Learning suffixes and prefixes is key to form new words in any language. That is especially true when learning Spanish, since there are several suffixes and prefixes that we use quite a lot. They are also essential to understand Spanglish expressions and portmanteaus.
List of common Spanish suffixes
The diminutive -ito/ -ita. It’s the most common diminutive suffix in Spanish. Usually adding -ito (masculine) or -ita (feminine) is a way of showing care or endearment. For example, mi gatito (my little cat, my dear cat). In Aragón and Navarra (Spain), as well as in some Latin American countries like Colombia and Venezuela, -ico/ -ica is preferred, e.g. mi gatico.
The diminutive -illo/ -illa. Another common diminutive in Spanish is -illo (masculine) and -illa (feminine), e.g. problemillo (little problem). It’s quite common in Spain, but it is used in South America as well.
Either diminutive or augmentative -ote/ -ota. This is a strange one, because -ote (masculine) and -ota (feminine) can either be used as a diminutive or an augmentative suffix, as a positive or as a negative emphasis. You need the context to understand the meaning of each word. Here are a few examples: cabezota (big-headed, stubborn), amigote (friend with benefits, disrespectful),
The augmentative -ón/ -ona. The suffix -ón (masculine) is almost always used to increase the size or the intensity of the word, e.g. grande > grandón (very big), un monte (many) > un montón (a lot), apagar (turn off) > apagón (blackout). The feminine form -ona is very rarely used, since we also add -ón to feminine nouns, e.g. la casa > el casón (big house, manor house), la voz > el vozarrón (big voice). Only occasionally does it take a derogatory meaning, e.g. llorar (to cry) > llorón/ llorona (crybaby).
The augmentative -azo/ - aza. The suffix -azo (masculine) or -azo (feminine) is used as an augmentative, e.g. momento > momentazo (a great moment). It’s also the suffix when someone hits something, e.g. puño (fist) > puñetazo (punch), cabeza (head) > cabezazo (to hit with the head), etc.
Apart from these suffixes that we use casually in everyday speech, there are other suffixes that you might want to memorize/ understand:
-dor and -dora. We use -dor and -dora with verbs to create nouns., e.g. aspirar (to suck in) > aspiradora (vacuum cleaner), cargar (to charge) > cargador (charger), lavar (to wash) > lavadora (washing machine), secar (to dry) > secador (hairdryer) and secadora (laundry dryer), comer (to eat) > comedor (dining room), probar (to try) > probador (fitting room), vender (to sell) > vendedor/a (seller), jugar (to play) > jugador/a (player). It can also be used to create adjectives, e.g. encantar (to charm) > encantador/a (charmful), hablar (to talk) > habladora (talkative).
-al. It’s used to turn nouns into adjectives, e.g. cultura (culture) > cultural, constitución (constitution) > constitucional. It can also be used to pinpoint the place where something comes from or collective nouns: arroz (rice) > arrozal (rice field), arena (sand) > arenal (sandy area), dinero (money) > dineral (a fortune!).
-ante. We use this on thousands and thousands of words! We take the infinitive of a verb, add -ante and it’s suddenly a noun (the person carrying out the action) or an adjective (qualities inherent to the verb, similar to English verbs ending in -ing, such as to interest > interesting, to love > loving). Examples in Spanish: amar (to love) > amante (lover), calmar (to calm) > calmante (soothing, calming), estudiar (to study) > estudiante (student), picar (to be spicy) > picante (hot).
-ario/ -aria. This is a suffix that we use to indicate professions, e.g. empresa (company/ business) > empresario (businessman), biblioteca (library) > bibliotecario (librarian), and also to indicate places, e.g. escena (scene) > escenario (stage). In a way, it can be compared to the English -ary: terciario (tertiary), voluntario (voluntary), incendio (fire) > incendiario (incendiary).
-eria. It’s another suffix to indicate places, especially when we talk about shops, e.g. pan (bread) > panadería (bakery), carne (meat) > carnicería (butcher), zapatos (shoes) > zapatería and so on. In Spanglish, we sometimes hear things like ‘junkería’ (a place with junk).
