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
angry, big, busy, clever, cold, deep, fast, friendly, good, happy, high, hot, important, long, popular, rich, strong, tall, warm, weak, young
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:
more freezing, the most freezing
deader, the deadest
more nuclear, the most nuclear
Often, non-gradable adjectives are used alone:
- It was freezing outside.
- The dog was dead.
- He is investing in nuclear energy.
However, a non-gradable adjective can be used with “non-grading adverbs” (which usually just give the adjective extra impact), for example:
|non-grading adverbs||non-gradable adjectives|
Here are some example sentences containing non-grading adverbs 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.