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 → Scrittore
Write → Writer
Illuminare → Illuminazione
Illuminate → 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 → piglet and duck → 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 → Ragazzone
Boy → Big, tall boy
Gatto → Gattaccio
Cat → 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.
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.
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 → Cagnolino,
Dog → Little dog
Sole → Solleone,
Sun → Summer sun
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 → Il pallone
The ball → The (big) ball
La scatola → Lo scatolone
The box → The (large) box
Gender change is unpredictable.
Not all random noun + suffix combinations work.
Some words will change meaning entirely:
Bocca → Boccone
Mouth → Mouthful
Torre → Torrone
Tower → Nougat
Some other words will allow only specific Italian suffixes:
Micio → Micetto, micione, micino
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!
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
Book, big book
Sister, big sister
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… 😅
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.
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.
A big kiss!
Ti mando tanti bacioni!
Sending you many 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.
Bird, small bird
Cup, small cup
Sister, small sister
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!
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.
Book, small book
Mouse, little mouse
Place, small place
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.
Dove, little dove
(Notice how this one changes meaning entirely!)
Donkey, small donkey
This suffix also causes a few words to change their root.
Branch, small branch
Tree, small tree
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.
Mushroom, small mushroom
Bear, small bear
Bag, small purse
Group, small group
Ticket, small piece of paper
-icciolo, -icciola, -iccioli, -icciole
This suffix is used to make something look smaller and less important.
Party, small party
Sono andato a una festicciola, ieri sera. Non era granché.
I went to a small party last night. It was nothing fancy.
-otto, -otta, -otti, -otte
The –otto suffix is often used affectionately.
Young boy, youngster
Many cute animal cubs also take this suffix.
Tiger, tiger cub
Bear, bear cub
(Notice: Small bear → 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!
Wolf, wolf cub
-uccio, -uccia, -ucci, -ucce
Makes things cozy and tender. It can be used with first names to express affection.
Pietro (first name)
Pino (first name)
Warm, 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.
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.
Cat, nasty and ugly cat
Girl, mean girl
Period, rough time
Sto attraversando un periodaccio, ultimamente.
I’ve been going through a rough time lately.
Not very common, mainly because it’s used to address general groups of things or people.
Iron, mass of useless metal
-astro, -astra, -astri, -astre
Not very common, but it is sometimes appended to adjectives to give them a pejorative shade. Colors are an exception,
Cunning person, slimy and cunning person
Interestingly, the Italian terms for stepbrother and stepsister use this suffix.
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.
Worm, small worm
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.
Actor, good-for-nothing actor
Teacher, good-for-nothing teacher
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:
- Useful Italian Words Series
- Common Italian Phrases Series
- Italian grammar lessons and tricks
- Italian in context dictionary
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.