From Academic Kids

A diminutive is a formation of a word used to convey a slight degree of the root meaning, smallness of the object named, intimacy, or endearment. In some languages diminutives are formed in a regular way by adding affixes to nouns and proper names, in English the alteration of meaning is often but not essentially conveyed through smaller size. English diminutives tend to be shorter and more colloquial than the basic form of the word, diminutives formed by adding affixes in other languages are often longer and not necessarily colloquial. Diminutives are often used for affection (see nickname and hypocoristic). See also Apocopation.


English Usage

Diminutives are common in most national forms of English. Terms such as "undies" for underwear, and "movies" (short for "moving pictures") are frequently heard terms in English.

Australian English is known for its use of diminutives with the "-za" suffix applied to the shortened version of a person's name. Thus "Barry" becomes "Bazza" and "Gary" becomes "Gazza" though this is not routinely done with all names; a possible diminutive for "Larry" (which would be "Lazza" under this system) is very rare. There has also been a trend towards changing "Jarrod" or "Jared" to "Jazza". Female names are also shortened, such as "Sharon" becoming "Shazza". This use of diminutives is also found in British English.

Other suffixes

Other suffixes are also used, such as "-ey/-ie/-y" and "-o", thereby creating names such as Petey (formerly Peter), Dougie (Douglas), Johnny or Jono (Jonathan), and Robbie or Robbo (Robert). In Britain the title of popular soap opera Coronation Street is frequently shortened to "Corrie" or "Corro" by its fans.

Sometimes a diminutive lengthens the original word as seen in the ubiquitous American term "hottie" to denote sexually appealing (or "hot") young man or woman.

Diminutives aside from Proper Nouns

Many other words are replaced with diminutives in Australian English. Emergency-services personnel are often referred to as ambos and firies instead of "ambulance officers" and "firefighters". Similarly, medical professionals are frequently known as medicos. Social institutions, such as the Salvation Army, are also subject to this process - becoming (in this case) the Salvos. Garbage collectors are almost universally known as garbos, by a similar process.

Non-English Languages

Non-English languages also use Diminutives, however these relate to nouns as well as proper nouns.


German, for example, features words such as "Häuschen" (or "Häuserl" in Austrian Dialect) for "small house", "Würstchen" for "small sausage" and "Hündchen" for "small dog". The use of diminutives is quite different between the languages and dialects. The alemannic dialects for example use the diminutive very often. Dutch and the East Frisian Low Saxon uses the diminutive quite often as well. In the northern Low Saxon the diminutive is used as seldom as in the Scandinavic languages, that means nearly never.

There are two suffixes in German:

  • -chen, e.g. Männchen for little man (corresponding with English -kin, Low Saxon and Dutch -je and -tje and flamish and Low Saxon -ken)
  • -lein e.g. Männlein for little man (corresponding with English -let, alemannic -le, -li, Bavarian and Austrian -l and Latin -culus / -cula)

Suffixation of the diminutive suffixes –chen and –lein to a finally stressed word stem causes umlaut of the stressed vowel.

Low Saxon and Dutch

The East Frisian Dialect of the Low Saxon language uses quite frequently the diminutive -je, and -tje. In Dutch, -je, -tje, and -pje are used as a diminutive suffix (e.g. huis becomes huisje (little house); boom becomes boompje (little tree)). Some words have a slightly different suffix, even though the diminutive always ends with -je. For example, man becomes mannetje (little man).

In the southern parts of the Low Saxon area and in Flemish the diminutive -ke, -ken is corresponding (Manneke, manneken for little man). Both forms are corresponding with the English diminuitive -kin, e.g. lambkin, pumpkin and the German diminutive -chen.


In the Latin language the diminutive is formed also by suffixes.

  • -culus, e.g. homunculus (little man) from homo (man)
  • -cula, e.g. navicula (little ship, boat) from navis (ship)

In another example, the diminutive of gladius (sword) is gladiolus, a plant whose leaves look like small swords.


In Italian, the diminutive is usually expressed by changing -o to -ino, -a to -ina, or -i to -ini. Examples which have made it into English are the neutrino, and just about every shape of pasta, like linguine (named for its resemblance to little tongues). The root word is "lingua", which is also a cognate of "language" and "bilingual".


More detail at Spanish grammar.

In Spanish, -o and -a become -ito and -ita, respectively — as in "perro" (dog) and "perrito" (puppy). Sometimes, this changes the spelling slightly: a "chica" is a girl, and a "chiquita" is a little girl, for example.


In Portuguese, -inho and -inha are the most common diminutives, replacing -o and -a, respectively. Words ending in "e" generally have -zinho added, such as café and cafezinho. As with Spanish, a "c" (but not a "ç") becomes a "qu" on some irregular words, like "pouco" (little) and "pouquinho" (very little). This is very similar to "poco" and "poquito" in Spanish.


French diminutives usually end in -ette, and this frequently carries over into English as well.


In Czech diminutives are formed by suffixes, as in other slavic languages. Every noun has a grammatically correct diminutive form, regardless of the sense it makes. This is sometimes used for comic effect, for example diminuting the world for "giant" to mean "little giant". Diminutives can be diminuted further by adding another diminutive suffix. E.g.: "Julie" (Julia), "Julka" (little Julia), "Julinka" (very little Julia).


Russian has a wide variety of diminutive forms for names, to the point that for non-Russian speakers it is difficult to connect a nickname to the original. Diminutive forms for nouns are usually distinguished with a -ka or -chka/shka suffix. For example, "voda" (вода, "water") becomes "vodka" (водка, "little water") and "kot" (кот, "cat") becomes "koshka" (кошка, "kitten").

Names can be somewhat more arbitrary, but still follow a loose pattern. A list of common names and their diminutive forms:

  • Aleksey = Alyosha
  • Aleksandr(a) = Sasha
  • Anastasiya = Nastya
  • Dmitriy = Dima
  • Ivan = Vanya
  • Konstantin = Kostya
  • Mariya = Masha
  • Mikhail = Misha
  • Nataliya = Natasha
  • Nikolay = Kolya
  • Sergei = Seryozha
  • Stepan = Styopa
  • Svetlana = Sveta
  • Yekaterina = Katya
  • Yevgeny = Zhenya

Some names can also be modified with a -ka ending to add a further level of familiarity, but are not normally used for adults who are not family members.

af:Verkleiningswoord de:Diminutiv nl:Verkleinwoord fi:Deminutiivi


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