Latch On: 18 Spanish Suffixes You’ll Never Want to Let Go Of
Did you know that there are over 200 suffixes in Spanish?
You do not need to learn them all at once, but you will definitely encounter most of them on your way to proficiency.
In this post you will get the 18 most helpful, commonly-used ones, along with a brief explanation and lots of examples for each of them.
- 1. -ito / -ita
- 2. -illo / -illa
- 3. -cico / -cica
- 4. -uelo / -uela
- 5. -ote / -ota
- 6. -ucho / -ucha
- 7. -ón / -ona
- 8. -azo / -aza
- 9. -udo / -uda
- 10. -ada
- 11. -dor / -dora
- 12. -al
- 13. -ante
- 14. -ario / -aria
- 15. -ero / -era
- 16. -ía
- 17. -mente
- 18. -ista
1. -ito / -ita
This suffix is probably the most commonly-used diminutive suffix in the Spanish language.
As you may know already, in Spanish we use diminutive suffixes in order to convey smallness or endearment. So, if you want to talk about a little puppy or small dog you would say perrito (from perro). If you want to express your love for your partner you can call them cariñito (from cariño, literally meaning “little love” or “little honey”)—which does not mean you love them less!
Generally speaking, we can translate diminutive suffixes as “little” or “dear,” and -ito is no exception.
Here you have some examples of -ito and -ita diminutives in sentences:
He comprado un arbolito para el jardín. — I have bought a little tree for the garden.
Mi hermanita está durmiendo. — My little/dear sister is sleeping.
Me gusta jugar a las cocinitas. — I like playing with toy kitchens.
El perrito quiere comer. — The little puppy/dog wants to eat.
As you can see, this is very easy to learn and use. There are, however, two important things you should know about adding this suffix to words:
a. If a word ends in an accented vowel, an unaccented -e, or in the consonants –n or -r, the prefix -ito/-ita changes into -cito/-cita. Here you have some examples:
papá (dad) — papacito (although the form papaíto is the norm in Spain, and papito is common in South America).
calle (street) — callecita
bote (can) — botecito
camión (truck) — camioncito
dolor (pain) — dolorcito
b. If you have a word which has a masculine and a feminine form, the feminine diminutive is formed by changing the ending -o from the masculine diminutive to -a:
juez / jueza (judge) — juececito / juececita
doctor / doctora (doctor) — doctorcito / doctorcita
profesor / profesora (professor) — profesorcito / profesorcita
2. -illo / -illa
The suffix -illo is another diminutive suffix commonly used in Spain (less in South America), especially in the south and the center. The meaning and use of this suffix are exactly the same as those of -ito.
Have a look at the following examples:
árbol — arbolito — arbolillo
hermana — hermanita — hermanilla
cocina — cocinita — cocinilla
perro — perrito — perrillo
juez/a — juececito/a — juececillo/a
Remember that the same ending rules apply here!
3. -cico / -cica
The diminutive suffix -cico is also a substitute for -ito, and it works exactly the same way. Here you have some examples:
calle — callecita — callecilla — callecica
bote — botecito — botecillo — botecico
camión — camioncito — camioncillo — camioncico
dolor — dolorcito — dolorcillo — dolorcico
This suffix is normally used in the east of Spain (except within Catalonia and the Valencian community) and in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean countries.
4. -uelo / -uela
The suffix -uelo is also a diminutive suffix, but it is not a substitute for –ito.
In this case, we have a suffix that denotes a smaller size but adds a somewhat derogatory value to the word. In some instances, though, the suffix has lost its derogatory associations and the new word is now a normal, neutral word.
Even though the basic form is –uelo, it can take three other forms: -zuelo, -ezuelo and -ecezuelo (see the examples below).
Remember that most of the time this suffix has negative connotations and people tend to avoid it in their everyday conversations, so please try not to overuse it.
Here you have some examples:
paño (cloth) — pañuelo (handkerchief; this is one of those instances where the negative association with the suffix has been lost).
ladrón (thief) — ladronzuelo (burglar, safe-cracker)
pícaro (swindler) — picaruelo (rogue)
pie (foot) — piecezuelo (little, rather ugly foot; this can be used in an endearing way, paradoxically!)
