In Spanish, they have a fun thing with the language. They have what is called the “ito” / “ita” suffix. For those of you like me who have been out of high school or college too long to remember, a suffix is a word ending. In Spanish you should be able to add this suffix to any noun (remember a “noun” is a person, place, or thing). When you add the suffix “ito” or “ita” to a noun, it means “little”. Just for an example the word “casa” means “house” and the word “casita” means “little house”. The word “gato” means “cat” and the word “gatito” means “little cat”. And finally, the word “papel” means “paper” and the word “papelito” means “little piece of paper”.
As you can see, the “ito” / “ita” ending means “little” and is very useful. This fun “suffix” or “word ending” also has one other meaning. I had hundreds of experiences that reinforced the meaning, but here is one experience that opened my eyes to the “other” meaning.
Last time I told you about the Silva’s, who are native Spanish speakers from Latin America, and how I ate breakfast and dinner with them just about every day for about 3 months. Well, one morning Mrs. Silva brought in our breakfast as usual. First she brought in fresh baked rolls that she would get at the bakery every morning as well as a delicious breakfast drink. Then she brought in a pan with a few eggs swimming in oil. That is how they would cook fried eggs — they would put two to three inches of oil in a pan and then drop in the eggs and they seemed to “swim” in the large amount of oil. As she brought in the eggs, she said in Spanish, “Here are your huevitos”. In Spanish, eggs are “huevos” but this time she used the “ito” / “ita” suffix and called them “huevitos”.
As she put the eggs on our plates, I examined them and said, “These aren’t smaller than normal eggs, why do you call them “huevitos”? She looked at me with a strange expression and said “Of course they’re not smaller”. I asked again, “so why do you call them ‘huevitos'”? She answered, in a sort of obvious tone, and told me it was because she had made them with “cariño” which means “caring”. I wanted to make sure I heard her correctly so I asked “So, since you made them with ‘cariño’ you call them ‘huevitos'”? She confirmed what I had said and I found that I was at the beginning of a very good culture lesson where you make things like “eggs” with “caring”.
I wanted to make sure this was not something that just the Silva family did, so I began to listen more carefully to how others spoke. I began to notice that many people would call their grandmothers “abuelita” instead of “abuela”, even though their grandmothers weren’t necessarily “little”. I learned that “abuelita” is how to say “grandmother” with “cariño” or “caring”.
The word for daughter is “hija” and many parents would call their daughters “hijita” even though they were full grown adults. Obviously they were not calling their daughters “little daughter” but “daughter” with “cariño” or “caring”.
I grew to love this fun “little” cultural and language difference and had a lot of fun with it. I would tease Mrs. Silva in a fun way by adding “ito” or “ita” to everything for the next few days after that experience with the eggs.
So to sum it up, what I learned was that the “ito” / “ita” ending can be used to talk about “little” things, but it is also a term of endearment which shows “cariño” or “caring”.Learn Spanish, Spanish Culture, Spanish Words