Alteration in Italian: Diminutives

Alterati Diminutivi

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In Italian, diminutives (alterati diminutivi) are a category of altered words (alterati) in which the meaning of the base word is attenuated or diminished in some sense. Examples include sassolino (a pebble), spiaggetta (small beach), tastierina (keypad), and visitina (short visit).

Forming Diminutives With Suffixes

Diminutives can be formed with the suffixes:

  • -ino:

mamma » mammina
mother, mom » mommy

minestra » minestrina
soup » broth

pensiero » pensierino
thought, worry » small gift, a little present

ragazzo » ragazzino
boy » young boy, little boy, kid

bello » bellino
beautiful » cute

difficile » difficilino
difficult, complicated » minor difficulty

The suffix -ino has two variants with an infix (interfisso) (element inserted between the base and the suffix): -(i)cino and -olino. Here are some examples:

bastone » bastoncino
walking stick, cane, scepter, rod » stick, twig, switch

libro » libric(c)ino
book » booklet

sasso » sassolino
rock, boulder » small stone, pebble

topo » topolino
mouse, rat » baby mouse

freddo » freddolino
cold » brisk

magro » magrolino
thin, lean, slim, spare » skinny

In spoken Italian there are also avverbi alterati:

presto » prestino
soon, early, quickly » somewhat quickly

tanto » tantino
so much, very » a fair amount

tardi » tardino
late » barely late

The modifying suffix -ino is most frequently used with suffix combinations:

casa » casetta » casettina, gonna » gonella » gonnellina.

  • -etto:

bacio » bacetto
kiss » little kiss, peck

camera » cameretta
bedroom » small bedroom

casa » casetta
house » cottage, small house

lupo » lupetto
wolf » wolf cub, cub scout

basso » bassetto
short » shrimp, pipsqueak

piccolo » piccoletto
small » shorty

A combination of suffixes is common: scarpa » scarpetta » scarpettinao, secco » secchetto » secchettino.

  • -ello:

albero » alberello
tree » sapling

asino » asinello
donkey » little or young donkey

paese » paesello
village » hamlet

rondine » rondinella
swallow » baby swallow

cattivo » cattivello
bad, wicked » mischievous, naughty

povero » poverello
poor » poor person

This suffix has variants with the interfixes -(i)cello and -erello:

campo » campicello
field » small field

informazione » informazionecella
information » small piece of information

fatto » fatterello
fact, event, occurrence » minor matter, anecdote

fuoco » f(u)ocherello
fire » small fire

Often there is a combination of suffixes: storia » storiella » storiellina, buco » bucherello » bucherellino.

  • -uccio (has a pejorative connotation or, more commonly, is a term of endearment):

avvocato » avvocatuccio
lawyer » shyster

casa » casuccia
house » small cozy house

cavallo » cavalluccio
horse » small horse, seahorse

caldo » calduccio
heat » warmth

freddo » fredduccio
cold » coldness, coolness

A variant of -uccio is -uzzo: pietra » pietruzza.

  • -icci(u)lo:

asta » asticci(u)ola
pole (for vaulting), rod, lance » small rod; the shaft of an arrow or a pen

festa » festicciola
feast, holiday, vacation » small party

porto » porticciolo
harbor » small harbor

Sometimes also has a pejorative sense: donna » donnicci(u)ola.

  • -ucolo (has a pejorative connotation):

donna » donnucola
woman » silly woman

maestro » maestrucolo
teacher » ignorant, incompetent teacher

poeta » poetucolo
poeta » scribbler, rhymster

  • -(u)olo:

faccenda » faccenduola
matter, business, affair » small chore

montagna » montagn(u)ola
mountain » mound

poesia » poesiola
poetry » limerick, a small poem

Note also the alterazione with -olo, which occurs mostly in combination with another suffix:

nome » nomignolo
name » nickname

via » viottolo
street » lane

medico » mediconzolo (pejorative connotation)
doctor » quack

For the suffix -iciattolo see below.

  • -otto:

contadino » contadinotto
farmer, peasant » poorly educated countryman

pieno » pienotto
full, packed, teeming with » pot-bellied

giovane » giovanotto
youngster » young man, bachelor

ragazzo » ragazzotto
boy » sturdy boy

basso » bassotto
low, short » squat

Can denote a young animal:

aquila » aquilotto
eagle » eaglet

lepre » leprotto
hare » baby hare

passero » passerotto
sparrow » young sparrow

  • -acchiotto (can be a diminutive or term of endearment):

lupo » lupacchiotto
wolf » wolf cub

orso » orsacchiotto
bear » bear cub, teddy bear

volpe » volpacchiotto
fox » fox cub, sly person

furbo » furbacchiotto
sly, cunning, shrewd, astute, clever » cunning person (wily old fox)

  • -iciattolo (can be a diminutive or term of endearment):

febbre » febbriciattola
fever » slight fever

fiume » fiumiciattolo
river » stream

libro » libriciattolo
book » small book

mostro » mostriciattolo
monster » little monster