Let’s Get Italian-y: 15 Italian Suffixes to Double Your Vocab Power
There’s no such thing as a free lunch.
Or, at least, that’s what they say.
Lucky for me, I’m more partial to dinner, and there’s a bar down the street that does two-for-one burgers every Wednesday night.
Consider yourself hacked, life.
And burger-burger Wednesdays aren’t the only time you can get something a little extra out of life: When it comes to learning Italian, there are tons of speed-boosting tricks and language-learning hacks to take advantage of.
Lucky you! Today we have a two-for-one deal on Italian vocabulary.
All you have to do is add some suffixes to the words you already know.
With this tool, you can take one simple word and turn it into two, three, or even four more words in an instant.
Let’s find out how.
Win the Language Lottery with Italian Suffixes
At this point, you’re probably thinking two things:
- What’s an Italian suffix?
- I want a burger.
Let’s deal with number one first. You’re going to need to be burger-free for this lesson (sorry ’bout it).
So, what is a suffix?
A suffix is an attachment to the end of a word that changes that word’s meaning.
Some examples of suffixes in English are -tion, -cian, -al, -ible, -able, -ive, -ful, -ious, -ment and -ly.
Here’s how a suffix can change a word.
Let’s take a look at the English word “Relate” (verb):
Relate + -tion = Relation (noun)
Relate + -ive = Relative (noun)
Relate + -able = Relatable (adjective)
Relate + -ive + -ly = Relatively (adverb) (Double suffix! It’s level 9,000!)
This is just the beginning. We can change this word in even more ways to mean even more things.
And the same is true for words in Italian.
In fact, it’s even more true. Italians have more uses for suffixes than we do (like in comparatives, for example), and they use them all the time.
Italian suffixes can make a thing big, small, cute or gross. They can make a thing young or old, fat or skinny or even detestable. And on top of that, they can still do all the things that English suffixes do!
As you can see, these magical letter combos can really up your Italian game. Learning Italian suffixes can double your vocabulary and put you on the road to fluency in mere minutes.
What do you do with all that extra time you’ll be left with? Why, learn more Italian, of course!
Make Italian Your Own with Suffixes
Here’s the honest truth: Sometimes, when you use Italian suffixes, you’re going to make mistakes.
And that’s okay! You want to be correct when speaking, but more importantly, you need to be able to express yourself and be understood. Knowing your Italian suffixes can help you do that.
Once you learn a few suffixes, you can start attaching them to all sorts of words. It’s okay if those words don’t technically exist, because Italians will understand what you’re going for.
Imagine if someone described something to you as “chickeny.” “Chickeny” isn’t a word (as far as I know), but you’d still know that the speaker was saying this thing was “like a chicken.”
That’s the mighty effect of suffixes. They contain more meaning than you think and have more power than you could possibly imagine! Okay, I’ll dial back the drama.
But seriously, suffixes are important. The good news is, in Italian, they’re also fun! Let’s take a look.
15 Italian Suffixes to Italian-ize Your Speech
These Italian suffixes won’t just boost your vocabulary, they’ll make you more Italian! Being able to change up your language by using suffixes instead of cramming your sentences with excess words is part of the fun of speaking Italian.
As in English, many suffixes in Italian serve the same purpose as others (e.g. to denote an agent or change a verb to a noun).
Unfortunately, there’s no way to know which suffix is the correct one for any given word. Some are similar to their English counterparts, while others are totally different. (It’s almost like it’s a different language or something.)
We’ll start you off with some recognizable and easy to remember common Italian suffixes that you can use in just about any phrase.
Agentivi (Agent suffixes)
Agent suffixes describe a person who does an action. An example in English is the word “teach” (verb). By adding the agent suffix -er, we can change “teach” to “teacher,” a person who teaches.
Here’s how it works in Italian.
Forno (oven) → Fornaio (baker)
Macello (slaughterhouse) → Macellaio (butcher)
Ciclo (cycle, loop) → Ciclista (cycler)
Batteria (drums) → Batterista (drummer)
Viaggia (travel) → Viaggiatore (traveler)
Conduce (operate a vehicle) → Conduttore (conductor, driver)
Pejorative suffixes say that something is bad. We don’t have these in English, so they can be a little tricky to get used to.
