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Mitigators

Level: intermediate

Mitigators are the opposite of intensifiers. When we want to make an adjective less strong we use these words: fairly, rather, quite

By the end of the day, we were rather tired.
The film wasn't great, but it was quite exciting.

and in informal English: pretty

We had a pretty good time at the party.

Be careful!

Level: advanced

quite

When we use quite with a normal adjective, it makes the adjective less strong:

The food was quite bad.
(= The food was bad but not very bad.)

My nephew is quite clever.
(= My nephew is clever but not very clever.)

But when we use quite with a strong adjective, it means the same as absolutely:

The food was quite awful.
(= The food was absolutely awful.)

As a child he was quite brilliant.
(= As a child he was absolutely brilliant.)

Level: intermediate

Mitigators with comparatives

We use these words and phrases as mitigators:

a bit
just a bit
a little
a little bit
rather
slightly
just a little bit

 

She's a bit younger than I am.
It takes two hours on the train but it is a little bit longer by road.
This one is rather bigger.

We use slightly and rather as mitigators with comparative adjectives in front of a noun:

This is a slightly more expensive model than that.
This is a rather bigger one than that.

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Mitigators 2

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Comments

That is interesting. So, would you say whenever one puts the adjective after the noun one is not being quaint and archaic so much as using a reduced relative clause? "Court Martial", "Siege Perilous", "Murder most foul" could all by that token be said to be reduced relative clauses, I suppose, but in each case you could put the modifier before the noun and the meaning would remain unchanged. In contrast, "The road I travelled" can be expanded to "The road that I travelled" but "The I travelled road" is wrong, while "This is a question more difficult" is not wrong to my ear, but does sound rather 19th Century. How would you analyse "Nature, red in tooth and claw"?

Hello Gruntfuttock,

I would be careful in extrapolating from one example to a general rule here.

The examples you provide are quite diverse. For example, 'Court Martial' is an expression taken from French and, while we do in somet contexts use 'martial' as an adjective with a wider meaning, in this phrase we do not move it before the noun. Other examples would be 'attorney general' (also from French) and the adjective 'galore' which always follows the noun (this last is a borrowing from Irish, I believe).

The phrase 'murder most foul' is a fixed expression which has its origin in Shakespeare. It is a literary formulation.

As far as 'the road I travelled' goes, you have a verb phrase ('I travelled' - subject + verb) rather than an adjective, so it is not surprising that it cannot be placed before the noun in the way you suggest. The phrase 'the road less travelled' (another literary quote) can be switched to 'the less travelled road', however.

'Nature, red in tooth and claw' is another literary device. It is a feature of literature that rules are broken, conventional use overturned and expression given precedence over formal correctness. I would hesitate to draw grammatical rules from literary examples for that reason.

In general, I would say that in standard use the adjective precedes the noun. In some fixed or semi-fixed phrases it can follow the noun, as it can in some cases where the word or phrase is a borrowing or has a foreign etymology. In literature it is possible (and expected) to use less standard (or non-standard) forms for rhetorical and aesthetic effect.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Sorry to ask this question here in this lession, but I have a doubt about the next one and I didn't find a space to make this question there. Don't I have to use hyphen in the words that follow: a thirty kilogram suitcase; a two minute rest; a five thousand euro platinum watch; a fifty kilometre journey;
like thirty-kilogram suitcase; two-minute rest, five-thousand-ero-platinum watch?

Hello Diogo Diniz,

That's correct - normally a hyphen is used between the number and the noun that follows it. For the last example you give, though, I'd say '5000-euro platinum watch' is probably best. There's a page on this in the Cambridge Dictionary Grammar section that might be useful for you.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello sir, which is right? "he is elder to me" or "he is elder than me", 'he is older to me' or "he is older than me". please help me sir

Hello ansarsajna,

'elder' isn't usually used in a sentence like this - it normally goes before a noun, e.g. 'elder sister'. See the dictionary entry (be sure to look at the entry for its use as an adjective) for examples of this. For a sentence like the one you're asking about, 'older' is the correct form, and you should use 'than' to make the comparison: 'he is older than me'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi,

I'm using this website to brush up my grammar as I want to teach English. I read these sentences...

'We use "slightly" and "rather" as mitigators with comparative adjectives in front of a noun:

This is a slightly more expensive model than that.
This is rather bigger one than that.'

And thought... that isn't how we would say that.. Can you explain it to me? I would say for example.. 'This is a slightly more expensive model than that one.' Or.. 'than the other one.'
And the sentence 'This is rather bigger one that that.' Just seems like bad English.. I'm not trying to be difficult so please don't get me wrong! It's just that I would want to use this website confidently, to refer to, in order to explain in technical terms why someone can or can't say something.. Thanks! Abigail

Hi Lucy2108,

Thank you for your comment. I think you make some good points, and I have edited the page to reflect them - particular the sentence you flagged as bad English! This was missing an indefinite article, which I have now added.

As far as the other sentences go, it is really a question of context. We use phrases like 'that one', 'the other one' and so on to avoid repeating the noun, but how far we can substitute like this is very much context-dependent because we use these devices when we have shared information between the speaker and listener.

For example, if I were standing in a shop and holding two pieces of clothing then it would be obvious what I was referring to and I could say 'This one is bigger than that'. However, if we were looking at various items of clothing in a shop window then I would need to be more explicit and say 'The blue dress behind the small table is bigger than the red dress on the fourth peg from the right', or something similar. And, of course, if the conversation was by phone then the descriptions would need to be still more precise because the amount of shared information would probably be lower.

Thanks again for your comment. I hope my answer helps to clarify our choices and I hope the way I've edited the page makes it clearer.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you very much Mr.Kirk

I have another question for you sir. Is old English still being used in any part of the world????

Hello again crusoe,

No, it's not in wide use anymore, although I'm sure you could find some scholars or aficionados who might have some ability to speak it. See the Wikipedia article on Old English for more information.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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