This is actually known as the diminutive form. Diminutives are used to give a noun a small or cute connotation, to expression affection or pity, or sometimes just for general emphasis. Depending on the tone, they can also be used sarcastically.

Here are a few examples of the wide variety of uses:

• Size/Cuteness: gato (cat) becomes gatinho (kitten / small cute cat)

• Nicknames: Pedro becomes Pedrinho

• Affection: meu anjo (my angel) becomes meu anjinho (my little angel)

• Pity: coitado (poor thing) becomes coitadinho (poor little thing)

• Emphasis: Vais comer tudo (You’ll eat everything) becomes Vais comer tudinho (You’ll eat absolutely everything)

• Sarcasm: Nós temos um probleminha... (We have a little problem…) With the right tone, this implies that it’s actually a big problem.

• Lessen importance: Tenho uma dor de cabeça (I have a headache) becomes Tenho uma dorzinha de cabeça (I have a minor headache)

The suffixes -zinho and -zinha are added when the word you want to modify ends in a stressed vowel, consonant, or diphthong.

In English, we have some similar words, such as doggy, mommy, piglet, and miniskirt, but they are much more limited compared to Portuguese diminutives. For example, you can’t say “breadlet” to refer to a small piece of bread, whereas “pãozinho” as a diminutive of “pão” (bread) would be perfectly acceptable in Portuguese.

The use of Portuguese diminutives is highly dependent on context, so it takes a while to master the subtleties. Until then, just be cautious to avoid giving the wrong impression!

Learn more and hear the pronunciation at