Parola (word) → Parolaccia (curse word)
Cane (dog) → Cagnaccio (bad dog)
Fratello (brother) → Fratellastro (step brother)*
Poeta (poet) → Poetastro (bad poet)
*Ok, so step-children and step-family aren’t bad, obviously, but in the extremely Catholic tradition of the Italian language, “bastard children” (as they were once known) weren’t considered to be “good.”
These words aren’t considered negative anymore, but they haven’t lost their suffix as there’s no other way to express the concept in Italian.
Abitante (Inhabitant of a city/country or nationality)
These Italian suffixes describe where a person or thing is from.
We have these in English as well. For example, if you’re from America, you’re a American (America + -an). If you’re from China, you’re Chinese (China + -ese).
The concept works similarly in Italian. You can get some extra practice at Impariamo Italiano.
Roma (Rome) → romano (Roman)
Australia (Australia) → australiano (Australian)
Milano (Milan) → milanese (from Milan)
Giappone (Japan) → giapponese (Japanese)
Deverbale (Changes a verb to a noun)
One of the most important functions of a suffix in Italian or English is to change the grammar of a word so that it can be used in other contexts.
If we want to use the verb “educate” as a noun, for instance, we use a suffix to change it to “education” (educate + -tion).
Let’s see how to do this in Italian.
Cammina (walk) → Una camminata (a walk [as in, to take a walk])
Chiacchiera (chat) → Una chiacchierata (a chat)
Stabilisce (establish) → Stabilimento (establishment)
Parla (speak) → Parlamento (parliament)
Frigge (fry in oil) → Frittura (a fried meal)
Acconcia (style) → Acconciatura (a hairstyle)
Distribuisce (distribute) → Distribuzione (distribution)
Concentra (concentrate) → Concentrazione (concentration)
Italians can also change the size (and cuteness) of things by using suffixes.
We don’t have these suffixes in English. We use the adjectives “big” and “small” to describe things instead (boring, right?).
It Italy, the diminutive suffix is sometimes used to say something is small. It’s also often used to describe things that are similar to other things. Take a look.
Casa (house) → Casetta (little house)
Corno (horn) → Cornetto (croissant [It looks like a little horn, right?])
Paese (village) → Paesino (small village)
Telefono (phone) → Telefonino (cell phone/mobile)
Just like the diminutive Italian suffixes above that make things smaller, there are augmentative suffixes that make things bigger.
Careful using these though. Sometimes they make things big, sometimes they make things fat and sometimes they make new words!
Just make sure you don’t add this suffix onto anyone’s name or you’ll be calling them a chubster.
Bocca (mouth) → Boccone (mouthful)
Libro (book) → Librone (big book)
In English, we have an annoying way of simply adding the word “store” or “shop” to every place where we buy things.
In Italian, they have a fun suffix for this. I’m sure you’ve heard this one, or have you never been to a pizzeria?
Carta (paper) → Cartoleria (stationary shop)
Gelato (ice cream) → Gelateria (ice cream shop)
There are a lot of Italian suffixes to cash in on. In fact, there are more suffixes in Italian than there are in English.
A good way to become familiar with Italian suffixes is by immersing yourself in native Italian content so you can see them in action. One resource that you could try using is FluentU.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
They may not be the easiest things in the world to get used to, but learning Italian suffixes is a much easier way to boost your vocabulary than trying to learn advanced grammar or memorizing verb after verb.
Even better, learning to use suffixes correctly will help Italian-ize your speech and make the hard stuff you learn in the future seem easier. Score!
And One More Thing...
If you're as busy as most of us, you don't always have time for lengthy language lessons. The solution? FluentU!
Learn Italian with funny commericals, documentary excerpts and web series, as you can see here:
FluentU helps you get comfortable with everyday Italian by combining all the benefits of complete immersion and native-level conversations with interactive subtitles. Tap on any word to instantly see an image, in-context definition, example sentences and other videos in which the word is used.
Access a complete interactive transcript of every video under the Dialogue tab, and review words and phrases with convenient audio clips under Vocab.
Once you've watched a video, you can use FluentU's quizzes to actively practice all the vocabulary in that video. Swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you’re on.
FluentU will even keep track of all the Italian words you’re learning, and give you extra practice with difficult words. Plus, it'll tell you exactly when it's time for review. Now that's a 100% personalized experience!
The best part? You can try FluentU for free with a trial.
Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)