In short – ‘poco’ is a very common Spanish word that can mean ‘little’ (when referring to quantity, NOT size), ‘few’ and ‘not much’, amongst other things. ‘Poquito’ is the diminutive form of ‘poco’.
You’re sure to hear the two used interchangeably, especially in Mexico where the use of diminutives is prevalent.
Anxious already? Well, let me teach you EVERYTHING you need to know about ‘poco’ and ‘poquito’.
Let’s dive right in!
‘Poco’ and ‘poquito’ can be used interchangeably in the following ways –
1. As an adjective to indicate a small or insufficient quantity of something.
Queda poca/poquita leche en el refri. = There’s very little milk left in the fridg.e
2. As an adjective to indicate a small number of people or things.
Pocas/poquitas personas saben invertir su dinero. = Few people know how to invest their money.
3. As an adverb to indicate a small amount / low intensity.
Está lloviendo, pero muy poco/poquito. = It’s raining, but very lightly.
4. As a pronoun.
Falta poco/poquito para salir de vacaciones. = The holidays are almost here.
In Mexico ‘poquito’ is also sometimes used to be more polite –
¿Podrías bajarle un poquito a tu música, por favor? = Could you turn your music down a smidge, please?
‘Poco’ vs ‘poquito’
As I mentioned above, ‘poco’ denotes a small amount, number, or intensity of something.
So, you’d have thought that the diminutive ‘poquito’ would imply an even smaller quantity, right?
Well, that isn’t actually the case.
Some grammar purists therefore argue that the word ‘poquito’ is a bit redundant, although it’s interesting to note that the (very strict!) Royal Academy of the Spanish Language doesn’t frown upon its use!
The reality is that even if some formalists consider ‘poquito’ redundant or even childish, MANY people across the Spanish-speaking world, especially in Mexico, still use it interchangeably with ‘poco’ (and don’t get me started on other variations popular in Spain and South America, such as ‘poquillo’ and ‘poquitico’).
Cata – ¿Has ido a la Cineteca Nacional? Tienen un ciclo de cine de arte muy interesante.
Max – Sí, he ido pocas / poquitas veces. ¡Vamos!
Cata – Have you been to the Cineteca Nacional? They have a very interesting art film season.
Max – Yes, I’ve been a few times. Let’s go!
¿Me darías un poco / poquito de agua?
Could you give me some water?
Organizando un viaje de fin de semana a Acapulco
Gerardo – ¿Crees que quepamos todos en la camioneta?
Fabiana – Uy, sí, sin problemas. Somos muy pocos / poquitos…varios cancelaron de último momento.
Planning a weekend trip to Acapulco
Gerardo – Do you think we can all fit in the van?
Fabiana – Oh, yeah, for sure. There aren’t many of us … quite a few people canceled at the last minute.
Diminutives in Mexico
‘Poquito’ isn’t the only example of a wildly popular diminutive in Mexico!
If you immerse yourself in Mexican culture and hang out with native speakers, you’ll soon realize that diminutives are incredibly commonplace.
Words like ‘ahorita’ (‘now’), ‘chiquito/a’ (‘small’), or ‘tantito’ (‘a bit’) are some examples of diminutives used in everyday speech.
But why is this the case?
Well, even though they’re sometimes used as a way of “softening” certain words, linguists believe that Mexico’s predilection for diminutives is inherited from native languages, such as Náhuatl, Maya and Tarahumara.
These languages (especially Náhuatl) are positively brimming with diminutives, the use of which was then adapted to the imposed Spanish language. Hence why your average Mexican is still very partial to a diminutive or two.
En una taquería
Taquero – ¿Le pongo salsa a sus tacos, joven?
Cliente – Sí, poquita salsa, por favor.
Taquero – ¿Así está bien?
Cliente – Un poquito más…
Taquero – ¿Así?
Cliente – Poquitito más…Así mero, gracias.
At a taco stand
Taquero (the guy in charge of making tacos) – Do you want me to put spicy sauce on your tacos, young man?
Customer – Yes, a little bit, please.
Taquero – Is that okay?
Client – A bit more …
Taquero – Is that enough?
Client – Just a teeny bit more … that’s enough, thank you.
Erika’s note – did the taco example whet your appetite? Well, I suggest you mosey on down to our article on all the different ways to say ‘lunch’ in Spanish!
Expressions with ‘poco’ / ‘poquito’
Poquito a poco
‘Poquito a poco’ (also ‘poco a poco’) is an extremely common Spanish expression that refers to something done gradually in stages, a bit like the English phrase ‘little by little’.
Marco – ¡Soy terrible para dibujar!
Eric – ¡Tranquilo! Sigue practicando, poquito a poco.
Marco – I’m terrible at drawing!
Eric – Calm down! Keep practicing, little by little.
De a poquito
This phrase has the same connotation as ‘poquito a poco’, so feel free to use them interchangeably.
Hay mucho tráfico. Vamos avanzando de a poquito.
There’s a lot of traffic. We’re moving very slowly.
‘Por poco’ literally translates as ‘for little’, but it’s actually just a way of saying ‘almost’ or ‘nearly’.
¡Por poco y gano la carrera!
I almost won the race!
Hopefully you’ll now feel more confident when choosing between ‘poco’ and ‘poquito’.
Just remember that if you’re in Mexico, throwing a ‘poquito’ in here and there is sure to make you sound more native!
Oh, and if you wanna level up your Spanish grammar, then I recommend you head on over to our article on ‘la agua’ or ‘el agua’ (can you guess which one’s correct?).