(Suf)fixing your Spanish: Ico and Ica

You’ve probably noticed that diminutives are rampant in Spanish. Although they can indicate that something is small, they frequently simply show a degree of affection toward the person being spoken to or soften the words to make them sound more polite, especially in certain Latin American countries. ¿Quieres agüita? instead of ¿Quieres agua?. ¿Te preparo una sopita? instead of ¿Te preparo una sopa?. Adjectives get the same treatment and commonly serve to intensify the description. Tienes la piel muy suavecita instead of Tienes la piel muy suave. Ellos son igualitos instead of Ellos son iguales. While I’m not saying that you should make every word you say diminutive by any means, you’ll find that they often just . . . roll off the tongue a little more smoothly, especially in informal settings. Try it.

In Colombia, they frequently use the endings -ico/-ica when the last consonant in the last syllable is a “t.” For example, they say tortica instead of tortita. Here are some examples of words I always said and heard down there with this suffix.

Te tengo una preguntica. I have a question for you.

¿Quieres tortica? Do you want some cake?

Para comprar un carro de lujo, hay que tener platica. To buy a nice car, you have to have money.

Mi casa queda ahí en la esquina, un poco más adelantico. My house is over there on the corner, just a little further up.

Espera un momentico, porfa. Hold on just a minute.

You’ll also hear diminutives even further diminutivized. Shouldn’t come as any surprise!

¿Quieres café? Listo, un poquitico, no más. Do you want some coffee? OK, just a little bit.

Cuando era chiquitica, me encantaba leer. I loved to read when I was little.

Ahoritica nos vamos. We’ll leave in just a minute.

You could also say juntico, zapaticos, aparatico, fotico, ratico, goticasgatico, matica, and patico, among others, but these aren’t nearly as common as the rest. Just listen to what you hear and then egregiously copycat. Nothing sounds quite right to me, by the way, for small/adorable tomatoes. Maybe some things just shouldn’t be cutesified.

As far as I know, the -ico/-ica endings are also common in Venezuela, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica (that’s where they got their nickname, los Ticos), and some parts of Spain. Diminutives in general are definitely a case by case basis; in some countries they sound decidedly twee, whereas in others they are practically de rigueur. Nothing will help you fit in better than simply opening your ears and then speaking accordingly.

Can you think of more common -ico/-ica examples?

_________________________________________________ Non-natives, what’s your experience with these suffixes? Had you heard them before? How have you heard them used? Where? If you’re a native Spanish speaker, anything to correct, clarify, comment on or concur with? 

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11 responses to “(Suf)fixing your Spanish: Ico and Ica

  1. Again, useful one, this. I know that the diminutives are probably the most famous/most widely used ones but could you also write similar entries about other categories of suffixes (for example -azo)?
    By the way, the word “cutsify” rocks :D I really like it how malleable English is :)

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  2. ¿Qué es una “fotica”? :)

    Katie, you say that in Colombia, we use the endings -ico/-ica when the last consonant in the last syllable is a “t.” That’s true, but -ito/-ita are used as well. For example, I would say “tomatito” (or even “tomatín”) to an adorable tomato. Like many other people, I use the latter suffix more often: zapatito, gotita, gatito.

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    • I know, right? Those last words sound odd to me and I never said them … but I know you can say them. Not saying you should. Just to show more examples of the rule. Or perhaps exceptions to it, I don’t know. I would also say gatito, for example. The point was, however, that in many countries they only use -ito/-ita and never -ico/-ica! And for the examples I gave, I never heard them with -ito/-ita. Do you ever say preguntita, platita, adelantito, or poquitito, for example? I can barely even form these words on my tongue, they feel so unnatural and wrong.

      The ones I had above in bold are ones I heard and used all the time and would “vouch” for. Just sharing what I heard/said/remember, and I’m always grateful for any further comments or corrections!

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  3. En Argentina se dice -ito/-ita, aunque no es tannnnn común que digamos…

    Es muy muy común eso de “tenés la piel suavecita” o “qué lindo gatito”…

    La terminación -ico/-ica me suena muy graciosa :P

    Saludos :)

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  4. Christoph Rosenmüller

    Very interesting. In Mexico I heard the theory (plausible to me) that the Nahuatl or Aztec diminutive survived to a degree in the local parlance, that explains a preference for forms such as in virgencita derived from tonantzin, the diminutive but also reverential of Our Mother. Have you heard something along these lines for Colombia? Un blog muy lúcido!

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    • I haven’t. I am very ignorant of etymology and linguistics– you are the one who needs to be schooling me, not the other way around.

      Thanks for stopping by! What an honor to have an academic around here!

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  5. Pingback: Little chicken hearts | Vocabat

  6. There is a line in Rubén Darío’s poem To Roosevelt: “que el alfabeto pánico en un tiempo aprendió” that is often translated as “that learned Pan’s alphabet at once.” But it is not capitalized as in Pan (he does capitalize Bacchus in the previous line). What do you think of “pánico”?

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