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A Beginners Guide to Using the Diminutives in Brazilian Portuguese

If you’ve ever had a cup coffee in Brazil, you’ve probably heard the diminutives in Brazilian Portuguese.

Haven’t they offered you a cafezinho?

They probably have.

But did you know that you could use that very same word — insert word to talk about coffee that you don’t like?

That’s the magic about the diminutives in Brazilian Portuguese. We use them so often not because we like to talk about small things. We use them because the Portuguese diminutives have quite a few meanings.

And if you want to know all about them, read on.

Key Takeaways

  • Brazilian Portuguese diminutives are an important part of the language and culture.
  • Diminutives are formed by adding suffixes to words to indicate smallness, affection, or despise.
  • There are different types of diminutives in Brazilian Portuguese.
  • Diminutives are commonly used in Brazilian culture and society to express emotions and convey meaning.
  • To use diminutives correctly, it’s important to understand the rules and avoid common mistakes.

What are Diminutives and Why are They Important in Brazilian Portuguese?

Diminutives are linguistic forms that indicate smallness, endearment, or insignificance.

In Brazilian Portuguese, we have two main ways to form them.

The first one is by adding a suffix. You’ve probably met the first and most common suffix, -(z)inho/-(z)inha.

That’s what we use the most.

But you can also express the diminutives by adding the word “pequeno(a)” to a noun, and you can convey the same idea of smallness.

Using the diminutives in Brazilian Portuguese is important because you can convey meaning and emotion through their usage. Whereas English has more exact words to express a specific idea — think of verbs like “saunter” and “waltz” being used for the more general “walk” —, Portuguese often conveys that extra meaning with special endings.

The Rules of Forming Diminutives in Brazilian Portuguese

as I mentioned above, forming the diminutives in Brazilian Portuguese isn’t hard. In general you glue the suffix -inho/-inha to a word — be it a noun or an adjective — and that’s it.

  • Livro – Livrinho. Small book
  • Casa – Casinha. Small house
  • Cachorro – Cachorrinho. Puppy, small dog.

But there are some rules that change it. Depending on the word’s ending or its gender, you might need to use a different form of this ending.

For example, words ending in “-ão” can have the suffix “-zinho” added to form the diminutive. Additionally, some words have irregular forms when forming diminutives.

Word Base ConditionDiminutive SuffixExample(s)Note
Ends in unstressed vowel or consonant (except “s” and “z”)“-inho” or “-zinho”corpinho or corpozinho, florinha or florzinhaIndifferent use of suffixes.
Ends in “s” or “z”“-inho”lápis-lapisinho, cruz-cruzinha, rapaz-rapazinhoPreference for the “-inho” suffix.
Ends in stressed vowel, nasal, or diphthong“-zinho”café-cafezinho, irmã-irmãzinha, pão-pãozinhoExclusive use of the “-zinho” suffix.
Adverb “devagar”“-inho” or “-zinho”devagarinho or devagarzinhoEstablished use in Brazilian Portuguese.
Plural with “-inho”Suffix + “s”livrinhos, casinhas, rapazinhosSimply add “s” at the end.
Plural with “-zinho”Plural modification without the substantive’s “s” + “zinhos”animaizinhos, pasteizinhos, pãezinhosBoth elements in plural without the substantive’s “s”.
Ends in consonantAdd -zinho.Papelzinho, animalzinho, pastelzinhoOnly this suffix.

Other Endings for the diminutives

I told you above that diminutive endings are simple. And usually that’s the case. But we have additional endings for the diminutives that are not as productive. It means that they cannot be used for every word, but they are used very frequently.

The list is too extensive for me to include in this article. But in general, if you see a word ending in -eco (like “livreco” from “livro”), it is to show despise. We have others like -ucho that had an affectionate tone to the word, almost comical. I can say that I am gorducho (fatty) and depending on the tone of my voice it can be a positive or negative thing.

The best remedy to this always more exposure to the language

Well now that you know how to form the diminutives in Brazilian Portuguese, what do they mean?

I said above that diminutives in Brazilian Portuguese have three basic meanings: affection, smallness, and disdain/despise.

We’ll look into each one of them right now.

Examples of Diminutives in Brazilian Portuguese for Affection

In the sentences below you might think that they did not express affection but size. And when we talk about physical things — a little house, a little piece — that could be true. We don’t have enough context to make an accurate assertion here, so let’s pretend that they’re affectionate.

In the first example, we could say that the house is big but the person thinks of it as a cozy place.

The second example, the piece of cake to be huge — prohibitively so — but whoever’s giving it out thinks of it fondly.

You get the idea.

  • Vou visitar minha casinha no campo este fim de semana. I’m going to visit my little house in the countryside this weekend.
  • Você quer um pedacinho do bolo? Do you want a little piece of cake?
  • Ela me deu um abraço apertadinho. She gave me a tight little hug.
  • Meu cachorrinho adora brincar no jardim. My little dog loves to play in the garden.
  • Escrevi uma cartinha para você. I wrote a little letter for you.

Examples of Diminutives in Brazilian Portuguese for Despise

Intonation is extremely important for this meaning of the diminutives.

If you haven’t watched a video that I linked here, do so now. You’ll see what I’m talking about.

  • Ele se acha importante, mas é só um homenzinho. He thinks he’s important, but he’s just a little man.
  • Isso não é nada, apenas um problemazinho/probleminha. That’s nothing, just a little problem.
  • Você está agindo como uma criancinha. You’re acting like a little child.
  • Ela sempre fala com uma vozinha irritante. She always talks with an annoying little voice.
  • Acha que ganhou, mas foi só uma vitoriazinha. Thinks he won, but it was just a little victory.

Examples of Diminutives in Brazilian Portuguese When Talking about Size.

This one is by far the most common usage of the diminutives in Portuguese.

  • Minha avó mora em uma casinha muito aconchegante. My grandmother lives in a very cozy little house.
  • Ele me deu um livrinho interessante para ler. He gave me an interesting little book to read.
  • A cidade tem uma pracinha muito charmosa. The city has a very charming little square.
  • Comprei um carrinho usado, mas é perfeito para mim. I bought a little used car, but it’s perfect for me.
  • A criança segurava um brinquedinho quebrado. The child was holding a broken little toy.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using Diminutives in Brazilian Portuguese.

Using diminutives can be fun. Many people who are first learning Brazilian Portuguese go crazy with the diminutives.

I understand it’s fun. It’s something most languages don’t have the same way we do in Portuguese. But be careful.

Overusing diminutives can make the language sound childish or insincere.

Another common mistake is using the wrong ending for the word. This is a common mistake and one that you can get rid of by exposing yourself to the language more. Memorizing some forms may help, but don’t sweat it. You’ll be better off just using the language and letting the forms of the diminutives in Portuguese fall into place.

E no finalzinho…

It’s all about using the language naturally. Getting in touch with the language, using it, experiencing it. Today you may not speak the way you want, but by practicing everyday you Portuguese gets melhorzinho.

If you would like to, write a sentence in the comments section below using the diminutive. And tell me what you mean with that — if it size, affection, or despise. It’s important to have enough context when you cannot hear the other person’s intonation.

And for more grammar articles, visit this section.