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A diminutive is a word that has been modified to convey a slighter degree of its root meaning, to convey the smallness of the object or quality named, or to convey a sense of intimacy or endearment. A diminutive form (abbreviated DIM) is a word-formation device used to express such meanings; in many languages, such forms can be translated as "little" and diminutives can also be formed as multi-word constructions such as "Tiny Tim". Diminutives are often employed as nicknames and pet names, when speaking to small children, and when expressing extreme tenderness and intimacy to an adult. The opposite of the diminutive form is the augmentative. Beyond the diminutive form of a single word, a diminutive can be a multi-word name, such as "Tiny Tim" or "Little Dorrit".
In many languages, formation of diminutives by adding suffixes is a productive part of the language. For example, in Spanish gordo can a nickname for someone who is overweight, and by adding an ito suffix, it becomes gordito which is more affectionate. A double diminutive (example in Polish: dzwon → dzwonek → dzwoneczek; example in Italian: casa → casetta → casettina) is a diminutive form with two diminutive suffixes rather than one. While many languages apply a grammatical diminutive to nouns, a few – including Dutch, Latin, Polish, Macedonian, Czech, Russian and Estonian – also use it for adjectives (in Polish: słodki → słodziutki → słodziuteńki) and even other parts of speech. In English the alteration of meaning is often conveyed through clipping, making the words shorter and more colloquial. Diminutives formed by adding affixes in other languages are often longer and (as colloquial) not necessarily understood.
Diminutives in isolating languages tend not to use suffixes or prefixes (if such grammatical features even exist). In Chinese, for example, the diminutive is formed by repeating the word, e.g., 舅 → 舅舅 and 看 → 看看. In formal Mandarin usage, the use of diminutives are seemingly rare, as they are usually considered to be rather too "colloquial."
In some contexts, diminutives are also employed in a pejorative sense, to denote that someone or something is weak or childish. For example, one of the last of the Western Roman emperors was named Romulus Augustus, but this was diminuted to "Romulus Augustulus" to express his powerlessness.
- Affect (linguistics)
- Comparison (grammar)
- Diminutives in Australian English
- Hypocorism (diminutives of given names)
- List of diminutives by language
- -ie ending