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Diminutives Posted by on Aug 13, 2007 in Grammar, Learning, Slang

Terms of endearment are a national pastime in Brazil.

You can’t bottle cuteness, but the Brazilian Portuguese language has the next best option. The diminutive form in Portuguese has nearly cornered the global market for endearing nicknames (apelidos) in addition to being a common useful way of describing the tiny form of common nouns.

As a primer, it is imperative that one know how to form the common diminutive form of any noun. There are a few rules, but it ought ot come quite naturally. The dimunitive is formed through the use of a suffix, frequently-inho or -inha. When the word ends in a consonant, dipthong, it is proper to add-zinho or -zinha to the end of the word instead.

Some examples:
Casa: house; Casinha: little house
Pouco: a little; Pouquinho: a very little
Churrasco: barbecue; Churrasquinho: barbecue (endeared)
Pai: father; Paizinho: father (endeared)
Café: coffee; Cafezinho: small coffee (espresso)

more after the jump…

Here’s where o diminutivo becomes most common and distinctly Brazilian: when it is used to create a nickname. It seems at times that everyone in the country has some sort of nickname, and perhaps that makes things much easier than referring to people by their four (or more) given names. Currently, the most famous diminutive on the planet might well be the soccer star Ronaldinho.

Thank goodness for Portuguese! English really has limited capacity for the diminutive form, which surely renders us less affectionate people as a whole. Maybe that’s an exaggeration. Maybe.

While getting a haircut from a Brazilian woman, I was asked how to form the diminutive in English. I couldn’t give a good answer, except that it is less common, and sometimes practically impossible, especially with names. The other barbers’ names, I explained, could to varying degrees be formed into the diminutive; Steve could be Stevie, and Tim could be Timmy, but calling Josh Joshie may not be such a great idea, as he is no longer five years old and would find it quite patronizing.

English also borrows the French diminutive suffix -ette.

Proper use of the diminutive in Portuguese will put you on the fast track to cultural savvy and will earn you many thumbs up of approval. If you’re lucky, some Brazilians may even give you an apelido of your own!

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Comments:

  1. David Stephensen:

    Aussies are the world custodians of the English diminutive. See http://www.ling.mq.edu.au/centres/sc/dec2004.htm

    The more I learn about Brasilians, the more they seem in many ways like us, with their irreverence and playfulness. We need to learn more of their cultura de ficar, however.

  2. David Stephensen:

    Rather than ‘cultura de ficar’ I really meant that we need to absorb some of their personal warmth and affectionate nature.

  3. Christopher:

    Hey great link David! Yes I suppose it’s very appropriate to include abbreviations (like ‘cab-sav’ for cabernet-sauvignon) in the category of English diminutives, or at least terms of endearment. Good point; sometimes i refer to Brazilian Portuguese as BrazPort…

    Aussies do enjoy a fantastic flavor of English, I’d love to know more about it

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  10. Cintia Moura:

    Hi there, I’m Brazilian myself and would add that the diminutive in Brazilian Portuguese is also used to express not so much endearment in certain situations. See, consider the situation: I say that a girl’s dress is “bonitinho”; given that I dont like the girl because I think she’s prettier or something, and in fact I envy the girl, the diminutive “bonitinho” means exactly the opposite! even worse, it may mean “I dont care if her drees is beautiful, or that she’s pretty, I simply dont like her and that’s it!”.
    As a language student I’d say this aspect of the diminutive in Portuguese spoken in Brazil is due to a very strong feature in our culture: Brazilian people dont “feel comfortable” to express their judgemental opnions literally; and I dont think that’s because we care about other people’s feelings or sth, it’s more likely that we are always trying to preserve our own public image! It seems that Brazilians dont have the guts to say clearly what they think and face the consequences from supporting their point of view.
    That really annoys me!

  11. WicCaesar:

    Some words also have the -ette suffix, but in a Brazilian form, it’s -ete.

  12. izabela:

    Hey,i totally agree with what was said about Brazilians not being able to express their judgemental opinions. So the diminutive is often used for this pupose too, because it sounds less agressive i gess. Thats why many people dont like being refered to as “bonitinho”(cutie). There’s now a consence in brazil that “bonitinho” is “feio arrumadinho” (which means something close to an well dressed ugly).
    But i think its a cultural thing. Parents teach their children that its rude to be “too honest” – if i can put it that way .
    When Brazilians live abroad, it takes a while for them to get used to people saying exactly what they think… and without diminutive! but once you get used to it, you see its way better just to say it, as long as you realise its not rude at all.

  13. gika:

    Using diminutive doesn’t show if you appreciate that or not, exactly…
    Your voice and face tell it.
    If you say “bonitinho/a” for ‘something’ in front its ‘owner’ and you mean cute, try to demonstrate it with your facial expression, smile or whatever.

    Your mood speaks for you in any language! ;D

  14. j:

    I believe that adding ‘y’ or ‘ies’ can be diminutive in American English.

  15. shalita:

    Very nice blog ! I have left Brazil for 14 years, and I rarely Speak Portuguese, but I do see a lot of posts of friends and family on Facebook , and I do see them using the term “into” “inna” in the end of all words as a diminutive very often , such as you mentioned “little coffee =cafezinho” ..I stared to realize that is becoming a bit too excessive lately , it seems that current urban Portuguese words turned out to be all diminutives , using the “into” “inna” in the end of every world as “little” ..and I noticed that is a bit of part of the culture ..I was just reading a friend comment about her workout before work ,as “Training” at the gym ; she addressed as saying ” “treininho”as “little trainee ” or a “short period of workout” how do I translate that? It is sounding too weird if you are not there everyday in which is my case..a had a English spodekn person from Australia that knows Portuguese once and asked me ” what is with the “inna” ? Back then I didn’t notice, but now I do, and it is really annoying lol