The ultimate guide to the descriptive Italian suffixes

Let’s first answer the question: what is a suffix?

Chances are you already know the answer since you’ve stumbled upon this article, but let’s brush up the definition of suffix anyway.

A suffix is something you append to a word to alter its meaning.

Scrivere β†’ Scrittore
Write β†’ Writer

Illuminare β†’ Illuminazione
Illuminate β†’ Illumination

Now, there are two kinds of suffixes in Italian:

  • Italian suffixes that generate words with a completely different meaning (see examples above)
  • Italian suffixes that are used to “emotionally describe” a specific word

In this lesson, I’ll teach you the Italian suffixes of the second group, something that has almost no direct counterpart in the English language (think of pig β†’ piglet and duck β†’ duckling, very few examples exist).

Unlike the –let and –ling suffixes, however, these suffixes in Italian are very, very common.


Italian suffixes for all opinions

You’ll surely have heard the words grande and piccolo, brutto and carino. Respectively, these translate to big, small, ugly and cute.

What if I tell you that there are specific Italian suffixes that can be used to describe nouns instead of using an adjective?

Ragazzo β†’ Ragazzone
Boy β†’ Big, tall boy

Gatto β†’ Gattaccio
Cat β†’ Nasty cat

This is a cat, but is this a particularly ugly or a particularly cute cat? You can use a suffix to convey your take on things!

Imagine: you can “emotionally charge” a noun and give it a new shade of meaning with only a little cluster of letters.

Yes, Italian suffixes are that powerful and mastering them is of the utmost importance if you want to start speaking like a native does.

Plus, if you like playing creatively with the language like I do, you’ll love testing these Italian suffixes with words you already know.

italian suffixes - ragazzone
Ragazzone
Big boy

3 grammar rules to watch out for

Before we start looking into some practical examples of Italian suffixes, I need to give you a few words of caution.

Rule #1
To add any Italian suffix to a word, just remove the last vowel from that word and append the suffix. It’s that simple.

Rarely, the noun itself will also undergo a change.
Cane β†’ Cagnolino, canino
Dog β†’ Little dog

Sole β†’ Solleone, soleone
Sun β†’ Summer sun

Rule #2
Italian suffixes almost always agree in number and gender with the noun they are appended to.

This is why, for any given suffix in this lesson, you will find four versions of it: masculine singular, feminine singular, masculine plural and feminine plural.

Sometimes, however the noun changes gender:
La palla β†’ Il pallone
The ball β†’ The (big) ball

La scatola β†’ Lo scatolone
The box β†’ The (large) box

Gender change is unpredictable.

Rule #3
Not all random noun + suffix combinations work.

Some words will change meaning entirely:
Bocca β†’ Boccone
Mouth β†’ Mouthful

Torre β†’ Torrone
Tower β†’ Nougat

Some other words will allow only specific Italian suffixes:
Micio β†’ Micetto, micione, micino
Micio β†’ Miciaccio

This too is unpredictable, but often it is done for phonetic reasons (miciaccio sounds awful, for example). If a word is already ending in a given suffix, for example the noun stregone, you can’t really append the –one suffix to it but have to resort to using an adjective instead.

Practice will make using Italian suffixes easier.

Alright, enough with my rambling. Let’s delve deep into the descriptive Italian suffixes right now!

italian suffixes - torrone
Torrone… this is not a big tower!

Making things bigger (augmentative Italian suffixes)

This group of Italian suffixes translate to English as big, large, tall.

Whenever you need to pass on the message that you think that something or someone is bigger than normal, you can go through the old-school method of using an adjective (grosso, alto, grande?) or you can play creatively with the language and use a suffix.

-one, -ona, -oni, -one

Libro, librone
Book, big book

Sorella, sorellona
Sister, big sister

Porta, portone
Door, front gate

Often, –one will be used to convey irony or exaggerate things.

Mia nonna ha messo in tavola un piattone di pasta.
My grandma put a huge plate of pasta on the table.

Coming to think of it, this may be no exaggeration at all. Italian nonna‘s are famous for overfeeding their grandchildren… πŸ˜…

Some other times, –one may even be used to express affection.

Al mio micione piace dormire sul davanzale della finestra.
My kitty cat likes to sleep on the windowsill.

It can also be used with certain adjectives as a term of endearment. The adjective itself will undergo a dramatic change.

Furbo, furbacchione
Sly, little sly one

Finally, bacione (big kiss) and bacioni (big kisses) are used as a final greet in letters and written messages between people who are familiar with each other.

Un bacione!
A big kiss!

Ti mando tanti bacioni!
Sending you many big kisses!

Bacioni
Big kisses

Practice (and context) is king when it comes to suffixes in Italian.


Making things smaller or cuter (diminutive Italian suffixes)

These Italian suffixes are used to denote smallness, but they can also be used as affectionate terms of endearment. They translate to English as small, tiny, cute, cutie, sweet.

-ino, -ina, -ini, -ine

The –ino suffix is by far the most common diminutive suffix in the Italian language.

Uccello, uccellino
Bird, small bird

Paolo, Paolino
(first name)

Tazza, tazzina
Cup, small cup

Sorella, sorellina
Sister, small sister

Elefante, elefantino
Elephant, small elephant

The suffix –ino is commonly used to affectionately address babies’ and small children’s body parts.

Dammi la manina, Michele, su!
Hold my hand, Michele, come on!
Literally: Give me your little hand, Michele, come on!

Ma che bel faccino che ha questo bimbo!
This baby boy has such a cute face!
Literally: But what nice cutie face this baby boy has!

italian suffixes - manina
Manina
Little hand

In colloquial language, the –ino suffix group can also be used to alter adverbs such as poco and tanto, bene and male.

