Spanish Affective Suffixes

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Affective suffixes are suffixes like -ito, -illo, -ón, -azo that add various emotional overtones to a noun, adjective or adverb.

The three main types of Spanish Affective Suffixes are:

  1. Diminutive
  2. Augmentative
  3. Pejorative

In general, foreign learners should avoid using them until they are very fluent in the language, since they can sound silly or even insulting if misused.

They are less frequent in some places than in others: Mexicans and Central Americans sprinkle their speech with diminutive suffixes, in Argentina and Spain they are less common (but still much used), and in some places diminutive forms are considered more appropriate in women’s speech than men’s.

SPANISH DIMINUTIVE SUFFIXES

The main Diminutive Suffixes are -ito, -ecito (or -ico in some regions), -illo, -ecillo. Other suffixes like -uelo, -iño, -ín are also encountered, the latter two being regional in use. 

Using Diminutive Suffixes to make speech especially friendly or affectionate

They are much used when talking to little children, but they are also often used between strangers in order to make the tone friendly. Compare:

  • ¿Le pongo un poco de sal? Shall I put some salt on it for you? (neutral tone)
  • ¿Le pongo un poquito de sal? (same thing but more friendly)
  • Eres un comilón (or comelón). You eat a lot.
  • Eres un comiloncillo. You sure like your food! (more friendly)
  • Ahora se lo traigo. I’ll bring it to you now.
  • Ahorita se lo traigo. (same but more friendly).

Ahorita is especially common in Mexico, but Spaniards say ahora mismo.

Using Diminutive SuffixesTo convey the idea of smallness, usually with some feeling of affection

  • La casa tiene un jardincito. The house has a little backyard/garden.
  • ¡Mira los pajaritos! Look at the little birds!
  • Un cafetín. A little café.

Using Diminutive Suffixes to add a sarcastic tone

  • ¡Qué listillo eres! Aren’t you smart! What a know-all you are! (sarcastic: listo = clever)
  • señorito (roughly) a spoilt son from a rich family
  • miedica cowardly/chicken

Sometimes diminutive suffixes simply change the original meaning without any emotional overtones:

  • el palo a stick el palillo a toothpick
  • la tesis thesis la tesina dissertation
  • la ventana window la ventanilla vehicle window

SPANISH AUGMENTATIVE SUFFIXES

The main Augmentative Suffixes are -én, -azo and -ote. As their name suggests, they indicate increased size or intensity, often (especially in the first two cases) with some overtone of excess or unpleasantness:

  • mandón bossy
  • aburridón really boring (aburrido = boring)
  • dramón a big melodrama (sarcastic, cf. el drama drama)
  • un vinazo a really strong, heavy wine (el vino = wine)
  • la palabrota swearword (la palabra = word)
  • grandote enormous (grande = big)

SPANISH PEJORATIVE SUFFIXES

-ajo, eja, -uco, -uca, -ucho, -odio, -astro are also sometimes added to nouns and adjectives to add an idea of unpleasantness:

  • el hotelucho flophouse/dump of a hotel
  • la palabreja peculiar, horrible word
  • la casuca, la casucha hovel/dingy house (la casa = house)

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