50 Diminutive Suffixes (and a Cute Little Prefix)

By Mark Nichol

Who knew there were this many ways to alter a word to connote belittlement or affection, or merely diminishment in size? Now, you do. Here’s a big list of little affixes:

1. -aster: This generally pejorative suffix denoting resemblance was common a couple hundred years ago but is rare today; the only well-known surviving instance is poetaster, a word describing an inferior poet.

2. -cule: This ending, sometimes with the letter c omitted, is common in medical and scientific vocabulary. Capsule and molecule are common examples; animalcule, referring to minute organisms such as bacteria, is rare in lay usage.

3. -culus: This direct borrowing from Latin is rarer than its Frenchified counterpart; calculus is perhaps the best-known form, though homunculus (“little man”) is an interesting example.

4. -el: This unassuming French diminutive appears frequently in ordinary language: chapel and tunnel are only two of many examples.

5-6. -ella, -ello: The feminine form of this Italian suffix is best known as part of Cinderella’s name; among objects, novella is perhaps the most familiar usage. When appended to a person’s name, -ella is often used in forming the scientific name of a species of bacteria, as in salmonella (the legacy of one D. E. Salmon). The masculine form is seen in bordello.

7. -elle: This rare suffix occurs in organelle.

8. -en: This suffix denotes a small or young form, as in kitten, though chicken is a reverse example: Originally, in Old English (as cicen), the term for adults was fowl, and chicken denoted a young bird. It also refers what something is made of, as in woolen.

9. -erel: As with -rel, words ending in -erel are sometimes pejorative, as in doggerel.

10. -ers: This diminutive does not literally suggest a reduction in size; it’s employed in coining slang such as bonkers and preggers.

11. -ster: This diminutive refers to a person who does or is what the root word indicates: gangster (and bankster, the recently coined sardonic extension in reaction to the perceived criminality of large banks), youngster.

12-13. -et, -ette: The masculine form of this French diminutive appears in such ubiquitous words as faucet and wallet. The feminine form of -et, more common in English than the masculine form, is seen in words such as cigarette and kitchenette.

14-15. -etto, -etti: The singular and plural Italian equivalents of -et are evident in borrowings from that language such as amaretto and spaghetti.

16. -ie: Words with this suffix are from English (as in doggie), Scottish (for example, laddie), or Dutch (such as cookie), or are diminutives of personal names, as in Charlie.

17. -il: Words ending in -il, such as codicil and pencil, came to English from Latin through French.

18-19. -illa, -illo: This Spanish diminutive appears in such words as vanilla and cigarillo.

20-21. -illus, -illi: This Latin form is rare, confined in usage to bacillus/bacilli and lapillus/lapilli.

22. -ine: This French diminutive is on display in figurine, tambourine, and the like. Sometimes, as with linguine, words so appended derive from Italian.

23-25. -ina, -ino -ini: These feminine and masculine forms, of Italian or Spanish origin, are shown in marina, palomino, and many other words. The plural form, -ini, is mostly associated with food: panini, zucchini.

26. -ing: This English diminutive generally appears in references to fractions or parts, as in farthing or tithing.

27. -ish: This suffix can be added to almost any noun to create an adjective noting the connection or similarity of one thing to another: English, greenish.

28-29. -ita, -ito: Spanish words including the feminine form -ita (such as fajita) and -ito (burrito, for example) have been borrowed into English.

30. -kin: This Dutch diminutive is usually found in obscure words like cannikin, but napkin survives in general usage; mannequin, more common than the Dutch-derived manikin, is the only French derivation to be used widely in English. The plural form is often attached to given names to form an affectionate diminutive: Mollykins, for example.

31. -le: Words with this ending can either be of Latin origin (such as article or particle — which, like particular, stems from particula) — or from Middle English (bundle, puddle).

32–33. -let, -lette: These forms, respectively indirectly and directly borrowed from French, are seen, for example, in booklet and roulette; omelet was formerly written as omelette.

34. -ling: Words formed with this diminutive are generally but not exclusively affectionate: darling, duckling, but underling.

35. -o: This diminutive can be endearing or belittling: kiddo, wacko.

36. -ock: This form from Old English is best know in the plural usage buttocks, but it’s also recognizable in hillock, mattock, and other words.

37. -ola: This artificial suffix is seen in slang (payola) or current or former brand names (respectively, Victrola and granola or pianola).

38. -ole: This rare French suffix appears in casserole.

39-40. -olo, -oli: Piccolo, borrowed from Italian by way of French, is a double diminutive, because the root word means “little”; ravioli includes a plural form of -olo.

41. -olus: This Latin diminutive shows up in scientific terminology from Latin, such as nucleolus.

42-43. -ot, -otte(s): These French endings are rare in common nouns (harlot, culottes) but are seen in given names like Charlotte and Margot.

44. -rel: This more common variant of -erel is often but not always pejorative: mongrel and scoundrel, but not kestrel.

45-46. -sie(s) or -sy: The first variant of this baby-talk slang is found, for example, in footsie and onesies, while the second appears in teensy-weensy and the like and names like Betsy.

47. -ula: This Latin suffix shows up in formula, spatula, and other words.

48. -ule: This diminutive, found in granule, nodule, and other words, comes directly from Latin or indirectly from it through French.

49. -ulum: This Latin suffix appears in such words as pabulum and pendulum.

50. -y: This form, with doubling of the preceding letter, is seen both in diminutives of given names, such as Bobby and Patty, and in words like puppy and mommy.

In addition, the flexible prefix mini- is easily attached to any existing word, such as in miniskirt, minivan, and so on.

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4 Responses to “50 Diminutive Suffixes (and a Cute Little Prefix)”

  • ApK

    Interesting. Calculus….who’d a thunk it.
    One question, though:

    7. -elle: This French diminutive, appended to a person’s name, is often used in forming the scientific name of a species of bacteria, as in salmonella (the legacy of one D. E. Salmon).

    Am I missing something (again) or is giving an -ella example an odd way to illustrate -elle?

    ApK

  • Mark MacKay

    It’s interesting that adding a feminine ending transforms some words into an insulting diminutive. So, the person hurling the epithet believes that the target will feel diminished, be made smaller or weaker – less than, unmaled – by an association with the feminine. Misogyny abides.

  • Clint

    What about dis-aster,
    and ridi-cule?

  • Mark Nichol

    ApK:

    You aren’t missing something, but the error has been corrected.

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