-ero/ -era. We use -ero/ -era is yet another suffix that we can use to create job names, e.g. camión (truck) > camionero (truck driver), fruta (fruit) > frutero (fruit seller), pan (bread) > panadero (baker). And since we’re talking about food, here’s another way we use -ero: coco (coconut) > cocotero (coconut palm), limón (lemon) > limonero (lemon tree), plátano (banana) > platanero (banana tree). It’s also worth noting that it is used to describe a place where something is kept: sal (salt) > salero (salt shaker), moneda (coin) > monedero (purse).
-ista. You’ll find this everywhere - the roughly equivalent in English would be “ist”, e.g. artista (artist), dentista (dentist), recepcionista (receptionist), budista (Buddhist).
-mente. Here’s a suffix that you will find time and again in Romance languages: Portuguese and Italian have mente as well, French uses -ment. In all these languages, -mente is used to transform adjectives into adverbs of manner (ending in -ly in English), e.g. elegante (elegante) > elegantemente (elegantly), rápido (quick) > rapidamente (quickly), claro (clear) > claramente (cleary) and so on and so forth.
List of Spanish Prefixes
The negative mal- . The prefix mal- before a verb always gives a negative feeling to the word: the closest English equivalent is “mis”. e.g. mal + gastar (spend) > malgastar (to waste, mispend), mal + decir (talk) > maldecir (speak badly of), mal + tratar (treat) > maltratar (mistreat), mal + entender (understand) > malentender (misunderstand).
And the positive ben-. The opposite of mal- is ben-, which always gives a positive spin to words, e.g. ben + decir (speak) > bendecir (to bless), beneficiar (to benefit).
Des- and dis - are our un-/ dis-. In Spanish, the prefixes des- and dis- are used more or less like English uses un or dis. Des is the act of undoing something, e.g. descuidar (to neglect, to not care), deshacer (to undo), desaparecer (to disappear), discontinuar (to discontinue), disculpar (to forgive).
Pre- means before. This one comes from Latin, so you probably know a few words where the prefix pre- means before, e.g. presentar (present), presuponer (to presume).
Con- , Com- and Co-. “Con” is a word, it means “with” or “together”. So when it’s at the start of the word, it means together - e.g. convivir (to live together), contratar (to contract), contener (contain). If the following consonant is b or p, then the n becomes an m - e.g. componer (to compose), compartir (to share). If the following letter is a vowel, then we use co-, cooperar (to cooperate), coordinar (to coordinate).
Re- means again. Unsurprisingly, the prefix re means again, e.g. re + nacer (born) > renacer (born again), re + pasar (go through) > repasar (review), re + forzar (inforce) > reforzar (reinforce),
Ex- means out of. Another one that is quite similar to its English equivalent, e.g. extraer (to extract), exportar (to export), re + hacer (do) > rehacer (to redo), re + iniciar (begin/ start) > reiniciar (restart)
Sobre- means over or above. Sobre before a verb means over or above, e.g. sobrepasar (to overpass), sobresalir (to stand out), sobreviver (to survive). But attention! The word “sobre” alone might mean ‘about’ or ‘envelope’ - ‘vamos a hablar sobre la inmigración (let’s talk about immigration)’ or ‘un sobre con dinero (an envelope with money)’.
Sub- means under, it’s the opposite the sobre- . Just like the English sub- , in Spanish the sub- prefix means under, e.g. subtítulos (subtitles), subestimar (to underestimate), subrayar (to underline).
Contra- means against. The word “contra” means against and “en contra” means “in disagreement”. We sometimes add it before verbs, such as contra + decir (talk) > contradecir (to contradict), contra + poner (put) > contraponer (to counter), contra + atacar (attack) > contraatacar (to counterattack).
Equi- . The Latin prefix -equi means equivalent, equal, e.g. equilibrar (to balance), equivaler (to be equal to), equiparar (to equate).