The Diminutive: Is Everything Smaller in Chile?

I have spoken with several gringos who, upon arriving in Chile, no longer recognize simple Spanish vocabulary like coffee, tea, bread, or cheese.

Suddenly, these words are not café, té, pan, o queso;  they’ve changed to cafecito, tecito, pancito, and quesito.

This, my friends, is a classic case of overused diminutives.  And it’s an epidemic here in Chile.

It’s (not) the Small Things

Contrary to what you might expect, Chilean diminutives do not exclusively indicate that something is small.  In fact, if you refer to the highly technical and scientifically proven pie chart below**, you’ll see that size description is one of the less frequent uses of -ito.

Creative Chart on Chilean Diminutive

Here’s a breakdown of some of the uses.

For small things:

This is pretty straightforward.  For example, if someone is looking for a niñito, it’s probably because the boy is little.  Simple enough.


We don’t go to Grandma’s house.  We go to Little Grandma’s house—adonde la abuelita.  If I want to drip disgusting affection to my partner, I can can call him amorcito or even amorcitito (two times the littleness!).

What’s even more fun is when people affectionately call their loved ones “my little pig,” or mi chanchito.

Chanchito ricooooo!

Politeness or charm:

I might ask my husband to echarle una miradita (take a look) at my computer.  In this case, the diminutive is almost like adding a “please” or “pretty please.”

Or maybe I want to ask someone to wait for a minute.  I’d say, “Espera un ratito.”  You and I know that for a Chilean, that could mean any quantity of time.   

Cushion or downplay a statement:

In Chile, it’s ok to tell a person they’ve gained or lost weight.  At least, everyone does it.  And to cushion the statement, someone might say, “Tay gordito.”  (Estás/ you are a little fat.)

Tonto is more likely to mean stupid or foolish, while tontito is more likely to mean silly.

But rapidito means really fast.  Don’t ask me why.

Absurd, meaningless overuse:

Finally, there are the things I will never understand.  Like why it seems there is no such thing as a normal-sized coffee in Chile, only cafecito.  Or consider the following sentence from the current popular teleseries, Los Carmona:

No te quiero ver nunquita más!  Nunquita.”  

What??  Did you just turn nunca, meaning “never,” into nunquita?  Why?

Expectation vs. Reality: Chilean -ito

I hope you enjoyed this week’s post!  Don’t forget to send in any requests, suggestions, or questions, and come back next Friday for more Chilenismos.

** I just made this chart up on the spot.  Maybe I should have taken my methodology courses more seriously.


3 thoughts on “The Diminutive: Is Everything Smaller in Chile?

    • Haha, I think that falls under both the downplaying and probably a bit of proud affection. You know her one goal for you while you’re in Chile is that you gain weight, right? Isn’t that what all host mothers want? And mothers-in-law, it would seem. All of Edwin’s family was harassing me to gain weight while telling Edwin he was gordito.

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