Augmentative and diminutive forms are variants of words that express greater or lesser intensity–frequently referring to the size of an object or person, but there are many uses. Augmenting or diminishing a word, as well as being a useful descriptive tool, can lead to the creation of entirely new words. For example, by adding the common English augmentative prefix “super-” to the word “market” we get “supermarket.” Augmentatives and diminutives are more common in Portuguese than in English. By learning them with an expert tutor, you can gain access to a whole set of colorful expressions which will make your Portuguese much more idiomatic.
Augmentatives and diminutives are most common in Brazilian Portuguese grammar, where they are used routinely. This has created many colorful colloquialisms as well as being used in the normal way, to express the intensity of words and concepts. Learning augmentatives and diminutives is, therefore, particularly important if you’re choosing Brazilian Portuguese rather than European.
How Augmentation and Diminution Works
Augmentation and diminution is done differently in English and Portuguese grammar. Whereas in English a prefix is typically used for augmentation, with diminutive forms of words being quite rare in modern English (an adjective is typically used instead), in Portuguese grammar both are done by adding a suffix. The most common diminutive suffix is -inho(a), and the most common augmentative suffix is -ão. Generally speaking, adding -inho(a) to a word suggests that it is smaller or less intense, and adding -ão suggests that it is larger or more intense.
There are subtleties to this process that can’t be fully covered in a short blog post, and are best explored with a professional teacher, but that’s the gist of it. Now, we’ll go through some examples of augmentative and diminutive forms to illustrate how the process works in practice.
Putting It into Practice
Noun: peixe (English: fish)
A straightforward example to start. A peixão is a big fish, and a peixinho is a little one.
Noun: favor (English: favor)
The same principle can be applied to more abstract nouns. If you’re asking someone for a favorzão you’re asking for a big favor, and if it’s a favorzinho it’s a small one.
Noun: amigo (English: friend)
In this case, the distinction is somewhat subtler. Both forms are essentially making the word amigo seem a stronger term of endearment. Amigão emphasizes the strength of the friendship, whereas amiguinho is emphasizing the level of affection.
Adjective: Barato(a) (English: cheap)
Diminutive: Baratinho(a) In this case, the diminutive almost functions as more of an augmentative. It is in fact diminishing the noun that the adjective refers to in terms of the quality expressed by the adjective. If something is barato(a), it is cheap, and if baratinho(a), it is very cheap.
In the case of names, both diminutives and augmentatives are terms of endearment and function in essentially the same way. They can also be used to differentiate between two people with the same name. For instance, when another, younger soccer player appeared with the same name as the famous Ronaldo, he was given the name Ronaldinho.
Some words look like augmentatives and diminutives because they have the same endings, but actually aren’t. For example, vizinho just means “neighbor” and irmão just means “brother.”
There’s Much More to Learn
A full discussion of diminutives and augmentatives in Portuguese grammar could fill up a book. We have only scratched the surface in this short post. The more of these fascinating words you can add to your vocabulary, the more convincing your Portuguese will be. The easiest way of widening your repertoire in this area is by working on it with an expert tutor. That way, you can navigate this fascinating and challenging area of Portuguese grammar with confidence.