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85 Small and Cute: Diminutives

Croatian – as many other languages, but unlike English – has mechanisms for creating nouns standing for miniature versions of things. Those words are often applied to babies, children, and parts of them, and therefore stand for ‘cute’ and ‘dear’ things as well.

For instance, in Croatian you can say that a baby has a glava head, but people prefer to call it glavica little head. Such words are called diminutives and usually have a different emotional content.

Diminutives are words that are derived through a process that’s only partially regular. Not all nouns have a diminutive, and there are various endings to derive them – they are like relational adjectives in that manner.

For nouns ending in -a, the main way to form diminutives is by replacing -a with -ica. The result is another noun, again ending in -a:

glava headglavica
krava cowkravica
kiša rainkišica
kuća housekućica
pčela beepčelica
riba fishribica
tata m dadtatica m
žena woman/wifeženica

As you can see, this applies to words like tata as well – the result is a word that corresponds to English Daddy.

In some meanings, diminutives are always used: for example the golden fish from stories, who grants wishes, is always zlatna ribica.

Certain nouns ending in -ka or -ga shift consonants (like kč, gž etc.) but it doesn’t happen to all nouns – forms must be learned:

baka grandmotherbakica
daska plankdaščica
mačka catmačkica
ptica birdptičica
ruka hand, armručica
noga foot, legnožica

For some words, you’ll encounter both forms, e.g. nožica and nogica (forms with unchanged consonants are more common in the wider Zagreb area).

Croatian has two words for girl – one is colloquial, and another more formal; the derived diminutives have the same use:

cura (colloq.) girlcurica
djevojka (formal) girldjevojčica

Certain diminutives have specific meanings. For example, ručica also means handle (e.g. on a door). More examples of a slight shift in meaning:

tikva pumpkintikvica zucchini (courgette)
torba bagtorbica purse
vreća sackvrećica small bag, shopping bag ®
žlica spoonžličica teaspoon ®

For masculine nouns in a consonant, the main way is to add -ić, as if it were a case ending (it’s, of course, not a case ending):

ključ keyključ
kolač cakekolač
komad piecekomad ®
list leaflist
nos nosenos
most bridgemost
nož knifenož
prst fingerprst
zid wallzid
zub toothzub

You can see how the stress for words like kolač shifts, as always when anything is added to them. Again, for babies and small children, people prefer to call their body parts prstić, nosić and so on.

For a few words (there’s no rule, as far as I can tell) -čić is added instead:

kamen stonekamenčić
prozor windowprozorčić

For some nouns, consonants are shifted before -ić or -čić (e.g. c, kč, hš etc.):

lanac (lanc-) chainlanč
krug circlekruž
rak crabrač
zec rabbit, bunnyzeč

The word lančić is always used for fine chains worn around the neck, while lanac is a heavy thing used to close gates, to lift loads etc.

Like for feminine nouns, certain diminutives have developed specific meanings:

brat brotherbratić cousin
novac (novc-) moneynovčić coin

Historically, bratić meant something like ‘brother’s small (boy)’, and this was extended to name people after their fathers by diminutives:

IvoIvić
JureJurić
MateMatić
TomoTomić

These were later used as last names – so you now understand why there are so many last names in Croatia and neighboring countries ending in -ić.

Sometimes, you’ll see diminutives from neuter nouns, derived with -ce, with many irregularities:

drvo treedrvce
jezero lakejezerce
sunce sunsunašce

It’s interesting that the very word sunce is likely originally a diminutive as well.

However, in Kajkavian areas – generally the area around Zagreb, and north and northeast from Zagreb – another suffix to create masculine and neuter diminutives prevails: -ek (-eko for neuters). Since Zagreb is Kajkavian-influenced, you will find such words in Zagreb as well, usually:

medo teddy bearmedek
srce heartsrčeko
   (NW Croatia)

These words are common when people talk to small children. In NW Croatia, diminutives are generallly much more used than in other regions of Croatia: people will tell children to eat juhica and meseko which basically has no meaning except to sweeten the words juha soup and meso meat.

Similar to diminutives, but distinct, are hypocorisms, also known as pet names or nicknames. They are alternative words for things and people used within family, especially by children. One hypocorism is already mentioned above: medo for the usual medvjed bear.

Words mama Mom and tata m Dad are also, historically, a kind of hypocorisms.

Hypocorisms for personal names are mostly fixed in language; as in English, they usually involve shortening of names (in Croatian, to two syllables) and simplifying them:

BranimirBranko
IvanIvo / Ive
JurajJure / Jura
KatarinaKata
Petar (Petr-) → Pero ®
TomislavTomo ®
VladimirVlado ®
ZvonimirZvonko / Zvone

Some nicknames have two forms; ones with -e are characteristic for Dalmatia, while ones with -o or -a are characteristic for inland Croatia. In Kajkavian regions, you would also hear forms ending in -ek:

IvanIvek (NW Croatia)

Compare this to English names WilliamBill or RobertBob. Many such nickames are used as real names as well.

Diminutive-making mechanism is also applied to names and nicknames that end in -a or behave so, to make diminutive names:

BrankaBrankica
KataKatica
RužaRužica
IvoIvica m
JureJurica m
PeroPerica m

This is similar to English BillBilly, RoseRosie and BobBobby.

Interestingly, a couple of verbs in Croatian have diminutive versions too! They are usually formed by inserting -k- before the verb ending. The process is not regular, and only a limited number of verbs have diminutives:

gristi (grize, grizao, grizla) bitegrickati nibble
lupati knock, banglupkati tap

Some diminutive verbs are derived with -uc- or -ut-:

kašljati (kašlje) coughkašljucati cough lightly
skakati (skače) jumpskakutati (skakuće) hop, bounce

For example, we would use the verb grickati nibble when someone eats a cracker or biscuit by small bites, especially children.

So, diminutives are largely irregular, but they are similar enough to the original word so that you can recognize their meaning quickly, even if you’re not familiar with the diminutive word.

________
® Instead of žlica and žličica, words kašika and kašičica are used in Serbia and most of Bosnia.

Instead of vreća and vrećica, kesa and kesica are used in Serbia and most of Bosnia, but the non-diminutive kesa is used for shopping bag.

Besides komad and komadić, words parče (parčet-) and parčence are used in Serbia and parts of Bosnia.

Hypocorisms like Pero and Tomo have forms ending in -a (Pera, Toma...) in Serbia, except in the southwest of Serbia.

5 Easy Croatian: 85 Small and Cute: Diminutives Croatian – as many other languages, but unlike English – has mechanisms for creating nouns standing for miniature versions of things. Those ...

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