Gradable and non-gradable adjectives

Most adjectives are gradable. This means that their meaning can be modified (made stronger, weaker, or otherwise altered) by placing one or more adverbs in front of them. For example:

an expensive car

a very expensive car

a fairly expensive car

an extremely expensive car

 

The adverbs very, fairly, and extremely are telling us where this particular car belongs on the scale of "expensiveness." By using them, we can make a significant difference to the meaning of an adjective.

 

Non-gradable adjectives are those with meanings that cannot be modified by adverbs. For example:

the western side of the mountain

electronic devices

a nuclear reactor

 

It would be very strange to see any of the adjectives in the above examples being used with modifying adverbs such as very, fairly, or extremely; things are either western, electronic, or nuclear, or they’re not. These sorts of adjectives are part of the category known as classifying adjectives.

 

See the OxfordWords blog for more about gradable and non-gradable adjectives.

 

Read more about adjectives:

Comparatives and superlatives

Attributive and predicative adjectives

Qualitative and classifying adjectives


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Grammar and usage