Gradable and Non-gradable Adverbs and Adjectives


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.

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.

Don't try to learn lists of gradable and non-gradable adjectives! It's better to understand what makes an adjective gradable or non-gradable. This is a matter of logic and common sense. Most native-speakers have never heard of gradable and non-gradable adjectives. They just "feel" that it doesn't make sense to say "fairly excellent" or "very unique". You probably have the same idea in your language.

Gradable Adjectives

A gradable adjective can be used with "grading adverbs" that vary the adjective's grade or intensity. Look at these examples:


grading adverbs

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:

  • 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.

Non-gradable Adjectives


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:

  • 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 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:








common =



He's got a very old car.






not young



I saw my old boyfriend yesterday.






former, ex-



He has some dreadfully common habits.









"The" is a very common word in English.









The two countries' common border poses problems.








 Adverbs used with gradable and non-gradable adjectives

The adverbs really (very much) and fairly and pretty (both meaning "to a significant degree, but less than very") can often be used with gradable and non-gradable adjectives:









Please don't forget! It's really important.



He was really terrified.



He's a fairly rich man.



It's a fairly impossible



He's pretty tall.



It's pretty ridiculous
  when you think about it.



"Quite" with gradable and non-gradable adjectives

 The meaning of the adverb "quite" changes according to the type of adjective we use it with:









quite =



It's quite warm today.






fairly, rather



Are you quite certain?






completely, absolutely






Non-gradable adjectives

Although we don't recommend that you learn lists of non-gradable adjectives, here are some for reference. You can decide for yourself whether they are extreme, absolute or classifying.


alive, awful, black, boiling, certain, correct, dead, domestic, enormous, environmental, excellent, freezing, furious, gigantic, huge, immediately, impossible, miniscule, mortal, overjoyed, perfect, pregnant, principal, ridiculous, superb, terrible, terrified, unique, unknown, white, whole




Non-grading adverbs

Again, no need to learn lists. Here are a few examples. There are many more. Remember that you cannot use all non-grading adverbs with all non-gradable adjectives. Some collocate (go together). Some don't.
absolutely, almost, completely, entirely, exclusively, fully, largely, mainly, nearly, perfectly, practically, primarily, utterly, virtually

Adverbs of Degree

Adverbs of Degree in English help us to show the intensity and the degree in which a specific action is done. These adverbs answer the question:


  to what degree?

As, for example:

My income is barely enough to maintain living

This organization relies entirely on voluntary donations


Below you can find a list of all the Adverbs of Degree and an example for each of them:




so much


too much

very litte


so little

too little

You cannot expect much of him


You shouldn't  have eaten so much ice cream


You had better not eat too much


This summer it has rained very little


So many things to do, and so little time


Laura worked too little on her project



much more


far more 


much less


far less 

The more books you read, the more you'll know


The explanation may be much more complex


You need to drive far more to get to Miami

You must be less impatient

I don't like math, much less physics


Bolivia is far less inhabited than Paraguay








not at all


even more

even less


not even

Your remark amounts almost to insult

We were nearly frozen to death

He barely passed the examination

She spoke scarcely a word of English

We can hardly wait for the party on Friday

He is not at all a gentleman

I work even on Sunday

That makes you even more attractive

The man has even less cake

It's not even on the map












at least

at most

Mary admitted that it was partially his fault


I partly agree with you


Your idea differs entirely from mine


My life wouldbe completely empty without you


Your conduct is absolutely shameful


The region is relatively rich in mineral resources

You should brush your teeth at least twice a day

We can pay 100 dollars at most









The risk factors are largely preventable


It was mostly focused on the attack

The audience consisted mainly of students

This is totally unacceptable

Frank's boss is extremely money hungry

We are eight altogether








We are so similar and so different at the same time


The bridge is very long and very tall


I have too many things on my mind these days


You're old enough to know better


I just wanted to check my email


I accept, but only under one condition






This blog is pretty good


Carla is not poor. On the contrary, she is quite rich

That sounds like a fairly good proposal

It sounds rather unsavoury to me


Pretty, fairly, really, very, and quite

Pretty, fairly, really, very, and quite are placed directly in front of adjectives or adverbs to add to their meaning. Often they make the meaning of the adverb or adjective stronger, or more intense. For this reason, these words are called intensifiers

