In English we will occasionally alter words to indicate smallness or show affection. This is known as a "diminutive" and we typically do it by adding a "-y" (or something similar) to end of the word. For example: dog → doggy, blanket → blanky, dear → dearie, etc.
Note: Don't confuse diminutive endings with the "-ito" endings of some irregular past participles: escrito, frito, etc.
Diminutives are much more common in Spanish than they are in English. Different regions have their own unique ways of creating diminutives, but the most common one is a form of "-ito." To create a diminutive, drop the "-o" or "-a" from just about any noun and add "-ito" or "-ita." Add "-cito" or "-cita" to words not ending in "-o" or "-a":
el niño → el niñito
la mesa → la mesita
el avión → el avioncito
Note: The diminutive of agua is agüita.
Note: The diminutive of mano is manita (because it's a feminine word).
Some words will require spelling changes:
el lago → el laguito
la chica → la chiquita
el pedazo → el pedacito
Using Spanish Diminutives
So why would we use the diminutive in Spanish?
To indicate something is small or perhaps unimportant:
Tengo una casita en la ciudad.
I have a little house in the city.
Enseñaba historia en una escuelita.
He taught history in a small school.
or to indicate something is beloved or endearing:
Mi abuelita se llama Marta.
My dear grandma is named Marta.
Yo amo a mi perrito.
I love my doggy.
or to strike a friendly or pleading tone in a conversation:
Espera un momentito, señor.
Wait just a moment, sir.
¿Puedo tener un vasito de agua?
Could I get a (little) glass of water?
or to talk to (or talk like) children:
¡Mira el pajarito y el osito!
Look at the birdy and the (little) bear!
¿Cuántos deditos tienes?
How many (little) fingers do you have?
Note: It's also possible to have diminutives of diminutives: chiquito → chiquitito, poquito → poquitito.
We aren't limited to nouns, we can also use diminutives to strengthen certain adverbs:
¡Lo necesito ahorita!
I need it right now!
It's really close by.
and to make subtle changes to certain adjectives:
gordo (fat) → gordito (chubby)
nuevo (new) → nuevecito (brand new)
Other Spanish Diminutives
There are also many other diminutive endings used in various places throughout the Spanish-speaking world:
amiguete (buddy), juguete (toy), patinete (scooter)
bolsillo (pocket), pancillo (bread roll), tortilla
Venezuela (Little Venice)
Note: Costa Ricans are so fond of "-ico" endings, they are known as "Ticos."
momentico (short moment), platico (small plate)
Unlike English, we can augment words in Spanish. Augmented words indicate either that something is large or that it is undesirable. Some examples:
exitazo (great success), perrazo (big, mean dog)
mujerona (large woman), ricachón (filthy rich), sillón (big chair)
grandote (enormous), papelote (worthless bit of paper)
abogaducho (awful lawyer), poblacho (delapidated town)
cabezudo (big head), peludo (hairy)
Other Spanish Suffixes and Endings
The following suffixes (sufijos) aren't really diminutive or augmentative but they do change the meaning of the words they are added to.
-ada adds "-ful" or "load" to a word:
boca (mouth) → bocada (mouthful), cuchara (spoon) → cucharada (spoonful)
-ado, -ido converts a verbs into an adjective:
divertirse (to have fun) → divertido (fun), hablar (to speak) → hablado (spoken)
-al, -tal turns a food into its tree or grove:
pera (pear) → peral (pear tree), café (coffee) → cafetal (coffee plantation)
-ano, -ense turns a place into a resident of that place:
→ Boliviano (Bolivian), Nicaragua → Nicaragüense (Nicaraguan)
-ante turns a verb into an occupation:
cantar (to sing) → cantante (singer), estudiar (to study) → estudiante (student)
-anza makes a noun out of a verb:
enseñar (to teach) → enseñanza (teaching), matar (to kill) → matanza (killing)
-ario converts a location into an occupation:
biblioteca (library) → bibliotecario (librarian)
-azo indicates blow or strike:
cabeza (head) → cabezazo (head butt), derecho (right) → derechazo (right handed punch)
-dero, -dera turns a verb into a place where that verb happens:
beber (to drink) → bebedero (drinking fountain), fregar (to wash) → fregadero (sink)
-dor, -dora turns a verb into an occupation:
contar (to count) → contador (accountant), explorar (to explore) → exploradora (explorer)
-dura turns a verb into its result:
picar (to sting) → picadura (insect bite)
-ear turns a borrowed English verb into a Spanish one:
esurfear (to surf), textear (to text someone)
-eo turns a specific noun into a more general noun:
mercado (store) → mercadeo (marketing), papel (paper) → papeleo (paperwork),
-ería turns a noun into a store:
muebles (furniture) → mueblería (furniture store), carne (meat) → carnicería (butcher shop)
-ero, -era turns a noun into job or function:
banco (bank) → banquero (banker), sombra (shade) → sombrero (hat)
-eza converts an adjective into a noun:
bella (beautiful) → belleza (beauty), pobre (poor) → pobreza (poverty)
-ísimo, -ísima intensifies an adjective:
rico (rich) → riquísimo (very rich)
-ista turns a noun into an occupation:
béisbol (baseball) → beisbolista (baseball player), violín (violin) → violinista (violinist)
-mente turns an adjective into an adverb:
rápida (quick) → rápidamente (quickly), frecuente (frequent) → frecuentemente (frequently)
Some places in the Spanish-speaking world also allow for the use of prefixes (prefijos) to words. Adding the prefixes "re-" and "requete-" is like adding the word "very." You should already know how to handle the prefix "super-."
La comida allí es rebuena.
The food there is very good.
MI tía es requeteloca.
My aunt is very crazy.
¡El examen fue superdifícil!
The test was super hard!