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Adjectives – gradable and non-gradable

Do you know how to use adjectives in phrases like a bit cold, really cold and absolutely freezing?

Look at these examples to see how gradable and non-gradable adjectives are used.

It's really cold.
It's absolutely freezing.
This exercise is really difficult.
This exercise is completely impossible.

Try this exercise to test your grammar.

Grammar test 1

Adjectives: gradable and non-gradable: Grammar test 1

Grammar explanation

Gradable adjectives

Most adjectives are gradable. This means we can have different levels of that quality. For example, you can be a bit cold, very cold or extremely cold. We can make them weaker or stronger with modifiers:

She was quite angry when she found out.
The film we saw last night was really funny!
It can be extremely cold in Russia in the winter.

Here is a list of some common gradable adjectives and some modifiers that we can use with them.

Modifiers a little/a bit pretty/quite really/very extremely
Adjectives angry, big, boring, cheap, cold, expensivefrightening, funny, hot, interestingold, prettysmall, tasty, tired, etc.

Non-gradable: absolute adjectives

Some adjectives are non-gradable. For example, something can't be a bit finished or very finished. You can't be a bit dead or very dead. These adjectives describe absolute qualities. To make them stronger we have to use modifiers like absolutely, totally or completely:

Thank you, I love it! It's absolutely perfect!
Their farm was totally destroyed by a tornado.
My work is completely finished. Now I can relax.

Here is a list of some common absolute adjectives and some modifiers that we can use with them.

Modifiers absolutely/totally/completely
Adjectives acceptable, dead, destroyed, finished, free, impossible, necessary, perfect, ruined, unacceptable, etc.

Non-gradable: extreme adjectives

Adjectives like amazing, awful and boiling are also non-gradable. They already contain the idea of 'very' in their definitions. If we want to make extreme adjectives stronger, we have to use absolutely or really:

Did you see the final match? It was absolutely amazing!
After 32 hours of travelling, they were absolutely exhausted.
My trip home was really awful. First, traffic was really bad, then the car broke down and we had to walk home in the rain.

Here is a list of some common extreme adjectives and some modifiers that we can use with them.

Modifiers absolutely/really
Adjectives amazing, ancient, awful, boiling, delicious, enormous, excellent, exhausted, fascinating, freezing, gorgeous, terrible, terrifying, tiny, etc.


Do this exercise to test your grammar again.

Grammar test 2

Adjectives: gradable and non-gradable: Grammar test 2

Nivel de idioma

Intermediate: B1


Hello khalid Ibrahim

The real answer is that this is just the way that people have come to speak English over many years. It might also help to think that 'completely' and 'totally' already express the idea of 'extreme'. 'absolutely' also expresses this idea, but we do indeed use it with extreme adjectives. 'really' expresses the idea of 'very', so it makes more sense that it can be used with extreme adjectives.

But as I said at the beginning, the real reason is that this is how native speakers use English. Sorry to not have a more easily-understood answer for you!

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

It's really helpful.

I'd like to know:
1) if the adjectives 'frightened, satisfied and thrilled' are gradable or non-gradable.
2) in what sort of the three adjectives previously studied, we can use the adverbs 'fairly' and 'rather'.

Hello César Árraga,

Frightened and satisfied are gradeable adjectives. Thrilled is a limit adjective.

In modern English, fairly and rather are used with gradeable adjectives. They weaken the meaning of the adjective and have a similar meaning to quite.


These adverbs could also be used as modifiers for limit adjectives, adding emphasis, but this is extremely rare in modern English:

I was quite delighted. [completely delighted]



The LearnEnglish Team

I understood almost everything, however, I'm a bit confused about 'satisfied' due to I read two sentences in Internet which said "very satisfied" and "If you're not completely satisfied, you can get your money back." We can look at there, the two sort of modifiers (very and completely) are using the same adjective (satisfied), but these modifiers are used usually with gradable and absolute adjectives respectively. I'm a little puzzled. Please, help me with it! Thanks.

Hello César Árraga,

The adverbs conpletely and totally are sometimes used with gradeable adjectives. Thus, it's not uncommon to say you are completely happy with something or totally satisfied.

The adverbs utterly and absolutely are less commonly used in this way, and tend to be reserved for limit adjectives.



The LearnEnglish Team

Great! Now it all makes sense. Thanks a million for providing feedback, dear Peter.

Please, Sir, what type of adverb are increasingly, highly, remarkably, and interestingly. Are these adverbs intensifier or mitigators?

Hello Umoh Margaret,

All of those words make adjectives stronger, so they are intensifiers.



The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you, Sir.