portuguese diminutives

Diminutives in European Portuguese

Today we’re going to look at diminutives. But what exactly are they?
Diminutivos Play normal audio Diminutives are usually used to describe an object or a person as small or cute. They can also be used to express affection or pity towards someone/ something. Depending on the tone, they can also be used sarcastically.
We often use diminutives when we refer to children, but adults also use them to express love and tenderness, or simply to give a word a “smaller” connotation.
The diminutive is, in fact, one of the three degrees nouns can have. The other two are: normal (the noun itself) and the augmentative.
Although, grammatically, they are exclusive to nouns, in spoken language, diminutives can be used with adjectives as well, which often happens in informal situations.

Diminutives in English

In the English language, the most common diminutives are formed by adding the prefix mini- or by adding suffixes such as –let, -ling, -ette, and –y/-ie.
For example:

  • Doggy, mommy, daddy (terms of familiarity and warmth);
  • Darling (terms of endearment);
  • Booklet, piglet (emphasizing the smallness);
  • Miniskirt, minibus (showing that something is smaller or shorter than usual).

Diminutives in Portuguese


In Portuguese, diminutives are used in the same types of context. They play a large role in the Portuguese language by bringing emotion and feeling into words. Almost any noun or adjective can be made “small” by adding the appropriate suffix! That’s why it’s so useful to learn them. Both diminutives and augmentatives can also be employed as an alternative to adverbs such as muito paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio a lot, very or pouco paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio little, few.
In contrast, the English diminutives mentioned above are not really true diminutives because English employs them in a more limited and inconsistent way. For example, it wouldn’t be correct to say “breadlet” to refer to a small piece of bread , whereas pãozinho as a diminutive of pão Play normal audio bread would be perfectly fine in Portuguese.
In other words, diminutives are more common and rule-based in Portuguese. So how do we form them?

-inho / -inha

The most common diminutives are formed by adding the masculine suffix –inho or the feminine suffix –inha. This works for words ending in an unstressed –o or –a.
Replace the -o or -a at the end of the word with –inho or -inha.
Here are some examples:

  • gato Play normal audio catgatinho Play normal audio kitten, small cute cat
  • coitada Play normal audio poor woman(pitiful sense)coitadinha Play normal audio poor little woman (pitiful sense)

Important note: words that end in -co or -ca use the ‘qu’ spelling in order to keep the ‘k’ sound.

  • porco Play normal audio pigporquinho Play normal audio little pig (and not “porcinho”)
  • casca Play normal audio peel, shellcasquinha Play normal audio small peel, small shell (and not “cascinha”)

-zinho / -zinha

Words that end in a stressed vowels, consonant, or diphthong (2 vowels together) usually add –zinho (masculine suffix) or zinha (feminine suffix).
Add –zinho or -zinha to the end of the word.
For example:

  • irmã paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio sisterirmãzinha Play normal audio little sister
  • mão paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio handmãozinha Play normal audio little hand
  • dor Play normal audio paindorzinha Play normal audio minor pain
  • pau Play normal audio stickpauzinho Play normal audio little stick

Words that end in -e (not stressed), as well as words with endings in –ia, –oa, –ua, –io also use –zinho/zinha:

  • rio Play normal audio riverriozinho Play normal audio small river
  • praia Play normal audio beachpraiazinha Play normal audio small beach
  • estátua Play normal audio statueestátuazinha Play normal audio small statue

With words that end in –m,  you have to replace the ‘m’ with ‘n’ before adding –zinho/zinha:

  • viagem Play normal audio tripviagenzinha Play normal audio small trip

Important: nouns that don’t change with gender (invariable), do change in the diminutive, and practically all of them use the –zinho/zinha suffix. If you’re also using the plural, and the group has people of both genders, then the masculine is used.

  • pirata Play normal audio piratepiratazinho Play normal audio little pirate (male) & piratazinha Play normal audio little pirate (female)
  • atleta Play normal audio athleteatletazinho Play normal audio small athlete (male) & atletazinha Play normal audio small athlete (female)

When To Use Diminutives

So, in which contexts do we use diminutives?

