How to Use Diminutives in Portuguese

Portuguese lesson on how to use diminutives in Portuguese

The goal of this Portuguese lesson is to teach you now to use diminutives in Portuguese.

If you’ve been practicing your Portuguese, by now you know that we use diminutives quite often. We talk about uma cervejinha, um cineminha, or uma mãozinha all the time. It’s a lot of inhos and zinhas, right?

And why is it important to learn how to use diminutives?

Because diminutives communicate much more than just size. If you don’t know how to use them, you might miss what your friend or coworker actually said. In addition, you can be more effective in your communications when you know how and when to use diminutives.

In this lesson you will learn:

  1. How to use diminutives and all the meanings they can communicate
  2. How to form the diminutives

You might be surprised with all the different ideas that a diminutive can communicate, from size to dislikes.

I have a cultural note for you at the end of the lesson.

Here is the video:

Learn to use Diminutives in Portuguese

I am going to start with how to use diminutives, even before you learn how to form diminutive words, because this is the fun part :)

Additionally, as you see diminutives in use, you will get a feel for how they sound and how useful they are. Then it is easier to look at rules and fine tune your knowledge.

Diminutives literally translate to English by placing the word “little” before the original word. However, the use of diminutives is not always associated with size. You can have a tall and strong friend that everyone calls Paulinho.

We can communicate the following ideas by using the diminutive.

1. Small size

Imagine that you are walking down the street and you see one of those tiny, super cute dogs. You can say:

2. Affection

Diminutives are often used to refer to people you like.

  • Você é meu anjinho. = You are my little angel.

This angel can be a tall, strong guy. The diminutive here is not about size. It is about affection.

3. Irony or sarcasm

Diminutives are a common way to express irony or sarcasm, as in the example below:

  • Posso imaginar a casinha onde Bill Gates mora. = I can imagine the “little” house where Bill Gates lives.

4. Putting something or someone down

  • Este é um jornalzinho sem qualidade. = This is a bad quality newspaper.

This newspaper may be the biggest in the country. The use of a diminutive here is not about size. The tone of the speaker will help you understand that s/he does not like the newspaper.

5. Lessening the importance of something

6. Emphasizing something

  • Preciso acordar bem cedinho amanhã. = I need to wake up very early tomorrow.

7. We often use the diminutive because it sounds friendly and informal

  • Pode me dar uma mãozinha? = Can you give me a hand?

I might be asking for a huge favor and still use mãozinha. It makes the request more friendly and smoother.

  • Vamos pegar um cineminha hoje? = Let’s catch a movie today.

It might be a 3-hour long movie. It isn’t about size.

  • A gente vai tomar uma cervejinha mais tarde. = We are going to get a beer later today.

We might drink all the beer in the world. The diminutive here is not about quantity. It is just a casual and friendly way to speak.

How to Form Diminutives in Portuguese

By the way, in Portuguese diminutive = Diminutivo.

Here are the 6 rules that you need to know to form the diminutives correctly. It’s pretty easy.

1.   Words that end in a non-stressed vowel

When the word ends in a vowel and the last syllable is not the stressed (stronger) syllable of the word:

  • Remove the final vowel
  • Add –inho or –inha

The general rule is that masculine words will end in –inho and feminine words will end in –inha. However there are funny words, such as cinema which is a masculine noun that ends in a. When that is the case, use –inha even though it is a masculine noun.

Examples:

  • Uma casa (house): uma casinha
  • Uma garota (girl): uma garotinha
  • Um carro (car): um carrinho
  • Um cachorro (dog): um cachorrinho
  • Um monte (a mount; a bunch of something): um motinho

2.   Words that end in a stressed vowel

When the word ends in a stressed vowel, that is, it ends in a vowel and the last syllable is the stressed (stronger) syllable of the word:

  • Remove the graphic accent, if there is one
  • Add –zinho (masculine words) or –zinha (feminine words)

Examples:

  • O pé (foot): o pezinho
  • O sofá (couch): o sofazinho
  • O café (coffee): o cafezinho
  • O tatu (armadillo): o tatuzinho

3.   Words that end in a consonant

When the word ends in consonant:

  • Add –zinho (masculine words) or –zinha (feminine words)

Examples:

  • O papel (paper): o papelzinho
  • A flor (flower): a florzinha
  • O amor (love): o amorzinho

When the word ends in M, replace it with an N:

  • Bom (good): bonzinho
  • Neném (baby): nenenzinho

4.   Words that end in a diphthong

A diphthong is a sound formed by the combination of two vowels in a single syllable. When you have that:

  • Add –zinho (masculine words) or –zinha (feminine words)

Examples:

  • O coração (heart): o coraçãozinho
  • O pão (bread): o pãozinho
  • A mão (hand): a mãozinha

5.   Words that end in –ca, -co

In addition to adding –inho or –inha as seen in rule 1 above, there is a spelling rule for words that end in –ca or –co:

  • Replace the last C with QU and then add inho/inha.

Examples:

  • O macaco (monkey): o macaquinho
  • A vaca (cow): a vaquinha

6.   Words that end in –ga, -go

In addition to adding –inho or –inha as seen in rule 1 above, there is a spelling rule for words that end in –ga or –do:

  • Replace the last syllable G with GU and then add inho/inha.

Examples:

  • O lago (lake): o laguinho
  • A manga (mango): a manguinha

With the rules above in mind, what is the diminutive of your name? Mine is Lucianinha :) My mom calls me like that sometimes <3

A Cultural Note and a Word of Encouragement

Women use diminutives more than men in Brazil. Yes, there are studies that show this. If you are a guy, keep this in mind and observe your male friends to get a feel for the use of diminutives.

I sometimes hear Portuguese learners using the diminutive in ways that do not sound natural. It happens especially with men. I am sharing this with you because I want you to know that it may take some trial and error to get it right. Do not feel discouraged if you use a diminutive and get corrected on it. It is a part of learning.

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