5. -ote / -ota
This suffix is very peculiar because it can act as both a diminutive and augmentative suffix. Besides, it can have positive and negative connotations, so you have to be quite the proficient speaker in order to handle it properly.
There are no rules as to when this suffix will be diminutive, augmentative, positive or negative. The best way to get acquainted with it is by learning a few examples by heart:
cabeza (head) — cabezota (big-headed, stubborn)
ángel (angel) — angelote (large figure of an angel; chubby child; decent person, in South America)
amigo (friend) — amigote (buddy, pal, mate; the Real Academia Española treats this word as despective)
6. -ucho / -ucha
The suffix -ucho is another derogatory suffix. However, it does not turn people, animals and things bigger or smaller. It just add a negative connotation to the word.
Since there is not a single English suffix that could be used for translating -ucho, the safest way to get along with it is by learning the new words as independent terms. Here you have a few of them:
casa (house) — casucha (shack, hovel)
flaco (thin) — flacucho (skinny)
médico (doctor) — medicucho (quack, quackish)
7. -ón / -ona
The suffix –ón is an augmentative suffix, and it is commonly used to make a word bigger in size or intensity.
Simple as it is, there are, however, a couple of things you should take into account when using this suffix:
a. Feminine words that take the ending -ón become the same object, just bigger and masculine!* Have a look:
la casa (house) — el casón (manor house)
la cuchara (spoon) — el cucharón (ladle)
la voz (voice) — el vozarrón (booming voice)
la puerta (door) — el portón (gate)
*We also have the feminine alternatives for these feminine nouns (casona, cucharona, vozarrona, puertona), although they are very seldom used.
Some linguists don’t treat the ending -ón in these words as being an augmentative suffix, and they consider these words as new terms that denote something bigger. This should not make any difference to you when you are studying new vocabulary or practicing word formation, because both endings are exactly the same.
b. Adjectives can be made more intense by adding the suffix –ón, and they have a feminine counterpart ending in -ona:
grande (big) — grandón / grandona (very big, especially used when talking about tall and big young people)
simpático (nice, likable) — simpaticón /simpaticona (very easily likable)
tonto (silly) — tontorrón / tontorrona (very silly, this is normally used with endearment)
c. You can add this suffix to the root of some Spanish infinitives in order to make a noun meaning a sharp, sudden or abrupt action related to the verb. Have a look:
apagar (to switch off, to turn off) — apagón (a blackout, a sudden cutoff of electric power)
resbalar (to slip, to slide) — resbalón (a slip, a sudden slip that can make you painfully thump on the floor)
tropezar (to bump into, to trip over) — tropezón (a trip, a stumble)
d. The suffix –ón can add a derogatory value to a word. In these cases both masculine and feminine forms are normally accepted:
mirar (to look, to watch) — mirón / mirona (nosy, snoopy)
llorar (to cry, to weep) — llorón / llorona (weeper, crybaby)
tragar (to swallow, to gulp down) — tragón / tragona (greedy-guts, pig)
8. -azo / -aza
Although slightly less used, -azo is another example of a suffix that can be used for different purposes. Its main two functions at the end of a word are:
a. Creating an augmentative:
José ha comprado un cochazo. (José has bought a great/big/super/extraordinary car.)
¡Mi primo tiene unas orejazas enormes! (My cousin has super big ears! — As you can see, you can even add an adjective such as enorme, gigante or muy grande, in order to make the noun even bigger.)
b. Indicating a hit or blow with something.
In this case, you will have masculine nouns almost exclusively, so the common ending will just be -azo. In order to say in Spanish that you accidentally hit something or someone with some part of your body or with an object, use that part of your body or that object and add -azo to it. Watch out for those ending vowels dropping before adding the suffix!
puño (fist) — puñetazo (punch)
cabeza (head) — cabezazo (blow with/on the head)
puerta (door) — portazo (slam, as in the slam of the door)
cañón (cannon) — cañonazo (cannon shot)
9. -udo / -uda
The suffix -udo is one of those augmentative suffixes that Spanish people like to use just for fun. Its meaning is something along the lines of “having a lot of,” and it is almost always used with parts of the body and physical qualities.
