Grammar Lesson 61:

The diminutive suffix

Like in many other countries in the world, in Italy children are used to writing a letter to Father Christmas every year, requesting the presents they wish to receive, asking for peace in the world, and, of course, stating that they are worthy of the gifts they are asking for.
Father Christmas in Italy is called Babbo Natale, which is the literal equivalent for it.
Babbo = regional word for Papà, that is Dad / Daddy
Natale = Christmas
The letter to Father Christmas is called “lettera a Babbo Natale”, or “letterina”, which is a diminutive word, formed with the Italian diminutive suffix “-ino” (in all its forms), revealing the emotional attachment every child has to this seasonal ritual – a true rite of passage.
Lettera = letter
Letter-ina = little letter
The diminutive suffix “-ino” (in all its forms) is used both to refer to things which are smaller in size and to add a tender tone to something the speaker is saying.

- Giovanni nella letterina ha chiesto un trenino / In his letter to Father Christmas Giovanni has asked for a toy train —> treno = train
- Che carino! / How pretty! —> caro = dear, precious
Note that the suffix “-ino” is also the ending of a number of Italian adjectives in the positive degree which don’t refer to something neither small nor especially dear to the speaker, but indicate the origin and quality of something / someone.

- alpino / alpine
- fiorentino / Florentine
- argentino / Argentinian —> from Argentina = Argentina
- argentino / silvery —> from argento = silver

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