By- Claudia Quesito
Suffixes are appendixes placed after the stem of nouns and they are a good way to make your conversation richer and more native sounding. They can be divided into a few categories. Let’s start with -accio (a/i/e), which conveys badness, as in il tempo (weather) versus il tempaccio (bad weather). Just adding the suffix gives the word a more descriptive meaning.
We also have -one (a/i/e), which suggests largeness. For instance, la mano (hand) becomes la manona (big hand). And sticking to the mano example, we can express the opposite by using -ino (a/i/e), as in la manina (little hand). This suffix conveys smallness or affection and is often used when talking to children. The suffix -etto (a/i/e) also conveys smallness, tininess, and, to some degree, tenderness and cuteness, as in il bacio (kiss) and il bacetto (little kiss). “Little kiss” can be also translated as il bacino, but be careful, as generally, -etto and –ino cannot be used interchangeably. Suffixes can also be added to proper names (Luigino, for instance, for “little Luigi”).
Suffixes are great for adding shades of meaning, but remember to be cautious: sometimes they completely change the sense—and the gender—of words, so don’t use them universally! A good example is la finestra (window) versus il finestrino (window of a train, car, plane, etc.). To add “small” to the finestra above, you need the suffix -ella, another suffix that conveys smallness, making the word la finestrella.
Compare also la porta (door) and il portone (front door, main entrance). These examples clearly show a common root, so you might use the “original” word to infer the meaning of the second, which is always more effective than rushing to look up a term in the dictionary.
Finally, don’t assume that every word ending with –ino, -one and so on comes from another one. Bambino does not come from any other word, burrone (cliff) has nothing to do with burro (butter), and il nasello is a fish and not a cute thing to call someone’s nose (il naso)—for that, you would use il nasino. Words like burrone, nasello, and so on are called falsi alterati; it just happens that they end in ways that look like suffixes. So, are suffixes double-edged swords? Maybe, but you might start by using the ones you are 100% sure about, and by creating a personal list of the ones you like the most.