September 2, 2014

Using Gradable and Non-gradable Adjectives

2 minute read

Adjectives are always useful to have in your vocabulary – they’re used to describe verbs and nouns, and can generally add a lot of interesting meaning to what you are saying! But how do you describe something that has different degrees of a quality you are describing? That’s when gradable adjectives come in.

What are gradable adjectives?

Gradable adjectives are normal adjectives that might have levels of difference in them. For example, the adjective ‘cold’ is gradable – you can be extremely cold, quite cold, and even not at all cold.

By combining the adjective with adverbs like ‘extremely’, ‘quite’ and ‘not at all’ you can show the degree of the adjective being used.

What are non-gradable adjectives?

Not all adjectives can be used this way.

Some adjectives might be extremes without any option of variation.

E.g. “The water is freezing.” Water can’t be “a bit freezing” or “very freezing”.

Another type of adjective that can’t be graded are absolute adjectives – these describe a state or situation that cannot be changed.

E.g. “The plant is dead.” The plant can’t be “a little bit dead”.

The third type of non-gradable adjectives are adjectives that describe things into specific groups or types.

E.g. “The money was paid out weekly.” The money can’t be paid out  “very weekly”.

Some exceptions!

While non-gradable adjectives can’t be used with most of the adverbs used with gradable ones, there are a few that can. Two common ones are ‘absolutely’ and ‘completely’.

E.g. “The lake is completely frozen over.”

E.g. “The store is absolutely empty.”

One adverb that can be used with both gradable and non-gradable adjectives is ‘really’.

E.g. With a gradable adjective: “She was really tired and went to sleep.”

E.g. With a non-gradable adjective: “The exam was really impossible to complete.”

Using ‘quite with both gradable and non gradable adjectives

Another adverb that can be used with both types is ‘quite’ but it’s important to note that the meaning of the adverb actually changes with each type.

With gradable adjectives, using ‘quite’ means ‘fairly’ or ‘to a greater extent’.

E.g. “She was quite sleepy by the time we got home.”

With non-gradable adjectives, ‘quite’ is used to describe something complete or entirely express by that adjective.

E.g. “I am quite certain that this is the correct train.” Another way of saying this would be “I am absolutely certain that this is the correct train.”

Your turn

To learn more about non-gradable and gradable adjectives, it’s best to put them into practice. Look at them carefully as it can be easy to get confused between the two!