My native language is Russian, and it has very many diminutive forms. For example: the Russian word "малый" means "small" or "little", and this word has a diminutive form "маленький"... but I have not found much information about diminutives in English. I heard something about the "-y" suffix, so is "littly" or "smally" a correct form?

  • Welcome to ELL, Nyan Cat! You might want to ask this question at the Linguistics Stack Exchange, or at English Language and Usage, I guess they would love to answer. There is indeed the -y/ly form in English, and there is the rarely used suffix -kin found in several words (pannikin, ladykin, catkin, nipperkin..). – CowperKettle Feb 10 '15 at 8:52
  • Here's a search for "diminutive" at ELU, here's a search for "diminutive" at Linguistics SE - you might want to look if there are possibly answers to your question among the finds. – CowperKettle Feb 10 '15 at 8:58
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    -ish is not a diminutive. I state that strongly. – user6951 Feb 10 '15 at 19:45

A progression of adjectives related to size would be: small, tiny, teensy — "teensy" being even smaller than "tiny". Note that teensy would never be used in formal writing. Another example is cutesy. However, this morphological change is not a generalizable production.


In English we have the suffix "-ish", which can be aplied to many, but not all adjectives. It means "like that, but not so much", so in a way it is diminutive. for example:

smallish, greenish, mannish, etc.

It would generally be understood this way if you coined an uncommon word with {adjective}+ -ish (say it with a distinct pause at the hyphen, so they can tell you know it's not a standardized word); For example:

funny-ish, clumsy-ish, huge-ish, cold-ish, round-ish, square-ish, young-ish

(there's a comedy on American TV called Black-ish)

but -ish can also mean "like that" (and not just a little bit) when attached to a few nouns: oafish, childish, churlish, foolish, foppish, rakish.

Or "a person or dialect from there": British, Swedish, Polish, Spanish

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    -ish does not signify either 1. much smaller than the average or usual; tiny. or 2. pertaining to or productive of a form denoting smallness, familiarity, affection, or triviality, as the suffix -let in droplet from – user6951 Feb 10 '15 at 19:43
  • Did I say that it did? – Brian Hitchcock Feb 11 '15 at 5:55

I would say if you want to express a lesser degree of an adjective you say: a bit expensive, not very useful, little helpful, rather small. You don't do it by adding suffixes.

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