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 bit, very, really, extremely 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:
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.