A large variety of suffixes were used to form diminutives in English. The Wikipedia page on diminutives shows these:

  • -k/-ock/-uck: balk, bollock, bullock, buttock, fetlock, folk, hark, hillock, jerk, mark, mattock (OE mattuc), milk, mullock, pillock, smirk, snack, spark, stalk, talk, whelk, work, yolk
  • -n/-en/-on (accusative or feminine): burden, chicken, even, heaven (OE heofon), kitten, maiden, morn, oven, steven, vixen, weapon (OE wæpen)
  • -le (defrequentative -l): beetle, boodle, chortle, doodle (shares root with dude, P doudo, dolt, dull, dote, dotterel), fizzle, giggle, kibble, little, mickle, noodle, oodle, puddle, riddle, sparkle
  • -ish (disparative): boyish, fiftyish, girlish, largish, mannish, noonish, reddish, smallish, tallish, twelveish, womanish
  • -s (degenitive): Becks, Betts, Wills
  • -sie/-sies/-sy (babytalk assimilative or from patrici- of Patsy): bitsy, footsie (1930), halfsies, onesies, popsy (1860), teensy-weensy, tootsie (1854), twosies, Betsy, Patsy, Robsy
  • -o (American devocative, later Commonwealth): bucko, daddio, garbo, kiddo, smoko, wacko, Jacko, Ricko,
  • -er/-ers/-ster (agentive, intensive, hýpocoristic, also elided hrotic -a): bonkers (1948), preggers (1940), starkers (1905), Becker[s], Lizzers, Hankster, Patster
  • -a (Geordie assimilative -er): Gazza, Macca
  • -z (geordie degenitive -s): Bez, Chaz, Gaz

That same page also contains a list of suffixes of diminutive loanwords, such as:

  • -ling (Norse defrequentative-patrinominative): darling, duckling, fingerling, gosling, underling

The suffix -ling, for example, was used to form the following words:

Most of the words shown above are old words that have been used for centuries. Are there any more recent English words (let's say, from the past few decades) that have been formed with diminutive suffixes? If yes, which words and suffixes are those?


4 Answers 4


Edit: it is important to distinguish between two senses of "diminutive": it can be neutral, as a smaller version of something; or it can be mocking, affectionate, etc; in many cases, a suffix is diminutive in both senses, because the latter often follows the former. I am mostly talking about the neutral sense here, which might not be what the original poster intended.

I'd say there are no truly productive (capable of producing new instances) diminutive suffixes in modern English. As Mitch mentioned, -y/-ey/-ie is the suffix that comes closest, but that is still not quite close when compared with suffixes in other Germanic languages, such as German and Dutch. For one thing, this English suffix is never quite neutral, it is always a bit childish or mocking, etc.. And it can only be used with selective nouns, not just any noun.

Dutch: televisie (regular), televisietje (dimin.) or router, routertje is perfectly acceptable, i.e. it is even used with new words of foreign origin. I believe the same applies to German Fernseher, Fernseherchen, etc..

It should be noted, however, that the diminutive is in many languages inherently a little bit informal, because a smaller version of a normal thing is inherently less "impressive" than the normal thing, unless the smaller version is an old word that has gained some sense of "normalcy", or some distinguishing qualities, through time.

  • 2
    I frequently see -ish appended to words that don't normally take that suffix. (I've also seen "ish" used as a word in its own right, but that's a different matter.)
    – Marthaª
    Dec 23, 2010 at 17:25
  • 1
    Right, that suffix is very productive nowadays, though it usually does not sounds like a truly diminutive suffix, or does it? Dec 23, 2010 at 17:36
  • 2
    @Cerberus: I'd call it an "approximative" suffix, for lack of another term. -ish is like -esque, but with more emphasis on approximation than style.
    – Jon Purdy
    Dec 29, 2010 at 4:48
  • @Jon Purdy: Right, that term describes it well. On a side note, I sometimes need a term to describe a suffix that merely means "having something to do with x": any ideas? Dec 29, 2010 at 4:54
  • @Cerberus: I'm finding it hard to come up with anything right now. You should post it as a question.
    – Jon Purdy
    Dec 29, 2010 at 5:08

(EDIT: Actually none of groupie, techie, Trekkie, and buckyball are diminutives. Ah well, I'll leave them up in case others are tempted to make the same mistake.)

Here are some words along with year of first known use:

Also, there is Trekkie, but I couldn't find a "first known use" date. Certainly it can't be earlier than 1967, the year of the show's premier.

Maybe it's because of a mental bias that -ie and -y words are the only ones I've come up with.


Well, taking a hint from Cerberus: telly (1939) is definitely diminutive, although 1939 isn't exactly the past few decades.

Ah, something five years closer to the present: homey (1944), diminutive form of "homeboy". And a little closer, Yorkie (1946) for Yorkshire Terrier. Closer still, Westie (1959) for West Highland White Terrier.

Found something closer: jammies (1973) for pyjamas. Also veggie (1955) and commie (1940).

Okay, a truly recent diminutive: applet (1990), short for application.

  • 2
    I don't really think the first two qualify as diminutives. Those suffixes express membership in a group or class. And buckyball is not a diminutive at all, but a slang term for buckminsterfullerine.
    – Robusto
    Dec 23, 2010 at 15:49
  • I mean buckminsterfullerene. Sorry, writing this on my Droid X.
    – Robusto
    Dec 23, 2010 at 15:59
  • @Mitch: the -ie suffix does not sound as a diminutive suffix to me. It does sound like an informal version of the original word though. I'm not sure if this is enough to classify it as a diminutive. Other examples are Aussie for Australian and Staffi for the dog breed Staffordshire.
    – b.roth
    Dec 29, 2010 at 9:27
  • But you're definitely right about applet
    – b.roth
    Dec 29, 2010 at 9:29
  • 2
    @Mitch Schwartz: I thought the same as you when I first read the examples from the Wikipedia - most of them did not sound like diminutives to me. However, the Online Etymology Dictionary seems to support the argument, at least for the words that I checked. For example, for talk the site says "probably a dim. or frequentative form related to M.E. tale"
    – b.roth
    Dec 30, 2010 at 13:08

I think that other than -ie/-y (mostly for personal names), the productive form nowadays is the prefix mini - e.g., mini-CD, miniskirt, and so forth.

  • 1
    plus micro- and nano.
    – Hugh
    Dec 29, 2015 at 23:38

You left out -let a in •starlet• or • eyelet•. Also -kin, equivalent to German •-chen•, as in bodkin or firkin.

I'm not aware of any recent coinages unless •-cakes• qualifies, as in •babycakes•, but I'm not altogether certain that's more affectionate than diminutive. Still, diminutives are often used to express affection. I think we pretty much make do with what we already have.

  • More -kin(s) examples: lambkins, bunnykins, spillikins,… Also, it seems to be at least occasionally productive: when I was little, my parents would affectionately call me Peterkin. On the other hand, arguably -kin(s) was already in the OP’s list: it’s cognate to at least some of their -en examples, e.g. kitten, maiden.
    – PLL
    Dec 24, 2010 at 0:46
  • @PLL: -kin(s) is actually rather common with names, it seems. Let's not forget "Where is Thumbkin?"
    – Jon Purdy
    Dec 29, 2010 at 4:43
  • Peterkin was a common Victorian diminutive, found in the famous children's book The Coral Island.
    – Stuart F
    May 12 at 12:56

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