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
oblak cloudoblač
rak crabrač
trbuh bellytrbuščić
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:


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:

drvo treedrvce
jezero lakejezerce

Historically, several villages in Croatia got their name this way: Selce, lit. small village.

More neuter nouns use -ašce or -ešce:

brdo hillbrdašce
dijete childdjetešce
sunce sunsunašce
vrata n.pl. doorvratašca n.pl.

Note that these suffixes don’t behave as normal endings: we would expect they get added to djetet-, but it doesn’t happen like that! They are kind of irregular. (Also, 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:

IvanIvo / Ive
JurajJure / Jura
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:

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:

bosti (bode, bo, bola) stab, stingbockati (bocne) poke, prick
gristi (grize, grizao, grizla) bitegrickati nibble
lupati knock, banglupkati tap

(Interestingly, all three diminutive verbs listed above have semelfactive counterparts: bocnuti (bocne), gricnuti (gricne) and lupnuti (lupne); from that, you can see that these diminutive verbs are often used for repetitive activities which can be done in small amounts.)

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

kašljati (kašlje) coughkašljucati cough lightly
skakati (skače) jumpskakutati (skakuće) hop, bounce
šaptati (šapće) whisperšaputati (šapuće) whisper softly

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

Even some adjectives have diminutive versions; the most common ones are for colors:

ordinary diminutive
crven red crvenkast reddish
plavi blue plavkast bluish
smeđ brown smećkast brownish
zelen green zelenkast greenish
žut yellow žućkast yellowish
kiseo (kisel-) sour kiselkast sour a bit
sladak (slatk-) sweet slatkast sweet a bit
slan salty slankast salty a bit, brackish

There are couple of adjectives related to taste listed above as well. They all end in -kast, and have stress on the syllable before that ending. Some have a change of consonants before that (you will also encounter spelling smeđkast; it’s not standard).

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.

↓ Something Possibly Interesting (click to show)

↓ Examples (click to show)

5 Easy Croatian: 85 Small and Cute: Diminutives N A  DL  G 24 I V Croatian – as many other languages, but unlike English – has mechanisms for creating nouns standing for mini...

↓ Add Your Comment (click here)