Come va? – Benino, dai.
How’s it going? – Goodish.

Mi serve solo un pochino di fortuna, ecco tutto.
I only need a bit of luck, that’s all.

A few words change their root before adding –ino. Memorization and practice will help you remember these.

Libro, libriccino
Book, small book

Topo, topolino
Mouse, little mouse

Posto, posticino
Place, small place

Cane, cagnolino
Dog, small dog


-ello, -ella, -elli, -elle

Fairly common, but not as common as the –ino suffix. If you’re in doubt and don’t have any means to check, use –ino.

Colomba, colombella
Dove, little dove

Mulino, mulinello
Mill, whirlpool
(Notice how this one changes meaning entirely!)

Mulinello
Whirlpool

Asino, asinello
Donkey, small donkey

This suffix also causes a few words to change their root.

Ramo, ramoscello
Branch, small branch

Albero, alberello
Tree, small tree

Orto, orticello
Vegetable garden, small vegetable garden


-etto, -etta, -etti, -ette

Pretty common suffix which also makes this cuter. Use –ino or –ello for words that already end in –etto (there are quite a few) to avoid awkward sounds.

Fungo, funghetto
Mushroom, small mushroom

Orso, orsetto
Bear, small bear

Borsa, borsetta
Bag, small purse

Gruppo, gruppetto
Group, small group

Biglietto, bigliettino
Ticket, small piece of paper

italian suffixes - bigliettino
Bigliettino
Small piece of paper

-icciolo, -icciola, -iccioli, -icciole

This suffix is used to make something look smaller and less important.

Festa, festicciola
Party, small party

Sono andato a una festicciola, ieri sera. Non era granchΓ©.
I went to a small party last night. It was nothing fancy.


-otto, -otta, -otti, -otte

The –otto suffix is often used affectionately.

Giovane, giovanotto
Young boy, youngster

Many cute animal cubs also take this suffix.

Tigre, tigrotto
Tiger, tiger cub

Orso, orsacchiotto
Bear, bear cub
(Notice: Small bear β†’ orsetto)

If you remember the examples I used in the –etto suffix section, you’ll have noticed that orso is a noun that allows more than one diminutive suffix: orsetto and orsacchiotto. Many other Italian words also behave this way, so then again: practice makes perfect!

Lupo, lupacchiotto
Wolf, wolf cub


-uccio, -uccia, -ucci, -ucce

Makes things cozy and tender. It can be used with first names to express affection.

Pietro, Pietruccio
Pietro (first name)

Pino, Pinuccio
Pino (first name)

Caldo, calduccio
Warm, cozy and warm

Calduccio
Cozy and warm

Non vengo con voi stasera. Preferisco starmene qui al calduccio.
I’m not coming with you tonight. I’d rather stay here where it’s cozy and warm.


-uzzo, -uzza, -uzzi, -uzze

Makes things smaller, but not that much cuter. It is also much less common than the other diminutive suffixes.

Paglia, pagliuzza
Straw, little straw


Making things smaller or ugly (pejorative Italian suffixes)

As the heading says, these Italian suffixes are used when you want to pass on the message that you don’t particularly like something or someone. They translate to English as bad, nasty, wretched.

-accio, -accia, -acci, -acce

Translates to English as bad, nasty, wretched. This is by far the most common among the pejorative Italian suffixes, so if you have doubts on what suffix to use, use this one.

Gatto, gattaccio
Cat, nasty and ugly cat

Ragazza, ragazzaccia
Girl, mean girl

Periodo, periodaccio
Period, rough time

Sto attraversando un periodaccio, ultimamente.
I’ve been going through a rough time lately.


-aglia, -aglie

Not very common, mainly because it’s used to address general groups of things or people.

Gente, gentaglia
People, rabble

Ferro, ferraglia
Iron, mass of useless metal

Brodo, brodaglia
Broth, schlop


-astro, -astra, -astri, -astre

Not very common, but it is sometimes appended to adjectives to give them a pejorative shade. Colors are an exception,

Furbo, furbastro
Cunning person, slimy and cunning person

Bianco, biancastro
White, whitish

italian suffixes - biancastro
Biancastro
Whitish

Interestingly, the Italian terms for stepbrother and stepsister use this suffix.

Fratello, fratellastro
Brother, stepbrother

Sorella, sorellastra
Sister, stepsister

Italians have always been some very religious people. Historically, children born from another partner or outside marriage were looked down on and considered second-class. Although things have changed for the better now, fratellastro and sorellastra are remnants of those wretched times.


-iciattolo, -iciattola, -iciattoli, -iciattole

This is used to talk about something small, insignificant and ugly.

Verme, vermiciattolo
Worm, small worm

Mostro, mostriciattolo
Monster, little and unpleasant monster


-ucolo, -ucola, -ucoli, -ucole

This is a pretty pejorative suffix. It’s used to address something small and insignificant. Ideally you use it to criticize somebody’s professional life, eg. you don’t consider their job position worthy.

Attore, attorucolo
Actor, good-for-nothing actor

Maestro, maestrucolo
Teacher, good-for-nothing teacher


What next?

Now that you’ve seen what you can do with the Italian suffixes, you might want to keep learning Italian online with these free Italian resources:

For a complete list of the Italian suffixes, including the suffixes that generate completely different words, you can consult the Italian suffixes Wikipedia page (in Italian).

If you liked this lesson on the Italian suffixes, consider sharing it with your social media friends who are also studying Italian.

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