However, some intensifiers weaken the meaning of the adjective or adverb that they modify. In the
descriptions below, the intensifiers mentioned above are presented in order of
their strength, from strongest to weakest

Really, very, and extremely


Really and very are strong. When one of these words is placed in front of an adjective or adverb, it makes the meaning of that
adjective or adverb more intense, more powerful, as in the examples shown. The
meaning of really and very is similar to the meaning of another
intensifier: extremely.

  • She did very well on the test. (=she didn'simply do well, she did extemely well.)
  • The water is really cold. (=the water isn't just cold; it's extremely cold.)


When quite is placed in front of an adjective or adverb, it adds strength, but not as much strength as really or very. One way to think of quite is that it tells you that the degree of intensity is noticeable and more than expected.

  • The entertainment was quite good. (=the entertainment was noticeably good, perhaps better than expected.)
  • Blue jays are quite common in this area. (=blue jays are noticeably common, more common than you expected.)


Fairly, pretty, and somewhat


Fairly and pretty weaken the adverbs or adjectives that they modify. They tell you that the quality described by the adverb or adjective is present, but only to a limited extent, as shown in the examples
below. The meaning of fairly and pretty is similar to the meaning of another intensifier: somewhat.

  • It's a fairly common disease. (=It's not common, but it's not rare, either; it's somewhat common.)
  • The movie was pretty good. (The movie wasn't good, but it wasn't bad either; it was okay.)
  • I have to leave pretty soon. (I don't have to leave right now, but I can't stay for a long time).


Caution: Although these intensifiers are common in spoken and informal English, in written English, their use is often discouraged. Many writers and writing teachers feel that using words like really, very, and pretty weakens your writing and that writers should find other ways o communicate intensity.



1. A LOT OF, A GREAT DEAL OF, PLENTY OF, LOTS OF ,MUCH, MANY, are all quantitative determiners which go BEFORE NOUNS and shouldn't be confused with intensifiers, which we will study later. In Spanish, they mean different things depending on whether they take countable or uncountable nouns and whether they occur in interrogative or negative sentences.

uncountable nouns

are also called mass nouns and do not take cardinal number before them: you can't say 'two rices'



- There is a lot of /plenty of food in the fridge, so you don't have to buy much more

- A great deal of the money we earn is from repairing old bicycles

- Such a great amount of water will cause problems in the sewage system.


- There isn't much food in the fridge, so we'd better go down to the shops.

- Is there much milk in the fridge ?

MUCH can also be an intensifier (see below)

Countable nouns

Can be numbered like in 'three cats and two dogs is too much for a city flat'

- A lot of/plenty of people believe in UFO's

- Lots of things were invented by the Chinese

- Many people in the party praised the quality of the food.

- a lot can also be an intensifier, similar in meaning to 'very'.

- Not many people understood the real meaning of the project

- Are there many different kinds of snakes ?


Very, extremely, fairly go followed by an adjective or adverb like in.

'This is a very good place to camp'.

'She speaks French very well' (very+adverb)

''Our coffee was only fairly hot' (medianamente caliente)

Quite has a special syntax and means 'bastante' always in a positive way. It works in two ways:


1. That book is quite good.


2. That's quite a good book.

Rather is more or less the same but means 'bastante' in a not so positive degree. It usually occurs with negative adjectives or adverbs.

1. She slept rather badly that night

2. 'The party was rather boring

much can be :

1. an intensifier in:


'Yes, I liked it very much' or 'Thank you very much'.


'I liked it a lot ' is possible


2. mean 'a great part of':


'Much of his time in the hospital he spends it doing crosswords.'

3. it also appears in well-known expressions such as

'How much is it ?'

'It cost me twice as much as that.'

'I don't think it will be that much'

' I don't earn so much money'


4. it is the most expected intensifier before adjectives in the comparative degree.

We had a much better time later at home than at the party

But also

'You look a lot better'