A diminutive is a word which has been modified to convey a slighter degree of its root meaning, to convey the smallness of the object or quality named, or to convey a sense of intimacy or endearment. A diminutive form (abbreviated DIM) is a grammatical inflection used to express such meanings; in many languages, such inflections can be translated as "little" and diminutives can also be formed as multi-word constructions such as "Tiny Tim". Diminutives are used frequently when speaking to small children or when expressing extreme tenderness and intimacy to an adult. As such, they are often employed for nicknames and pet names. The opposite of the diminutive form is the augmentative.
In many languages, formation of diminutives by adding suffixes is a productive part of the language. A double diminutive is a diminutive form with two diminutive suffixes rather than one. While many languages apply a grammatical diminutive to nouns, a few—including Dutch, Latin, and Russian—also use it for adjectives and even other parts of speech. In English the alteration of meaning is often conveyed through clipping, making the words shorter and more colloquial. Diminutives formed by adding affixes in other languages are often longer and not necessarily understood as colloquial.
In some contexts, diminutives are also employed in a pejorative sense, to denote that someone or something is weak or childish. For example, one of the last of the Western Roman emperors was named Romulus Augustus, but this was diminuted to "Romulus Augustulus" to express his powerlessness.
Notes and references
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