A diminutive is a word obtained by modifying a root word to convey a slighter degree of its root meaning, either to convey the smallness of the object or quality named, or to convey a sense of intimacy or endearment, and sometimes to derogatorily belittle something or someone.[1][2] A diminutive form (abbreviated DIM) is a word-formation device used to express such meanings. A double diminutive is a diminutive form with two diminutive suffixes rather than one.


Diminutives are often employed as nicknames and pet names when speaking to small children and when expressing extreme tenderness and intimacy to an adult. The opposite of the diminutive form is the augmentative.

In some contexts, diminutives are also employed in a pejorative sense to denote that someone or something is weak or childish. For example, one of the last Western Roman emperors was Romulus Augustus, but his name was diminutivized to "Romulus Augustulus" to express his powerlessness.


In many languages, diminutives are word forms that are formed from the root word by affixation. In most languages, diminutives can also be formed as multi-word constructions such as "Tiny Tim", or "Little Dorrit".

In most languages that form diminutives by affixation, this is a productive part of the language.[1] For example, in Spanish gordo can be a nickname for someone who is overweight, and by adding an -ito suffix, it becomes gordito which is more affectionate. Examples for a double diminutive having two diminutive suffixes are in Polish dzwondzwonekdzwoneczek or Italian casacasettacasettina).

In English, the alteration of meaning is often conveyed through clipping, making the words shorter and more colloquial. Diminutives formed by adding affixes in other languages are often longer and (as colloquial) not necessarily understood.

While many languages apply a grammatical diminutive to nouns, a few – including Slovak, Dutch, Spanish, Romanian, Latin, Polish, Bulgarian, Czech, Russian and Estonian – also use it for adjectives (in Polish: słodkisłodziutkisłodziuteńki) and even other parts of speech (Ukrainian спатиспаткиспатоньки — to sleep or Slovak spaťspinkaťspinuškať — to sleep, bežaťbežkať — to run).

Diminutives in isolating languages may grammaticalize strategies other than suffixes or prefixes. In Mandarin Chinese, for example, other than the nominal prefix 小- xiǎo- and nominal suffixes -儿/-兒 -r and -子 -zi, reduplication is a productive strategy, e.g., 舅舅 and 看看.[3] In formal Mandarin usage, the use of diminutives is relatively infrequent, as they tend to be considered to be rather colloquial than formal. Some Wu Chinese dialects use a tonal affix for nominal diminutives; that is, diminutives are formed by changing the tone of the word.


See also


  1. ^ a b "Glossary - D to F". The Standards Site. Department for Children, Schools and Families, The Crown. 2008. Archived from the original on 2008-12-27.
  2. ^ Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 6th edition
  3. ^ "Diminutives and reduplicatives in Chinese". Language Log. Retrieved 2018-02-22.