Adjectives can be either gradable or non-gradable


Gradable adjectives are adjectives like ‘cold’ ‘hot’ and ‘frightened’. You can be very cold or a bit cold. Gradable adjectives show that something can have different degrees.


Adjectives like ‘terrifying’, ‘freezing’ ‘amazing’ are also non-gradable adjectives. They already contain the idea of ‘very’ in their definitions – ‘freezing’ means ‘very cold’ etc.

Using adverbs of degree

When we use adverbs of degree to modify adjectives we usually have to use different adverbs for gradable and non-gradable adjectives.

  • NOT I’m completely hot.
  • NOT It was very fantastic!

With gradable adjectives

  • It’s a bit cold in here. Shall I turn the fire on?
  • He’s very interested in history. Why don’t you buy him a history book?
  • This exercise is really difficult. I don’t know any of the answers.
  • I’m extremely tired. I’m going to bed.

The adverbs a bitveryreallyextremely and quite can all be used with gradable adjectives.

With non-gradable adjectives

  • It’s absolutely freezing in here. Shall I turn the fire on?
  • He’s completely fascinated by history. Why don’t you buy him a history book?
  • This exercise is absolutely impossible.
  • That film is really terrifying. Don’t go and see it on your own.

The adverbs absolutely and completely can be used with non-gradable adjectives.

With strong adjectives, we normally use intensifiers like:

absolutely completely totally utterly
really exceptionally particularly quite

The film was absolutely awful.
He was an exceptionally brilliant child.
The food smelled really disgusting.

Notice that really can be used with both gradable AND non-gradable adjectives.

NOTE: There are other adverbs of degree that we haven’t covered in this section. The ones included here are some of the most common.



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