TESOL/Gradable words

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You can say "very good" and "absolutely fantastic." Why can't you say "very fantastic" or "absolutely good?"

Some words in English are essentially very strong in meaning or indicate a category in which membership is absolute. For example, "perfect" is the extreme of "good," "freezing" is the extreme of "cold," and "hilarious" is the extreme of "funny." These extreme words are known as non-gradable, and words that can be modified in degree are known as gradable.

Mechanics edit

Absolutely and completely edit

Non-gradable words describing extremes or absolutely take "absolutely" or "completely." You cannot use "absolutely" or "completely" with words that are not extreme in meaning.

Gradable Non-gradable
very cold very freezing
absolutely cold absolutely freezing
  • They're completely dead. They're very dead
  • That's completely impossible. That's very impossible.

Quite edit

The word quite is unusual in that it can be used for both gradable and non-gradable words.

  • Today is quite cold/freezing.
  • Your cooking is quite good/delicious.
  • I was quite surprised/amazed.

Examples edit

Below is a table of pairs of gradable and non-gradable words:

Gradable Non-gradable
good delicious
  • fantastic
  • awesome
  • great
  • perfect
funny hilarious
cold freezing
strange bizarre
special unique
  • horrible
  • awful
  • terrible
  • unbelievable
  • amazing
  • amazed
  • astonished
hungry starving
hard impossible
  • scorching
  • boiling

Quiz edit

Turn these plain sentences into stronger ones by changing the word in italics.

1 I was surprised to hear from you.

I was

to hear from you.

2 Your apple pie was good.

Your apple pie is


3 Today is hot.

Today is


4 I am hungry.

I am


5 Your drawing is bad.

Your drawing is