If you are already studying Italian, you will surely know that it is a language that offers you many different ways to express yourself. One of the ways to express yourself in Italian is in regards to nouns and adjectives and how they can be altered.


Alterations are very common in Italian and mastering them is going to allow you to express yourself better in certain situations. So we are going to see how nouns may change according to some suffixes that one may decide to add.


But, what is a noun alteration?


A noun alteration happens when the suffix of a noun changes but its root remains the same. By doing so, this will slightly change the meaning of the word to a different meaning based on the added suffix. Some example could be:


  • Tavolo -> Tavolino
  • Orso -> Orsacchiotto
  • Libro -> Librone
  • Odore -> Odoraccio


As you can see, the word’s root remains the same but the suffix changed in four different ways. The change reflects the four types of alterations. The alterations are the following:


  • Diminutivo (diminutive, such as Tavolino).
  • Vezzeggiativo (terms of endearment, such as Orsacchiotto).
  • Accrescitivo (Augmentative, such as Librone).
  • Dispregiativo (Pejorative, such as Odoraccio).



How does the meaning of the altered noun change?


Generally speaking, we use the diminutive alteration to describe something that is smaller than usual. In the first example, “Tavolino” represents a smaller tavolo (Table). Contrariwise, we use the “Accrescitivo” alteration to describe something bigger than usual. “Librone” is a libro (book), but it’s bigger than the average one.


We use the “Vezzeggiativo” alteration when we want to describe something that feels lovely and cute and generally is also small in dimension. You never would use “orsacchiotto” to describe a real orso (bear) -- it’s more likely that one would use it to describe a stuffed bear instead.


Last but not least, we use “Dispregiativo” to point out bad aspects of something, which one may contempt. Taking the word odore as an example, you can say:


“Che buon odore!” which means that you smell something good.


But if you use the latter example and transform the noun in “odoraccio”, then the sentence “Che buon odoraccio” would make no sense because the fact that you are using the Pejorative form means that you are not liking the smell in the first place. At the same time, “buon” means that something is good.


As you may notice, these alterations are very powerful, as you can use them to better express yourself, but you have to know how to first.



So, how do you alternate a name?


There are some suffixes that you can add accordingly to the alteration you want to use. But even before that, you have to be able to identify the word root so the new word will be grammatically correct. Also, for every alteration type there are many suffixes.


The most commonly used are the following:


  • ino/-icino/-etto for the diminutive alteration. 
    • (Examples: Cagnolino, Libricino, Sorsetto).
  • uccio/-acchiotto/-olo for terms of endearment.
    • (Examples: casuccia, orsacchiotto, figliolo).
  • one/-accione/-acchione for the Augmentative alteration.
    • (Examples: librone, omaccione, furbacchione).
  • accio/-astro for the Pejorative alteration.
    • (Examples: ragazzaccio, giovinastro).


Also, you have to remember that suffixes may change according to the fact that the word may be plural:


  • Un orsacchiotto -> Degli orsacchiotti.
  • Una casuccia -> Delle casucce.


N.B: There isn’t a specific grammar rule on when to use altered nouns and adjectives. It’s up to the speaker and to his/her preferences on the decision. Also, there isn’t a rule to decide on which suffix to choose for a word.


That being said, we can now go on with the next aspect of Alterations.



Confusing cases


There are some cases in which alterations may be confusing. These cases are the following:


1. The change of genre


Sometimes, adding a suffix to a noun or an adjective make it so that the altered word changes genre.


For Example:


  • “Ho preso la febbre” -> “Ho preso un febbrone!”


Febbre is a feminine noun, while febbrone is a male noun. You can notice by the article I’ve put on the example.



2. The change of root and lexicalized words


Some words change their root when altered and not knowing them may lead you to alter the word in a wrong way.


Some examples may be:


  • Uomo -> omone
  • Cane -> cagnone


Also, some alterated words were lexicalized and became primitive nouns, such as:


  • Forchetta, which is not a little “forca”.
  • Lancetta, which is not a little “Lancia”.
  • Fumetto, which is not a little “fumo”.



3. False alteration


There are some words that end with the same suffix of an altered word but are not altered. If I say “ombrello”, I’m not referring to the word “ombra”. Also, If I say lampone or lampione (which are 2 different words), I am not referring to “Lampo”.


Unfortunately, there isn’t a way to know if the word is altered or primitive just by first glance. One must be familiar with the word in order to determine its state.





So, here are some examples of how altered words can help you express yourself better:


  • Che giornataccia! (What a bad day!).
  • Accidenti, che villona! (Wow, that’s a very big house!).
  • Ho comprato del prosciutto ma aveva un saporaccio e l’ho buttato. (I bought some ham but it didn’t smell good so i threw it away).
  • Che odorino! Da dove proviene?(What a good smell! where is it coming from?).
  • Che ragazzacci, guarda cos’hanno combinato!(Look what those bad guys did!).


As you can see from the examples, altered words are fairly easy to use and are also very helpful. It’s true that it may take a while to master them and for you to use them naturally. I can guarantee you, however, that it is one hundred percent worth it, that’s why you should start practicing them!




Armonia di parole E. Asnago, C.Manzo, A.Chetti Cedam scuola(book)


Hero image by Vincent Versluis on Unsplash