Adjectives: Extreme and Gradable
Adjectives are words that describe the qualities of something. What are extreme and gradable adjectives? Some adjectives in English are gradable – that means you can have different degrees or levels of that quality from “a tiny bit” to “extremely”. For example, the weather can be a little cold, rather cold, very cold, or extremely cold. (= “boiling = “very/ extremely” + “hot”).
Exam in Mind Level B1/B2
Extreme adjectives or non-gradable adjectives are words that mean “extremely + adjective” – for example, “freezing” means “extremely cold”. The weather can’t be “a little bit freezing” or “very freezing” – because the word “freezing” itself automatically means “extremely cold”.
Regular/Gradable Adjective – Extreme Adjective
angry – furious
bad – awful, terrible, horrible
big – huge, gigantic, giant, enormous
clean – spotless
cold – freezing
crowded – packed
dirty – filthy
funny – hilarious
good – wonderful, fantastic, excellent, marvellous, perfect, incredible, fabulous, brilliant, outstanding
hot – boiling
hungry – starving
interesting – fascinating
old – ancient
pretty – gorgeous
scary – terrifying, frightening, intimidating
small – tiny
surprised – stunned, amazed
tired – exhausted
ugly – hideous
important – vital, essential, critical, crucial
confident – sure
crazy – insane
cute – adorable
difficult – impossible
impressive – speactacular, fascinating, remarkable, magnificent
nice – wonderful, gorgeous
quiet – silent
silly – ridiculous
scared – terrified
scary – terrifying
strange – bizarre
valuable – priceless
Special Rules for Extreme Adjectives
No comparatives or superlatives
With regular adjectives, we can use comparatives and superlatives to compare two or more things:
- My house is big.
- My neighbor’s house is bigger than mine. (comparative)
- My parents’ house is the biggest house on the street. (superlative)
With extreme adjectives, we don’t use comparatives and superlatives: My parents’ house is enormous.
Use different adverbs with extreme adjectives.
With regular adjectives, we can use these adverbs:
- a little, a bit, slightly, fairly, rather
- very, extremely, immensely, intensely, hugely
- I’m rather hungry. / I’m very hungry.
- This room is a bit dirty. / This room is extremely dirty.
- We’re a little tired. / We’re immensely tired.
With extreme adjectives, we CANNOT use these adverbs: I’m rather starving. / I’m extremely starving.
There are other adverbs we can use to give additional emphasis to the extreme adjective:
- I’m absolutely furious.
- We’re completely exhausted.
- The movie was utterly terrifying.
The words pretty and really can be used with both regular and extreme adjectives:
- This room is pretty dirty. (regular)
- This room is pretty filthy. (extreme)
- The party is really crowded. (regular)
- The party is really packed. (extreme)
Another type of extreme adjective is called an “absolute” adjective. These are words that are either “yes or no.” For example, dead – you can’t be “a little bit dead” or “very dead” – either YES, you are dead, or NO, you’re not dead.
Here’s a list of absolute adjectives and their opposites (this list is not complete; it only shows some examples):
Absolute Adjective – Opposite
complete – incomplete
equal – unequal
essential – non-essential; extraneous
dead – alive
fatal – not fatal
first – last / final
full – empty
ideal – not ideal
impossible – possible
infinite – finite
married – single /divorced / separated / widowed
perfect – imperfect
pregnant – not pregnant
unique – not unique
universal – not universal
unknown – known
true – flase
Things to remember
- