: -aco/aca,-acho/acha, -ajo/aja,-astro/astra,-uco/uca,-ucho/ucha, -ejo/eja.
el libro/el libraco
book/hefty old book
to spit/a load of spit
el médico/el medicastro
la casa/la casuca
la casa/la casucha
ese tipo/ese tipejo
that dude/that moron
Apart from diminutive, augmentative and pejorative suffixes, there are loads more that group together certain categories of word, which helps a lot when you’re trying to understand unfamiliar vocab in your reading! Sometimes adding them changes one part of speech to another.
This one turns a verb into a noun.
sentir -> sentimiento
to feel -> feeling
We can add -mente to an adjective to form an adverb.
soft/smooth -> softly/smoothly
These usually give us adjectives from nouns.
escándalo -> escandaloso
scandal -> scandalous
cultura -> cultural
culture -> cultural
This suffix gives us a noun or adjective from a verb.
cantar -> cantante
to sing -> singer
emocionar -> emocionante
to excite -> exciting
This suffix can be used to show the place where something is kept.
sal -> salero
salt -> salt shaker
It’s also often used to refer to professions. There are several others that do the same thing: -dor(a)/-ista/-ario/a. Let’s look at some examples.
pan -> panadero/a
bread -> baker
cazar -> cazador(a)
to hunt -> (female) hunter
diente -> dentista*
tooth -> dentist
empresa -> empresario/a
*Job titles with -ista are interesting because they always end in a! It would be incorrect to call it a dentisto or a pianisto, even if it’s a man. Stick to dentista and pianista.
Many of the words ending in -ería are names of types of shop/service. They can usually be traced back quite easily to a verb or noun.
pescar/pescado -> pescadería
to fish/edible fish -> fishmongers
pan -> panadería
bread -> bakery
pelo -> peluquería
hair -> hair salon
A lot of Spanish suffixes are cognates, meaning that the Spanish and English look very similar, which will help you recognize them! Check out the similarities in some of these:
There are so many suffixes (more than we’ve been able to mention here), that it’d be foolish to try and learn them all at once. Why not try reading a paragraph from an article in a Spanish-language newspaper or novel, and circling all the suffixes you recognize? Happy reading!
Annabel is a language-enthusiast from the UK. She studied Spanish and French at the University of Southampton (with an Erasmus study year in Madrid!) and recently graduated. She has interests across the Spanish-speaking world, and is a fan of language in general.
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