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Spanish Suffixes

Many Are Cognates of Those We Use in English

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Do you want to increase your Spanish vocabulary? One sure-fire way is to take the words you already know and learn how to apply suffixes to them.

Suffixes are simply word endings that can be used to modify a word's meaning. We use them in English all the time, and nearly all of them that we use in English have a Spanish equivalent. But Spanish has an even wider variety, and their usage isn't always as obvious as it would be in English.

Take a common word like manteca, for example. That's the word for lard, a much-used cooking ingredient in Mexico and some other Spanish-speaking countries. Add the ending -illa, a common ending, and it becomes mantequilla, or butter. Add the ending -ero, and it becomes mantequero, which can mean either a dairyman or a butter dish. (The spelling is changed from "c" to "qu" to maintain the pronunciation.) Add the ending -ada, and it becomes mantecada, or buttered toast. Add -ado, and it becomes mantecado, or french ice cream.

Unfortunately, and the above words are an example, it isn't always possible to figure out what a word means simply by knowing the root word and the suffixes. But the suffixes may give enough clues that in context you can make a more educated guess. For example, the -ado and -ada endings are often the equivalent of the English "-ed." So it isn't hard to see how mantecada could come to mean something buttered, just as in English "a malted" can refer to a milkshake with malt in it.

Spanish suffixes can roughly be classified as diminutives, augmentatives, pejoratives, English cognates, and miscellaneous ones. And one, the adverbial suffix, is in a class of its own.

The Adverbial Suffix

Probably the most common Spanish suffix is -mente, which is usually added to the feminine singular form of adjectives to turn them into adverbs, just as we add "-ly" in English. Thus simplemente is "simply," cariñosamente is "lovingly," rápidamente is "quickly," and so on.

Diminutives

These suffixes are extremely common and are used to make a word refer to something smaller, either literally or figuratively as in a form of endearment. Thus, un gato is a cat, but un gatito is a kitten. In English we sometimes do the same thing by adding "-y." The most common diminutive is -ito (or its feminine equivalent, -ita), sometimes expanded to -cito or, less commonly, -illo or even -zuelo. You can add one of these endings to many nouns and adjectives to arrive at a diminutive form.

Examples:

  • perrito (doggy)
  • hermanito (little brother)
  • papelito (slip of paper)

Augmentatives

Augmentatives are the opposite of diminutives and aren't used as much. Augmentative endings include -ote, -ota, -ón, -ona, -azo, and -aza. For examples, un arbolote is a large tree, and un hombrón is a big or tough dude.

Just as the diminutives sometimes are used to denote an endearing quality, the augmentatives can be used to convey a negative connotation. Whereas un perrito may be a cute puppy, un perrazo could be a big scary dog.

One augmentative, -ísimo, and its feminine and plural forms are used with adjectives to form a superlative. Bill Gates isn't just rich, he's riquísimo.

Pejoratives

Pejoratives are added to words to indicate contempt or some form of undesirability. They include -aco, -aca, -acho, -acha, -ajo, -aja, -ote, -ota, -ucho, and -ucha. The precise translation often depends on the context. Examples include casucha, a house that's falling apart, and ricacho, referring to a person who is rich in some undesirable way, such as arrogant.

English cognates

These suffixes are ones that are similar to suffixes in English and have a similar meaning. Many of them have come to both languages by way of Greek or Latin. Many of them have an abstract meaning, or are used to change one part of speech into another.

Here are some of the more commonly used cognates along with an example of each:

  • -aje — -age — kilometraje (like mileage, but in kilometers)
  • -ancia — -ancy — discrepancia (discrepancy)
  • -arquía — -archy — monarquía (monarchy)
  • -ático — -atic — lunático (lunatic)
  • -ble — -ble — manejable (manageable)
  • -cida, cidio — -cide — insecticida (insecticide)
  • -ción — -tion — agravación (aggravation)
  • -cracia — -cracy — democracia (democracy)
  • -crata — -crat — burócrata (bureaucrat)
  • -ancia — -ancy — discrepancia (discrepancy)
  • -dad — -ity — pomposidad (pomposity)
  • -esa, -iz, -isa — -ess — actriz (actress)
  • -fico, -fica — -fic — horrífico (horrific)
  • -filo, -filia — -file — bibliófilo (bibliophile)
  • -fobia — -phobia — claustrofobia (claustrophobia)
  • -fono — -phone — teléfono (telephone)
  • -dad — -ity — pomposidad (pomposity)
  • -icio, -icia — -ice — avaricia (avarice)
  • -íficar — -ify — dignificar (pomposity)
  • -ismo — -ism — budismo (Buddhism)
  • -dad — -ity — pomposidad (pomposity)
  • -ista — -ist — dentista (dentist)
  • -itis — -itis — flebitis (phlebitis)
  • -tud — -tude — latitud (latitude)
  • -izo — -ish — rojizo (reddish)
  • -or, -ora — -er — pintor (painter)
  • -osa, -oso — -ous — maravilloso (marvelous)
Continue to the following page for miscellaneous suffixes.
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