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Italian Modifying Suffixes

Creating Diminutives, Augmentatives, Terms of Endearment, and Pejoratives


Sometimes an Italian noun can be modified to express a particular quality (large, small, pretty, ugly) without using a qualifying Italian adjective. These nouns are created by taking the root of the noun and adding a suffix such as -ino, -one, -etto, or -accio. Italian nouns formed this way are called i nomi alterati (altered, or modified, nouns). Italian grammarians refer to this type of suffix modification as alterazione (alteration).

There are four types of nomi alterati: diminutivi (diminutives), accrescitivi (augmentatives), vezzeggiativi (pet names or terms of endearment), and peggiorativi (or dispregiativi) (pejoratives or derogatory terms). Most common Italian nouns can be modified, but keep in mind that the gender and number of the suffix must agree with the noun.

Using Nomi Alterati
How and when are modified Italian nouns used? Unlike, for example, choosing auxiliary verbs or forming plural adjectives, Italian speakers are never required to use nomi alterati. There are no hard and fast grammar rules, either, for when it's appropriate, in conversation or print, to use them. Rather, it's a personal linguistic choice—some people use them frequently, and others tend to use adjectives instead.

It also depends on the audience, the setting, and on the level of rapport between the parties. In certain situations, some modified Italian nouns would be inappropriate or out of context. But using a well-chosen nome alterato, pronounced with the right inflection and tone, can communicate volumes. In one sense, it's analogous to humor—timing is all.

Alterati Diminutivi (Diminutives)
A diminutivo usually conveys such meanings as: small, tiny. The following are examples of suffissi alterativi (alternate endings) used to form diminutivi (diminutives):

-ino: mamma—mammina; minestra—minestrina; pensiero—pensierino; ragazzo—ragazzino
-(i)cino (a variant of -ino): bastone—bastoncino; libro—libric(c)ino
-olino (a variant of -ino): sasso—sassolino; topo—topolino; freddo—freddolino; magro—magrolino
-etto: bacio—bacetto; camera—cameretta; casa—casetta; lupo—lupetto; basso—bassetto; piccolo—piccoletto. Frequently used concurrently with other suffixes: scarpa—scarpetta—scarpettina; secco—secchetto—secchettino
-ello: albero—alberello; asino—asinello; paese—paesello; rondine—rondinella; cattivo—cattivello; povero—poverello
-(i)cello (a variant of -ello): campo—campicello; informazione—informazioncella
-erello (a variant of -ello): fatto—fatterello; fuoco—f(u)ocherello. Frequently used concurrently with other suffixes: storia—storiella—storiellina; bucco—bucherello—bucherellino
-icci(u)olo: asta—asticci(u)ola; festa—festicciola; porto—porticciolo; sometimes can also have a pejorative sense: donna—donnicci(u)ola
-(u)olo: faccenda—faccenduola; montagna—montagnuola; poesia—poesiola
-otto: contadino—contadinotto; pieno—pienotto; giovane—giovanotto; ragazzo—ragazzotto; basso—bassotto. The ending also refers to a juvenile animal: aquila—aquilotto; lepre—leprotto; passero—passerotto
-iciattolo (considered a diminutive/pejorative combination): febbre—febbriciattolo; fiume—fiumiciattolo; libro—libriciattolo; mostro—mostriciattolo

Alterati Accrescitivi (Augmentatives)
An accrescitivo usually conveys such meanings as: large, big, grand. It is the opposite of a diminutive. The following are examples of suffissi alterativi (alternate endings) used to form accrescitivi (augmentatives):

-one: febbre—febbrona (febbrone); libro—librone; pigro—pigrone; mano—manona (manone); ghiotto—ghiottone. Frequently used concurrently with other suffixes: uomo—omaccio—omaccione; pazzo—pazzerello—pazzerellone. Sometimes the intermediate term is not used in contemporary Italian: buono—bonaccione
-acchione (has an ironic connotation): frate—fratacchione; volpe—volpacchione; furbo—furbacchione; matto—mattachione

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