Although by definition it is a quite despective suffix, it is so broadly used that it is now up to every single person if they want to use a word, the same word, positively or negatively. The next examples simply offer the translation of the words. You have to decide if you want to use them as a possible insult or as an endearing term:
pelo (hair) — peludo (hairy, furry)
fuerza (strength) — forzudo (strongman)
oreja (ear) — orejudo (big-eared)
The suffix -ada is very useful in word formation because it can have many different meanings. Although some of these meanings are way outside the scope of this post, it is important that you learn the three most important ones:
a. Use -ada with the meaning “a violent action or a blow with”:
cuchillo (knife) — cuchillada (knife cut, stab wound)
cuerno (horn) — cornada (goring)
piedra (rock, stone) — pedrada (hit or blow with a stone, noun)
b. With the meaning “big quantity of or full of.” The English equivalent for this is the suffix “-ful”:
cuchara (spoon) — cucharada (spoonful)
millón (million) — millonada (fortune, lots of millions)
c. Add the suffix to an infinitive to convey the meaning of “action or effect of carrying out the infinitive”:
llamar (to call) — una llamada (a call)
parar (to stop) — una parada (a stop)
nevar (to snow) — nevada (snowfall)
11. -dor / -dora
The suffix -dor (and its variations -or, -tor, -sor) is one of my favorite suffixes. As you will see below, it can be used for different purposes, but there is something all the words having the suffix -dor have in common: They are nouns or adjectives derived from a verb.
So, what do we use this suffix for? Have a look:
a. To create instruments and household appliances that make the action of the verb they are derived from:
aspirar (to suck in) — aspiradora (vacuum cleaner)
cargar (to charge, to load) — cargador (charger, loader)
lavar (to wash) — lavadora (washing machine)
secar (to dry) — 1. secador (hairdryer, clothes horse), 2. secadora (laundry dryer, spin dryer)
b. To create names of places where you do the action of the infinitives they are derived from:
comer (to eat) — comedor (dining room)
asar (to roast) — asador (rotisserie)
probar (to try on) — probador (fitting room)
c. To create occupations and jobs (much like the English “-er” and “-or”):
vender (to sell) — vendedor / vendedora (seller, vendor)
conducir (to drive) — conductor / conductora (driver)
dirigir una orquesta (to conduct an orchestra) — director / directora de orquesta (conductor)
jugar (to play) — jugador (player)
d. To create adjectives and nouns having a specific quality related to the infinitive they are derived from:
encantar (to bewitch, to charm)
1. encantador / encantadora (charming)
2. encantador (charmer, as in snake charmer, which is encantador de serpientes)
hablar (to talk)
1. hablador / habladora (talkative, adjective)
2. hablador / habladora (chatterbox, noun)
This suffix is quite useful in Spanish. It may not be the most used of them all, but it is definitely necessary to create new, everyday words. It has two main uses:
a. Use it to form adjectives with the meaning “pertaining to, related to.” Its English equivalent is also “-al,” so this should be rather easy:
cultura (culture) — cultural (cultural)
constitución (constitution) — constitucional (constitutional)
adverbio (adverb) — adverbial (adverbial)
b. Use it to form nouns that indicate a place where the original noun can be found or the abundance of the noun in question:
arroz (rice) — arrozal (paddy field)
arena (sand) — arenal (sandy area)
dinero (money) — dineral (a fortune)
The suffix -ante is one of those suffixes you should be on good terms with because it can be used with literally thousands of words. Almost every Spanish infinitive can be transformed into a noun and an adjective thanks to this suffix.
