A diminutive is a word that has been modified in some way to convey a slighter degree of its basic meaning: the smallness of something: or a sense of intimacy, affection, or endearment. The opposite of a diminutive is an augmentative.
In French, endings known as suffixes diminutifs or suffixes réducteurs are added to words to make them diminutive.
- la fille (girl, daughter) --> la fillette (little girl, young daughter)
- la maison (house) --> la maisonnette (small house)
- le chat (cat) --> le chaton (kitten)
- le livre (book) --> le livret (booklet)
- Pierre (Peter) --> Pierrot (Pete)
- Jeanne (Jean) --> Jeanette (Jeannie)
The most common feminine diminutive ending is -ette, usually just added to the root word.
Masculine words are made diminutive with the endings -et, -ot, -on or -ou, sometimes with an additional consonant or other changes for phonetic reasons. For example:
- Jean (John) --> Jeannot (Johnny)
- le canard (duck) --> le caneton (duckling)
Interestingly, some diminutives have crossed over into English, either in a translated form (booklet, kitchenette) or still in French but with a slightly different meaning. For example, "maisonnette" in English refers to a dwelling over two floors of a larger house with its own outside entrance, rather than a "small house".