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
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, expensive, frightening, funny, hot, interesting, old, pretty, small, 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.
|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.
|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
I would be very grateful if you could tell me all the adjectives and verbs (collocations) which can be used before 'TO BITS', with the meaning of 'very much'. Thank you very much for your help in advance.
Hello Nina England,
That would be quite a long list. A good place to start is the Longman dictionary's entry for 'to bits'. Netspeak or some other concordancer would be a good next step, and I'm sure you could find other useful information in other dictionaries.
All the best,
excellent topic, I discovered more gradable adjetives
Sorry, can I just add another adverb 'super' to my previous question:
Can we use 'super' to modify extreme adjectives?
Dear Sir or Madam,
Can you tell me if we can use 'so' to modify ungradable adjectives?
Also, are these adjectives 'pumped', 'stoked', 'excited' gradable?
We can use 'so' with many extreme non-gradable adjectives, especially those which express opinion and emotion:
It's less straightforward with 'super'. Here I think generally we don't use it with these adjectives, though some individuals use 'super' in place of 'really' when they want to emphasise emotion or physical states:
However, these are really individual eccentricities rather than language rules.
We don't use 'so' or 'super' with absolute adjectives.
The LearnEnglish Team
Thank you so much for your prompt reply.
It seems you have missed out my other question :)
Could you tell me if these adjectives 'pumped', 'stoked', 'excited' are all gradable?
Hello again Cindy,
Excited is certainly gradable.
Pumped and stoked I would say are not gradable, but these are very informal/slang expressions so the grammar around them may well not be particularly fixed. They're also American expressions which younger people use and I'm neither American nor particularly young!
If you're not sure about how to modify a particular adjective then the safest modifier is '(not) really' as it has the widest range of use and can come before extreme and gradable adjectives.
The LearnEnglish Team
Sir, I have some questions 1) could every extreme adjectives be modified by any adverb? 2) Some classifying adjectives are not modified by adverbs why?
1) In theory, any extreme adjective can be modified by an appropriate adverb. But in practice -- in other words, in the way the language is used -- there are probably some adjectives that aren't usually modified. 'really ancient', for example, sounds a bit odd to me. I'm afraid there are no easy rules that explain which ones can be modified, but in general you should be able to modify most of them in most cases.
2) Since classifying adjectives put people or object in categories -- in other words, they are part of the category or they aren't -- it seems strange to modify them. In this way, they are similar to absolute adjectives. My impression is that there is a bit of overlap between these two categories ('classifying adjectives' and 'absolute adjectives'). As far as I know they belong to two different systems for categorising adjectives and so they don't align perfectly. If there's a specific case of a classifying adjective that you'd like to ask about, please feel free to do so.
I hope this helps.
All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team