In Spanish we use the suffixes -illo, -cillo or -ecillo after a noun or adjective for two purposes: to qualify it as smaller (diminutive) or to talk about it in an affectionate way.
Suffix -illo, -illa, -illos, -illas
Voy a sentarme debajo de este arbolillo para tener sombra.I am going to sit under this "little" tree to have some shade.
Esta chiquilla es muy simpática.This "little" girl is very nice.
Me gustan mucho esos cuadrillos de ahí.I really like those little paintings over there.
Por favor, ¿nos trae unas jarrillas de agua?Please, can we have some little jugs of water?
Notice how we modify the nouns:
árbol → arbolillo
chica → chiquilla (the -c- becomes -qu- for pronunciation purposes)
cuadro → cuadrillos
jarra → jarrillas
If the original noun ends in
- -o or -a, it loses the vowel when you add the diminutive suffix (cuadro → cuadr-illos; jarra → jarr-illas)
- a consonant, it usually keeps the last letter (árbol → arbol-illo)
Notice that the suffix matches the gender and number of the original noun: masculine or feminine, singular or plural.
Suffix -cillo, -cilla, -cillos, -cillas
When the noun ends in a consonant or the vowel -e we tend to keep the whole word and add -cillo, -cilla, -cillos, -cillas.
Necesito un cafecillo para continuar el día.I need a little coffee to continue the day.
La seriecilla sobre animales es fascinante.The "nice" series about animals is fascinating.
Carlos está jugando con los camioncillos que le regalé.Carlos is playing with the little lorries that I gave him.
¿Hacía mucho calorcillo en Sevilla?Was it very hot in Seville? [softening the word "calor"]
Mis hijos llevaron unos trajecillos muy elegantes a la boda.My sons wore some very smart little suits at the wedding.
As you can see, these suffixes are not always used when talking about something that is physically smaller, but to talk about something in a more affectionate way or to soften the meaning of the word:
¿Hacía mucho calor en Sevilla?
¿Hacía mucho calorcillo en Sevilla?
These sentences mean the same, but in the second one the speaker is softening the meaning of "heat".
With this other example from above:
La serie sobre los animales es fascinante.
La seriecilla sobre los animales es fascinante.
Here we are not talking about a TV series that is smaller or shorter, we are simply using the suffix -cilla meaning that is a "nice" series.
Suffix -ecillo, -ecilla, -ecillos, -ecillas
Monosyllabic words tend to use long suffixes instead.
Voy a sentarme al solecillo a broncearme.I am going to sit in the sun to get tanned.
Compramos unos panecillos frescos en la panadería.We bought some fresh little bread rolls at the bakery.
La pecera con los pececillos estaba en la esquina del salón.The fish tank with the little fish was in the corner of the living room.
Notice that if the word ends in -z, (e.g. pez = fish) the -z becomes a -c.
Sometimes with monosyllabic words we make this suffix even longer: -ececillo, -ececilla, -ececillos, -ececillas:
El bebé jugaba con sus piececillos.The baby played with his little feet.
Note: be aware that some nouns take on a new meaning when used with these suffixes. For example, the word "panecillo" could mean "a small piece of bread" but it is also the word for "a bread roll".
Other examples with new meanings are:
- una camilla (a hospital bed, but also a small bed)
- una ventanilla (a counter or a ticket window -as found in a bank or train station- but also a small window)
Bear in mind that with diminutives there is no strict rule for when to use -illo or -cillo (or the other different suffixes) but there are some tendencies.
For example, we tend to use -illo with nouns ending in -l and we tend to use -cillo with nouns ending in -n, e.g. hotel/hotelillo, ángel/angelillo, papel/papelillo, camión/camioncillo, melón/meloncillo, corazón/corazoncillo.
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