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Gradable and Non-gradable Adjectives

Imagine that you saw a film which made a great impression on you. You want to tell your friend about it. Well, you can say it using a gradable adjective:

The film I watched last night was interesting or very interesting.

But it is hardly enough to describe your impression. You can use the superlative:

The film I saw last night was the most interesting film I’ve ever seen.

Now you are getting closer. However, the best description would be provided by a non-gradable adjective.

– The film I saw last night was fascinating.

And can you imagine that you can make it sound even better? Try to strengthen (modify) the adjective fascinating with an adverb and your final sentence should sound like this:

The film I saw last night was absolutely fascinating.

There, you managed to explain the impression the film made on you in a few words by using a non-gradable adjective. Isn’t that amazing?

Let’s talk about gradable and non-gradable adjectives. They are also called weak and strong adjectives.

Gradable adjectives

Firstly, let’s say that most adjectives are gradable. They describe the quality of something, such as age, size, etc. 

For example:

  • This house is old.
  • Those people seem happy.

We can grade the adjective old by adding a modifier such as very, a bit, pretty, fairly, slightly, quite, rather, extremely, etc. to it.

  • This bread is a bit stale.
  • Those people seem quite/rather/pretty happy.
  • We had a very/really exciting day at the Zoo today.

Gradable adjectives can be compared, so we can say:

  • That house is older than the other one.
  • That house is the oldest one in the village. 
  • The house is as old as I am.

Non-gradable adjectives

When it comes to non-gradable adjectives, let’s say that they describe absolute qualities and they can’t be graded.

For example:

  • They started building that house a year ago and now it’s finished.

Finished means that it can’t be graded. We can’s say very finished or quite finished

Also, you can’t compare non-gradable adjectives:

  • This house is more finished than the others.
  • This house is the most finished.

Remember that you can’t use modifiers such as very with non-gradable adjectives, because they already contain the word very in their definitions. For example, the gradable adjective small as a non-gradable is tiny which means  ‘very small’, so it sounds redundant to say ‘very tiny’. Don’t do that.

However, we can use the words such as completely, absolutely, totally, entirely, fully, mainly, perfectly, etc. to modify non-gradable adjectives.  

  • Your new dress is absolutely gorgeous!
  • Fiona has been totally devasted ever since she got divorced.

Note: you can use the adverb really with both gradable and non-gradable adjectives.

  • It was a really difficult task.
  • The day behind us seemed really arduous and long.

Gradable and Non-gradable Adjectives

Let’s look at some examples of the most commonly used gradable and non-gradable adjectives.

ADJECTIVEGRADABLE ADJECTIVENON-GRADABLE ADJECTIVE
BIGMoscow is a big city.
Moscow is an extremely/very big city.
New York is a huge city.
Mexico City is absolutely enormous.
FUNNYThe joke you told me is very funny.The movie is totally hilarious. You have to watch it.
ANGRYFiona was pretty angry when she heard that you took her car without her permission.Those were furious demonstrations in the city centre yesterday.
Jack was absolutely enraged when his team lost the game. 
SCAREDShe was pretty scared after the horror movie, so we had to make her company.They were totally terrified when they heard about an avalanche coming their way.
COLDIt was a bit cold in the cabin, but we had to get out of bed.Do you mind closing the window? It’s freezing in here.
COMMONThe name Sarah is quite common in this part of England.Not only was she a valedictorian but also an extraordinary ballet dancer.
SADIt was a very sad story. Let’s talk about something more cheerful.She felt really miserable when she woke up that morning.
UPSETMum always gets upset when she sees a cat on the table.The area was totally devastated after the flood.
TIREDSimon was quite tired when he got back from work that evening.The children were absolutely exhausted after the day in luna park.
CLEANShe’s putting a lot of effort to keep her car clean.I remember my grandma’s kitchen was always spotless.
UGLYThey told him that he was too ugly to have a pretty woman like her.George was wearing an utterly hideous Halloween mask.
RICHShe became very rich after her parents died.That man who was enormously wealthy was driving a cheap car.
WETThe air is always wet when the weather is hot in this country.After they’d been caught in the shower, they were fully soaked.
GOODThey found a good spot by the lake and put up a tent.Maria had an excellent taste in dressing. 
CONFUSEDThe inhabitants of the occupied country were pretty much confused when they heard the news.Even though he was mainly perplexed, Peter was generally happy to see me.
BORINGThe book I was reading couldn’t be more boring.It was one of those perfectly dull days. We just didn’t know what to do.
CALMThe sea was calm after the storm.It was one of the rare places where he could feel totally serene.
CROWDEDThe bus we took was hot, crowded and noisy.The city centre was totally bustling on Saturday morning.
EXCITEDJohn was very excited to run the marathon.I am absolutely thrilled to give this speech today.
WARMIt’s pretty warm in here, isn’t it?It is utterly hot in Cyprus during the summer months.
Gradable and Non-gradable Adjectives

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Gradable and Non-gradable Adjectives
Gradable and Non-gradable Adjectives

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