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Diminutives are easy to get a hang of for relatively simple nouns: add -inho / -inha if ending in -o / -a or -s or -z (carr|inho, Japones|inho) or -zinho / -zinha otherwise (cafe|zinho)

But I'm not sure how form diminutives for words, which are somehow "irregular", e.g.

  • masculine nouns ending in -a
  • feminine nouns which irregular stress, or
  • words, which end in something already containing -nh-.

Which of the following would be correct (or most common)?

  • idioma (or poeta or problema)
    o idiominha¹, a idiominha², o idiominho³, o idiomazinho⁴
    ¹ because idioma is masculine, but ends in -a
    ² because the word ends in -a and the ending -inha is feminine
    ³ because idioma is masculine, and the ending -inho/a has to match gender
    ⁴ because idioma is too irregular to use -inho/a

  • língua
    a linguinha, a linguazinha

  • lenha
    a lenhinha, a lenhazinha

  • mandioquinha (not a small mandioca, but rather this)
    a mandioquinhinha, a mandioquinhazinha

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  • 2
    "mandioquinha" is already a diminutive of "mandioca". Further for "língua", the diminutive is "linguinha". About "idioma" and "lenha", I never saw or read those in diminutive, so I suspect that there are no diminutives for those. – Victor Stafusa Jul 16 '15 at 0:03
  • Well, mandioquinha is not a "small mandioca" but a different tuber, more like a potato. Instead of idioma I could ask about problema or poeta. – Earthliŋ Jul 16 '15 at 0:07
  • 1
    Yes, it is a different tuber, but it was (mis)named as a diminutive of "mandioca". The same way as that "camisinha" should be the diminutive of "camisa", but it really got a very different meaning because the diminutive form was later attributed to something completely different. – Victor Stafusa Jul 16 '15 at 0:11
  • Does that mean it doesn't have a diminutive? (small little cute mandioquinha) – Earthliŋ Jul 16 '15 at 0:11
  • I am unsure about this, but I think that yes. – Victor Stafusa Jul 16 '15 at 0:12
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I couldn't find the rules in the literature, so this is my answer as a native speaker from Portugal. A few things below might not apply in Brasil.

All the cases you referred use the diminutive version -zinho/a.
In these cases the root word is unchanged, that is, no ending letters are dropped, as is the case with the suffix -inho/a.

  • Masculine nouns ending in -a : use the suffix -zinho (but see below)

problema - problemazinho
poeta - poetazinho
um jornalista - jornalistazinho
uma jornalista - jornalistazinha

However, in Brasil, you can hear the version probleminha, which is not heard in Portugal.

  • Following diphthongs : use the suffix -zinho or -zinha

língua - línguazinha
coração - coraçãozinho
rádio - radiozinho

Note: comboio - comboinho
(perhaps because the last o is outside the diphthong)

  • Nouns ending in -nh- : use the suffix -zinho/a

moinho - moinhozinho
caminho - caminhozinho
façanha - façanhazinha

Note:
castanho (adj) - castanhinho
castanha (noun) - castanhinha or castanhazinha

Note that some nouns and adjectives can accept both forms of diminutive, most commonly in words related to food:

fruta - frutinha or frutazinha
carne - carninha or carnezinha

Be also aware of the uses of diminutive forms. At least in Portugal, they are preferred when:

  • speaking to children
  • talking about food or shopping food
  • in situations where we mean to be ironic.

Of course, they are used to refer to things that are small, but there are many words of which I have never heard the diminutive form, and couldn't tell how they would sound like.

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