The same word will have two different meanings and two different functions. The noun will denote the person or thing carrying out the action of the verb. The adjective can be used to describe something or someone with the qualities inherent to the infinitive, or as a present participle. In this last case, the English equivalent will always be the ending “-ing”:
amar (to love) — amante (lover / loving)
picar (to be hot, to be spicy, to sting) — picante (hot, spicy)
calmar (to calm, to relieve) — calmante (painkiller / soothing, calming)
estudiar (to study) — estudiante (student)
14. -ario / -aria
The suffix -ario is another one of the “important, need-to-learn-this!” suffixes. It has four main uses, all of which are equally important. Have a look:
a. Use -ario to indicate profession:
becario (intern, apprentice)
b. Use it to indicate a place:
campanario (bell tower)
c. Use it with the meaning “a group of”:
abecedario (alphabet, i.e. a group of letters)
recetario (cookbook, i.e. a group of recipes)
poemario (book of poems, i.e. a group of poems)
d. Finally, use -ario with the meaning “pertaining to, related to.” In this case, it will very frequently be translated into English as “-ary”:
15. -ero / -era
The suffix -ero is another example of a prolific suffix from which to create new words. Its four most important functions are:
a. Creating occupations from a noun:
camión (truck) — camionero/a (truck driver)
fruta (fruit) — frutero/a (fruit seller)
verdura (vegetables) — verdulero/a (greengrocer, the addition of this suffix is a bit irregular)
pan (bread) — panadero/a (baker)
b. Creating the names of some fruit trees from the name of the fruit:
coco (coconut) — cocotero (coconut palm)
limón (lemon) — limonero (lemon tree)
melocotón (peach) — melocotonero (peach tree)
plátano (banana) — platanero (banana tree)
c. Creating adjectives with the meaning “related to”:
pescar (to fish for) — pesquero/a (fishing adj., related to fishing)
leche (milk) — lechero (milk adj., related to milk)
setenta (seventy) — setentero/a (related to the 70s)
d. Creating nouns with the meaning of “place in which to keep” (frequently, but not exclusively, related to food):
azúcar (sugar) — azucarero (sugar bowl)
sal (salt) — salero (salt shaker)
moneda (coin) — monedero (purse)
The suffix -ía is a suffix that is normally added to the suffix –ero to form the double suffix -ería. It has two main uses:
a. It can be used in order to create the names of stores and shops in Spanish. Here you have some examples:
pan (bread) — panadero/a (baker) — panadería (bakery)
pescado (fish) — pescadero/a (fishmonger) — pescadería (fish market)
zapato (shoe) — zapatero/a (shoemaker) — zapatería (shoe store)
b. It can also be used with the meaning of “related or relating to”:
tonto (silly) — tontería (foolishness)
galán (handsome man) — galantería (gallantry)
camarada (comrade) — camaradería (comradeship)
The suffix -mente is probably one of my students’ favorites because it is so universal you can use it with almost any adjective. We use the suffix -mente to transform adjectives into adverbs.
In order to do this, just add the suffix to the feminine singular form of the adjective in question. Most of the times, you will be able to translate the suffix -mente as the suffix “–ly” in English. Have a look at some examples:
elegante (elegant) — elegantemente (elegantly)
rápido — rápida (quick) — rápidamente (quickly)
claro — clara (clear) — claramente (clearly)
perfecto — perfecta (perfect) — perfectamente (perfectly)
fácil (easy) — fácilmente (easily)
This suffix is another example of an important suffix used every day, everywhere. Generally speaking, it can almost always be translated as “-ist” in English, so, once again, this should not give you a headache when studying.
Even though it has around six main uses, there are two of them that are, by far, the most common and most widely used. Have a look:
a. Use -ista to create names of occupations:
b. Use it to denote people who support or are associated with something (this will normally be a religion, a sports team, a philosophical current, etc.):
madridista (Real Madrid player or supporter)
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, there are over 200 suffixes in the Spanish language. Some are used every day and are absolutely necessary if we want to speak normally, while others are rather rare and only used on very specific occasions.
In the paragraphs above, I have tried to show you how useful a suffix can be, and how from a single, common word, we can build many different terms that vary in meaning and can even change their class (noun, verb, adjective and so on). But above all, I have tried to show you what a great tool suffixes can be for your learning, especially if you are studying new vocabulary.
To review all your new tricks, watch or read Spanish content—such as books, subtitled movies and TV shows—while keeping an eye out and noting down how they’re used. The authentic Spanish videos on FluentU naturally include suffixes, since native speakers use them all the time. The clips have been annotated with interactive subtitles so you can spot them, see their definitions on-screen, and add them to your vocabulary lists for later study.
Another way to practice is to pick some Spanish words at random and try to create a new word by using one or more of the suffixes included in this post. And remember: When in doubt, you can always use a dictionary.
I hope this post has helped you understand how Spanish word formation works, and how much meaning two or three letters can carry within them.
Enjoy your learning!