The two most generalized diminutive suffixes, and the most popular, in Spanish are «-ito, -a» and «-illo, -a», which will be analized a little deeper further on. The following ones also have considerable usage:
- «-ete, -a» as in ‘pobrete’; ‘vejete’; ‘regordete’ (which also involves a prefix). In these cases –ete presents a derogatory value, but in no way presents this nuance all of the time. In nouns like the following, the suffix has proven to be simply derivative; in other words, it was used to derive one noun from another, without adding nuances of any sort:
‘aleta’ (fin); ‘caballete’ (easel or trestle); ‘casquete’ (icecap); ‘careta’ (mask); ‘rosetas’ (popcorn); ‘paleta’ (popsicle or lollipop); ‘lengüeta’ (tongue or reed); ‘ramillete’ (corsage); ‘boquete’ ‘hole’ (from boca, with change in gender); etc.
Only if considered from a historic standpoint were the abovementioned examples “diminutives” at some stage. But the proof that they have indeed lost that nature is that they allow other suffixes to accumulate upon them, thus: caja (box)> cajeta (small box or similar) > cajetilla (cigarette pack); carro (car) > carreta (cart) > carretillo (wheelbarrow). And so forth.
- «-ín, -a» as in ‘corbatín’ (bowtie); ‘balín’ (ball bearing); ‘polvorín’ (magazine/powder keg); ‘rodines’(sidewheels) (from rueda, with change in gender); ‘cartulina’ (pasteboard; from carta, with linking sounds); ‘filmina’ (transparency sheet) (from filme, with change in gender); ‘patín’ (skate). The same arguments noted for the suffix –ete applies to this one, too.
In previous centuries, the suffix «-uelo, -a» was used with a diminutive connotation. Nowadays, even though it is currently archaic to use it in the formation of new words –at least in Spanish America- it has remained “frozen” in several forms, which are a testimonial of its long-lost validity. Examples: ‘paño > pañuelo’. ‘plaza > plazuela (and from this, plazoleta)’. ‘haba > habichuela’ (with linking sounds); ‘mujerzuela’ (extremely derogatory); ladronzuelo (also derogatory). Castañuela; espejuelos; hojuela; etc., etc.
The diminutive «-iño, -a» is even harder to find today. It is used basically in certain regions of Spain.
The suffix «-ico, -a» appears in Latin American dialects, with a very specific context: when the root of the word that is diminutivized involves a ‘t’ in the same syllable that holds the diminutive. Note:
Vicente → Vicentico
matas → maticas
canasta → canastica
foto → fotico
tonto → tontico (atenuativo). Etc.
It is actually a phonetic variant of the appreciative –ito, and in all cases may alternate with the latter.