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I know that 子 can work as a diminutive suffix (small things have their smallness emphasized and a sense of intimacy may be indicated). Another use is as a nominal suffix, which I understand to be a pretty much meaningless syllable attached to monosyllabic nouns to make the disyllabic.

My issue here is that it doesn't seem to be applicable for various nouns. I can understand this in a situation where N (noun) and N子 have separate meanings, like 山 (mountain) and 山子 (rock garden) to avoid ambiguity. Other than that though, I don't see any reason why I can say both 竹 and 竹子 (both meaning bamboo) but I can only say 蛇, not 蛇子.

Is there any pattern to this? A group of concepts or types of nouns that can use 子 or a group of concepts that don't use it?

  • I am afraid that there is not a good way to group them. – dan Feb 2 at 11:10
  • I don't think there's an all-encompassing pattern. There might be patterns explaining why certain group of words can be or cannot be suffixed with 子 (e.g. color nouns cannot be suffixed for obvious reason). But more of them are results of very local or specific language evolution paths. This would be a great subject for a book. – NS.X. Feb 2 at 21:36
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    Please check out this post. – zyy Feb 3 at 5:02

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