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Italian modifying suffixes (diminutives, ...)

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Modifying suffixes in Italian

In Italian we can use suffixes to add new meanings to the original word.
These constructions are used in informal contexts only.

We can distinguish between four different classes of altered nouns:

  • Diminutivi (diminutives)
  • Vezzeggiativi (terms of endearment)
  • Accrescitivi (augmentatives)
  • Dispregiativi (pejoratives)

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Diminutivi (Italian diminutives)

This kind of modification conveys the idea of smallness.
These constructions are pretty common in baby talk.

Masculin singularFeminine singularMasculine pluralFeminine plural
-ino-ina-ini-ine
-etto-etta-etti-ette
-ello-ella-elli-elle
-icino-icina-icini-icine
-olino-olina-olini-oline
-icello-icella-icelli-icelle
-icciolo-icciola-iccioli-icciole
-otto-otta-otti-otte

 

  • Guarda quella stellina in cielo! (Look at that little star in the sky!)
  • Una famosa canzone dice "C'era una casetta piccolina in Canada". (A famous song goes "There was a tiny little house in Canada".)
  • Nel presepe c'è un asinello. (There is a little donkey in the Nativity scene.)
  • È possibile avere uno sconticino sul prezzo finale? (Is it possible to get a little discount on the final price?)
  • Nell'acquario ci sono due pesciolini rossi. (There are two little goldfishes in the acquarium.)

 

Vezzeggiativi (Italian terms of endearment)

Vezzeggiativi convey the idea of tenderness, sympathy and also smallness.
This kind of altered nouns is typical for baby talk.

Masculine singularFeminine singularMasculine pluralFeminine plural
-uccio-uccia-ucci-ucce
-uzzo-uzza-uzzi-uzze
-olo-ola-oli-ole
-cino-cina-cini-cine
-acchiotto-acchiotta-acchiotti-acchiotte

 

  • C'era un lettuccio sulla destra e un armadio sulla sinistra.
    (There were a little bed on the right and a closet on the left.)
  • I miei nonni abitavano nella viuzza che arriva fino in piazza.
    (My grandparents lived in the small street that leads to the square.)
  • Il quokka è una bestiola che vive in Australia occidentale.
    (The quokka is a little critter that lives in Western Australia.)
  • L'orsacchiotto che avevo quando ero piccolo si chiamava Chicco.
    (The teddy bear I had when I was a child was called Chicco.)
  • Marco è molto dolce con la sua ragazza: la chiama sempre "mogliettina" anche se non sono ancora sposati.
    (Marco is very sweet towards his girlfriend: he always call her his "wifey" even though they aren't married yet.)


Accrescitivi (Italian augmentatives)

This kind of nouns conveys a sense of bigness in size.

Masculine singularFeminine singularMasculine pluralFeminine plural
-one-ona-oni-one

 

  • Quella casona mi mette paura.
    (That big house makes me afraid.)

  • Devo studiare questo librone per l'esame!
    (I have to study this enormous book for the exam!)

  • La tua è proprio una manona!
    (Yours is a really big hand!)


Dispregiativi (Italian pejoratives)

This kind of suffixes expresses a sense of contempt and dislike.

Masculine singularFeminine singularMasculine pluralFeminine plural
-accio-accia-acci-acce
-astro-astra-astri-astre
-ucolo-ucola-ucoli-ucole
-iciattolo-iciattola-iciattoli-iciattole

 

Depending on the context, the suffix -astro can also lose its negative connotation.

ItalianEnglish
Rosso    → RossastroRed       → Reddish
Blu         → BluastroBlue       → Bluish
Fratello  → FratellastroBrother  → Step-brother
Figlio      → FigliastroSon        → Step-son

 

  • Non vuoi mica indossare quel cappellaccio?
    (You aren't going to wear that hideous hat, are you?)
  • Chi è questo poetastro?
    (Who is this miserable poet?)
  • Credo che sia una ideaccia. 
    (I think it's a terrible idea.)

 

Combination of suffixes

Modifying suffixes can be combined to mix different meanings, but only in informal contexts.

ItalianEnglish
Casa → Cas - ett - inaHouse → Tiny little house
Gonna → Gonn - ell - inaSkirt → Tiny little skirt
Foglio → Fogli - ett - inoSheet → Tiny sheet

 

Exceptions

False alterates

A lot of words look like alterates, but they are not.

Italian English
Cartone → not a big Carta (Paper)Cardboard
Tacchino → not a tiny Tacco (High heel)Turkey
Collina → not a tiny Collo (Neck)Hill
Limone → not a big Limo (Mire)Lemon

 

Changes in gender

Other than the meaning, in some cases suffixes can also change the gender of the original word.

ItalianEnglish
La donna → Il donnoneWoman → The big woman
La febbre → Il febbroneFever → Very high fever

 

 


Exercises

  1. Exercise on Italian modifying suffixes (diminutives) - Drag text
  2. Exercise on Italian modifying suffixes (terms of endearment) - Drag text
  3. Exercise on Italian modifying suffixes (augmentatives and pejoratives) - Drag text
  4. Exercise on the use of Italian modifying suffixes (diminutivi, vezzeggiativi, accrescitivi, peggiorativi) - Fill in the blanks
  5. Exercise on false alterates - Single choice set

Exercise on Italian modifying suffixes (diminutives) - Drag text


Exercise on Italian modifying suffixes (terms of endearment) - Drag text


Exercise on Italian modifying suffixes (augmentatives and pejoratives) - Drag text


Exercise on the use of Italian modifying suffixes (diminutivi, vezzeggiativi, accrescitivi, peggiorativi) - Fill in the blanks


Exercise on false alterates - Single choice set


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