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How to Speak Spanish More Fluently by Using Diminutives

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Diminutives are words, usually nouns, that are modified to decrease their size, intensity, or seriousness. Their existence in formal English is a hotly debated subject, but they exist in informal English, usually by prefacing a noun with something like “itty-bitty”, “teeny-weeny”, or “just a bit”. If your friend says there’s an “itty-bitty problem”, they’re using a diminutive to decrease the seriousness of the problem.

Similar to English, Spanish also has diminutives, and they’re quite common in day-to-day Spanish. Unlike English, they’re formed by modifying the noun or adjective directly rather than adding another word. Let’s learn how to form diminutives in Spanish.

How to Form Diminutives in Spanish

Forming diminutives in Spanish is quite easy, although there are some rules to memorize depending on the word that you’re modifying.

Words ending in -o or -a

If a word ends in “-o” or “-a”, you can form a diminutive by simply replacing the ending with “-ito” or “-ita”, such as “abuelito” or “abuelita”.

Words ending in -e, -r, or -n

If a word ends in “-e”, “-r” or “-n”, you can form a diminutive by simply adding “-cito” or “-cita” to the end of the word. Use “-cito” for masculine words and “-cita” for feminine words. For example, “la calle” becomes “la callecita”, “el favor” becomes “el favorcito”, and “el corazón” becomes “el corazoncito”.

Words ending in other consonants

If a word ends in any other consonant, then you can just add “-ito” or “-ita” to the end of the word. For example, “el papel” becomes “el papelito” and “el reloj” becomes “el relojito”.


Some words end in “-ecito” or “-ecita” instead of just “-ito” or “-ita”.

  • “la tienda” becomes “la tiendecita”
  • “el tren” becomes “el trenecito”
  • “el pueblo” becomes “el pueblecito”
  • “la cruz” becomes “la cruceita”

This is by no means an exhaustive list and is unfortunately one of those things that you just need to absorb over time since there’s no rule for which words end up like this.

Generally, something to remember is that if the word ends in a vowel, that vowel is dropped in favor of the “e” in “-ecito” or “-ecita”. In the example above, “el pueblo” becomes “el pueblecito”.

Spelling Changes When Forming Diminutives

The last thing to remember about forming diminutives is that there are a few spelling changes.

z becomes c

If a word ends in “-z”, “-za”, or “-zo”, then the “z” becomes a “c” when it’s written. For example, “la cerveza” becomes “la cervecita”, which is a word you’ll hear a lot. “el pez” becomes “el pececito” since it’s also one of the exception words above.

c becomes qu

To preserve the hard “c” sound, the “c” at the end of words ending in “-co” or “-ca” changes to “qu” similar to how “toqué” is the first person past tense form of “tocar”. For example, “la chica” becomes “la chiquita” and “el chico” becomes “el chiquito”. These are also words that you’ll hear a lot when traveling through Spanish-speaking countries.

g becomes gu

Similarly, when a word ends in “-go” or “-ga”, we need to preserve the sound of the “g”, we do this by changing the “g” in the ending to “gu”. This is also similar to how “llegué” is the first person past tense form of “llegar”. As an example, “el amigo” becomes “el amiguito” and “la amiga” becomes “la amiguita”.

gu becomes gü

Normally, in a word like “el agua” or “el antiguo”, the “u” in the endings “-guo” or “-gua” is pronounced more like a “w”. When we change these words to a diminutive form, we want to preserve this “w” sound. Spanish uses “ü”, which contains a diaeresis, to denote that the “u” and the “i” are pronounced separately. For example, “el agua” becomes “el agüita” and “el antiguo” becomes “el antigüito”.

Regional Differences

The endings “-ito” and “-ita” are by far the most common endings for diminutives. It’s used throughout most of Latin America; however, some countries and regions have their own ways of forming diminutives.

Forming Diminutives with -illo and -illa

In Spain, particularly in Andalusia in the south, you’ll hear diminutives formed with “-illo” and “-illa” instead of “-ito” and “-ita”. For example, you’ll hear people say “el chiquillo” instead of “el chico”.

This ending also has exceptions that use “-cillo” and “-cilla”. They’re pretty much the same as the exceptions that use “-cito” and “-cita” instead of the standard ending.

You’ll also notice from the example of “el chiquillo” above that the same spelling rules are still observed when using the “-illo” and “-illa” endings.

Forming Diminutives with -ico and -ica

In Cuba, Venezuela, and Colombia, you might hear some people use “-ico” and “-ica” instead of “-ito” and “-ita”, such as “momentico” instead of “momentito”. A very important note is that there are some areas of Spain where this ending is used pejoratively, so I would tend to avoid it.

A Note on Castilian and Latin American Spanish

In addition to the “-illo” and “-illa” endings, a key difference between Castilian (from Spain) Spanish and Latin American Spanish is that it’s much more common to use diminutives for parts of speech other than nouns, especially adjectives, in Latin American Spanish than it is in Spain. For example, you’ll hear people in Latin America say “pequeñito”, but that’s less common in Spain. This is also apparent in the word “ahorita”, which in Latin America is often used to express “right now”. In Spain, they tend to use “ahora mismo” instead.

How to Use Diminutives

As previously mentioned, diminutives are used to decrease the size, intensity, or seriousness of a noun or adjective. Oftentimes, this means to talk literally about something being small or not serious. A “florecita” or an “arbolito” might refer to an actual flower or tree that is small.

Diminutives can also be used to soften the reality of a situation. This is particularly true when talking about time. We all have that friend (or perhaps we are that friend) who will tell us that they’re five minutes away when they haven’t even left yet. They would likely tell us that they’ll be there in a “ratito” instead of a “rato”. Similarly, if you’re put on hold or need to wait for someone to finish up a small task, you’ll most likely hear “momentito” instead of “momento” as a way of making you feel like you don’t need to wait too long.

Expressing affection is another extremely common use of diminutives. You’ll often hear this when people refer to their family members, such as “hijito” or “hijita”. One major side note here is that “mamacita” and “mamita” are the diminutive forms of “mama”, but the former is often used in a romantic or sexual context to flirt. “Mamita” can be a term of endearment used for your mother, but you also may hear it to refer to women who are not the speaker’s mother as a term of endearment as well.

Lastly, they can be used pejoratively, particularly if you’re referring to someone’s profession. For example, referring to someone as a “doctorcito” would be offensive. Likewise, words like “mujercilla” and “hombrecillo” are also considered pejorative.

Diminutives Can Cause Words to Change Meanings

The very last point with diminutives is that sometimes using a diminutive can change the meaning of a word.

Sometimes, the difference is slight. For example, “gatito” refers to a kitten but can also be a small cat. Some other examples of this:

  • “Perrito” is a puppy, but could also mean a small dog.
  • “Rama” is normally a branch of a tree, but “Ramita” is more of a stick.

Other times, the diminutive form is a completely different word. Usually, these words use the Spanish “-illo” suffix instead of “-ito”. Some examples of this include:

  • “Bolso” is a purse or a handbag, whereas “bolsillo” is a pocket.
  • “Mano” is your hand, whereas “Manecilla” is the hand of a clock.
  • “Manteca” is animal fat, whereas “Mantequilla” is butter.

Diminutives are very important to Spanish, so keep practicing and refer to this article whenever you’re struggling!