In English, adjectives are words that modify a noun. Gradable adjectives, non-gradable adjectives, or absolute adjectives are types of adjective gradability. Absolute adjectives describe words that can’t be made bigger, modified, or compared. Gradable adjectives, on the other hand, are words that can be modified to increase their intensity and can be used for comparison.
In this guide, we’ll break down adjectives into non-gradable and gradable and give you some examples and exceptions because English is full of contradictions, making it even more fun to learn!
With adverbs, gradable adjectives can be modified to be weaker or stronger. Most adjectives are gradable and have degrees to them.
You can use sub-modifiers or adverbials to intensify or weaken gradable adjectives:
Absolute adjectives are types of adjectives sometimes referred to as intensive or incomparable as you can’t compare them to other adjectives.
For example: My house is more finished than yours.
This sentence is incorrect because 'finished' is a non-gradable adjective. It is already a complete adjective in its own right.
In English, an absolute adjective is a type of adjective that is already the best it can be in its base form. It isn’t usually modified, compared, or intensified- it’s a non-gradable adjective. Some grammar guides state that these words are already superlative in their base structure; however, in some contexts, you can modify them with intensifying adverbs such as ‘nearly’ or ‘almost.’
When it comes to using absolute adjectives, there is an element of choice, especially in everyday language and literature. In the case of ‘dead and pregnant,’ the person or thing is either pregnant or not pregnant, dead or not dead.
There isn’t really a middle ground. However, and this is very important, you can use certain adverbs or sub-modifiers to modify absolute adjectives to indicate the degree of intensity in some contexts.
English speakers do this because it’s fun to play around with language and dramatize situations.
You’ll sometimes see modified absolute adjectives in the following situations:
Regardless, it’s important to be careful when you modify non-gradable adjectives because, in most cases, it’s unnecessary.
As you can see, there are many exceptions in English, but if you’re unsure whether to place an adverb in front of an absolute adjective, think about the context first.
There are so many grammar structures to learn, including Positive Adjectives! So, check out our other fantastic learning tools.