Augmentative Suffixes

Word Endings Can Expand Vocabulary, Provide Negative Connotation

Impressive car
Mi amigo tiene un cochazo. (My friend has one heck of a car.). Photo by JJ Merelo; licensed via Creative Commons.

Augmentative suffixes — word endings added to nouns (and sometimes adjectives) to make them refer to something that is large — are less common than the diminutive endings, but they nevertheless provide one way that the Spanish vocabulary can be flexibly expanded. And just as the diminutive suffixes can be used to indicate that something is endearing (rather than small), so can the augmentative endings be used in a pejorative way to indicate that something is awkward or otherwise undesirable.

The most common augmentative and pejorative suffixes (feminine forms in parentheses) are -ón (-ona), -azo (-aza) and -ote (-ota). Less common ones include -udo (-uda), -aco (-aca), -acho (-acha), -uco (-uca), -ucho (-ucha), -astro (-astra) and -ejo (-eja). Although nouns usually maintain their gender when put in an augmentative form, it isn't unusual for the words, especially when they come to be thought of as words in their own right, to change gender (especially from feminine to masculine).

There's no way to predict which ending (if any) can be attached to a particular noun, and the meanings of some suffixed words can vary from region to region. Here are the main ways in which these endings are used:

To indicate something is large: When used in this way, the suffixes can also indicate something is strong or powerful or has some other quality often associated with size.

  • Examples: mujerona (big and/or tough woman), arbolote (big tree), perrazo (a big and/or mean dog), librazo or librote (big book), pajarote (large bird), casona (large house), cabezón (big-headed, big-headed person, literally or figuratively), cabezota (stubborn, stubborn person).

    To indicate intensity: Such suffixes indicate that something has more of the inherent quality than such objects usually have; the resulting word can, but doesn't have to, have a negative connotation. Sometimes these endings can be applied to adjectives as well as nouns.

    • Examples: solterón (confirmed bachelor), solterona ("old maid"), favorzote (a huge favor), un cochazo (one heck of a car), grandote (very big), ricachón (filthy rich, filthy-rich person), grandullón (overgrown).

      To form new words: Sometimes words with augmentative endings can take on meanings of their own and have only a loose connection with the original word.

      • Examples: padrote (pimp), ratón (mouse), tablón (bulletin board, thick board), fogón (stove), cinturón (belt), camisón (nightgown), serrucho (handsaw), hacer un papelón (to make a spectacle of oneself), cajón (drawer), cordón (shoelace), lamparón (grease stain), llorón (crybaby), humazo (cloud of smoke).

      -Azo to indicate a blow or strike: The suffix -azo can be applied somewhat freely to nouns to indicate a blow or strike; coined words using this suffix are sometimes found in journalese. Words formed in this way are always masculine.

      • Examples: hachazo (blow or chop with an ax), martillazo (blow with a hammer), puñetazo (punch with a fist), cabezazo (head butt), codazo (jab with the elbow), plumazo (the stroke of a pen), huevazo (a blow from a thrown egg), misilazo (missile strike), sartenazo (a blow from a frying pan).