The force of logic tells me that we must move on to Suffixes this month, although I daren’t even look at how many there really are. I think for now we’ll just stick to one or two common ones if that’s alright with you.
In Spanish there are things called ‘diminutives’, which make things smaller and ‘augmentatives’ which make things bigger. For example:
mesa means ‘table’, whilst mesita means ‘little table’, which could also be a side table or a coffee table. An alternative to this ‘ita’ ending is ‘illa’ and we also have a mesilla de noche – a bedside table, or as I rather like to call it ‘a little table of the night’.
The same process works with masculine words. For example:
papel is ‘a sheet of paper’ and papelito is ‘a little piece of paper’. I don’t remember ever hearing papelillo, but we do have cigarillo (cigarette) and mercadillo (street market), diminutives of cigarro (cigar) and mercado (market).
Diminutives of all kinds are used when addressing children who may be told to sit on their sillita and eat their comidita from their platito. Some parents do this to almost every other word which can be rather irritating. We do a similar thing in English when we add the ending ‘y’, particularly to animal words when talking to children, although this is frowned upon these days. We might say ‘horsey’ which would be caballito or ‘piggy’ – cerdito. These words can also refer to young animals, such as gatito which means kitten.
Different regions in Spanish have different diminutives. In my former home in Asturias, they ended words with ‘ín’ and ‘ina’. So, whereas the standard word for a little dog is perrito, in Asturias it is perrín. Standard Spanish says camita for little bed, but in Asturias it is camina. In neighbouring Cantabria they add ‘uca’ to words. People from there call the region affectionately mi tierruca; ‘my little land’. In Murcia this is replaced with ‘ico’ and ‘ica’. Here people say espera un momentico – ‘wait a little moment’.
The same sort of thing happens with ‘augmentatives’, although these are not used quite so extensively. A typical ‘augmentative’ is: ‘on’ for masculine and ‘ona’ for feminine. As well as making things sound bigger, these endings often add an extra meaning to a word. An example which comes to mind is the difference between:
soltera (a single woman) and solterona (a good old-fashioned ‘spinster’).
Silla (chair) we have already seen reduces to sillita, but can also expand to sillón (armchair). In this instance it also changes gender.
As you can see this is a very broad subject and not one that lends itself easily to following rules. It does add a great deal of colour to the language though as many different nuances, such as endearment or even sarcasm, can be expressed by playing with the endings of words.
To illustrate how much colour suffixes can bring to the language, we can look at the ending ‘azo’. This often refers to a hit or strike with something: portazo – the slam of a door
guantazo – a hit with a glove
taconazo – the strike of a heel
The same suffix also means ‘large’ though, as I well remember people commenting on my daughter’s ojazos azules when she was knee-high to a grasshopper.
Jane Cronin’s “Step by Step Spanish” articles are available as e-books at www.janecronin.eu where you can also obtain Jane’s “Step by Step Internet Spanish” course.