Diminutives in Arabic


root: ص-غ-ر / adjective / definition: small

A diminutive is a modified word used to express smallness. Think of the English word duckling, derived from duck.

In Arabic, the diminutive is referred to as التَّصغير—a verbal noun meaning “to make smaller”. So how can we recognise and form diminutives in Arabic?

If we take the letters ف-ع-ل to represent the root of a word, diminutives in Arabic most often take one of the following forms:




…the only difference being the ـة in the second one, making the word feminine.

Here are some examples:

نَهْر = river

نُهَير = small river, creek

بَحْر = sea

بُحَيْرة = lake (literally: “small sea”)

قَبْلَ = before

قُبَيْلَ = shortly before

بَعْدَ = after

بُعَيْدَ = shortly after

لُقْمة = mouthful, bite

لُقَيْمة = morsel

حَسَن = good

حُسَيْن = good… but smaller

بَيْت = house

بُوَيْت = small house

The noun بيت actually comes from the root ب-ي-ت, yet we see a و replace the root letter ي in the diminutive form, for ease of pronunciation.

اِبْني = my son

بُنَيَّ = my little son

Note that اِبن comes from a two-letter root, ب-ن, and therefore the alif doesn’t feature in the diminutive form.

The diminutive form on its own—without the possessive suffix—would be بُنَي. So when we add the possessive suffix ـي for “my”, we end up with two يs in a row which merge into one ي with a shadda (and fatha) on top: يَّ.

رُوَيداً is an adverb which I assume is derived from a diminutive too. Why not take a look at this page in the Hans Wehr and see if you agree?

That’s all for this now, I hope you enjoyed the post!

!مع السلامة

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