To emphasize small size:

  • pão Play normal audio loaf of breadpãozinho Play normal audio roll, small piece of bread
  • casa paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio housecasinha Play normal audio small house
  • uma cerveja Play normal audio a beeruma cervejinha Play normal audio a small beer

To show affection or pity:

  • meu anjo Play normal audio my angelmeu anjinho Play normal audio my little angel
  • a minha mãe Play normal audio my mothera minha mãezinha Play normal audio my dear mother
  • coitado Play normal audio poor thingcoitadinho Play normal audio poor little thing

To lessen the importance of something:

  • Ele tem uma gripezinha Play normal audio He has a little flu
  • Tenho uma dorzinha de cabeça Play normal audio I have a minor headache
  • É um hotelzinho feio Play normal audio It’s an ugly little hotel

To be sarcastic:

  • Nós temos um probleminha... Play normal audio We have a little problem... (implying it's actually a huge problem)
  • És tão engraçadinha! Play normal audio You're so funny! (female, sing.)

Nicknames:

The diminutive also works for people’s names:

  • Pedro Play normal audio   → Pedrinho Play normal audio
  • João Play normal audio Joãozinho Play normal audio
  • Maria Play normal audio Mariazinha Play normal audio
  • Rui Play normal audio Ruizinho Play normal audio

These often become nicknames, showing a degree of love and affection for the person. ❤️

For General Emphasis

There are certain situations in which the diminutive can be used to emphasize words rather than lessen or downplay them. Words such as tudinho – from tudo Play normal audio everything – and nadinha– from nada paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio nothing –  are two examples.
If someone says Vais comer tudinho Play normal audio You'll eat everything what they imply is “you will eat absolutely everything”. Likewise, if a person says Não vou fazer nadinha hoje Play normal audio I'll be doing nothing today, they mean something like “I will be as lazy as humanly possible”.
The same is true for the word fartinho. Instead of saying Estou muito farto de ficar em casa Play normal audio I'm really tired of being at home, we can use the diminutive (and not augmentative) to say Estou fartinho de estar em casa Play normal audio I'm really tired of being at home. Despite being a diminutive, this means that fartinho actually has a “bigger” meaning than farto.

When NOT to Use Diminutives

Well, it’s not easy as a non-native speaker, because there aren’t any set rules. But let’s just say that diminutives don’t always mean what you think they’re going to mean! It takes time and exposure to the language to get comfortable with the different uses.
Check out this video to see what we mean! 🙈 Don’t Make This Mistake With Diminutives!
 

Alternative Diminutives

Many words can have two different diminutives: one that follows the ‘rules’ we’ve shown and other that’s formed by adding an alternative, less common suffix. Other words, however, have just one diminutive that uses one of those alternative suffixes. Some of these diminutives eventually became actual nouns (i.e. with a place in the dictionary) while retaining the same meaning as “small word”. Some of them are:
diabo Play normal audio devil  → diabrete Play normal audio little devil
pequeno paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio smallpequenito Play normal audio really small
bandeira Play normal audio flagbandeirola Play normal audio small flag
boca Play normal audio mouthboquita Play normal audio tiny mouth
casa paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio housecasita Play normal audio small house
estátua Play normal audio statueestatueta Play normal audio small statue
livro Play normal audio booklivrete Play normal audio small book
rua paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio streetruela Play normal audio little street
rio Play normal audio riverriacho Play normal audio small river
We use diminutives in Portuguese because they sound friendly, gentle, and informal. Learning how to use them can feel quite awkward at first, but with some practice, you will be able to use them frequently in your speaking. Later, we’ll learn about their opposites: augmentatives!

    • Sorry for the overwhelm — I wouldn’t recommend this one for a complete beginner. This is a more advanced concept that probably wouldn’t be taught until probably the B2 level. It’s good to at least be familiar with, though, so it’s good that you got a preview. Now you can go back to it much later and have a bit more context. 🙂

  • I accept that there’s no one good sequence in which to learn elements of Portuguese. Even so, I’d appreciate guidance as to what to learn next as some lessons are much more difficult than others, leaving me floundering.

    • Hi Penny, so sorry for the confusion! When in doubt, we recommend working through the Units from the top to the bottom of the list. They are in order from A1 level content, up to B2 level. This is the best way to “make a path” through the site, starting from the basics and gradually working your way up. Then you can dip into other parts of the site when there is a particular topic you want to explore more.

      For example, when you want to do more listening practice, the episodes can be filtered by level. These are the easier Shorties, for example:
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      You can also use the Site Index here if you are looking for content on a particular topic.

  • i heard you had a small funny movizino which my friend saw in the plane….is that correct, where is it, it was in a restaurant with Rui with a moustanshe…..

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