Adjectives describe qualities (characteristics) of nouns.
Some qualities can vary in intensity or grade (for example: rather hot, hot, very hot; hot, hotter, the hottest).
The adjective hot is gradable.
Other qualities cannot vary in intensity or grade because they are:
extremes (for example: freezing)
absolutes (for example: dead)
classifying (for example: nuclear)
The adjectives freezing, dead and nuclear are non-gradable.
A gradable adjective can be used with "grading adverbs" that vary the adjective's grade or intensity. Look at these examples:
a little, dreadfully, extremely, fairly, hugely, immensely, intensely, rather, reasonably, slightly, unusually.
Very + gradable adjectives
angry, big, busy, clever, cold, deep, fast, friendly, good, happy, high, hot, important, long, popular, rich, strong, tall, warm, weak, young
A gradable adjective can also have comparative and superlative forms:
"Gradable adjectives" are also called "qualitative adjectives".
"Grading adverbs" are also called "submodifiers": big, bigger, the biggest ; hot, hotter, the hottest ; important, more important, the most important.
Look at these example sentences:
My teacher was very happy with my homework.
That website is reasonably popular. But this one is more popular.
He said that Holland was a little cold and Denmark was rather cold. But Sweden was the coldest.
The adjective dead is non-gradable because it is an absolute. Dead is dead. We cannot be more or less dead. One person cannot be "deader" than another. Other absolutes include: correct, unique, perfect.
A non-gradable adjective cannot be used with grading adverbs:
It was rather freezing outside.
The dog was very dead.
He is investing in slightly nuclear energy.
Non-gradable adjectives do not normally have comparative and superlative forms: freezing, more freezing, the most freezing; dead, deader, the deadest; nuclear, more nuclear, the most nuclear.
Often, non-gradable adjectives are used alone.
Here are some example sentences with non-gradable adjectives:
Her exam results were absolutely awful. She will have to take the exam again.
Is there anything like it in the world? It must be virtually unique.
It starts an essentially chemical reaction.
Adjectives that can be gradable and non-gradable
Some adjectives may have more than one meaning or sense. It's possible for the same adjective to be gradable with one sense and non-gradable with another sense. For example:
He's got a very old car. (gradable not young)
I saw my old boyfriend yesterday. (non-gradable former, ex-)
He has some dreadfully common habits. (gradable vulgar)
"The" is a very common word in English. (gradable prevalent)
The two countries' common border poses problems. (non-gradable shared)
Adverbs used with gradable and non-gradable adjectives
The adverbs really (very much), fairly and pretty (both meaning "to a significant degree, but less than very") can often be used with gradable and non-gradable adjectives
Gradable and Non-gradable Adjectives Quiz
1 I am virtuallya littl/every happy to see you.
2 The cat was extremely/fairly/completely dead when the vet arrived.
3 To make tea, the water should be slightly/very boiling.
4 Well done! Your homework is very/almost excellent. -
5 Don't see that film! It's absolutely/nearly /extremely awful!
6 The completely extremely/very terrified people ran for their lives.
7 I am reading a nearly/completely- good book.
8 Are you sure? - Yes, I'm nearly /quite intensely certain.
9 It's quite really fairly cold outside. In fact, it's nearly freezing.
10 The world is in a -very/reasonably ridiculous situation. I laugh so much!
From: English Channel
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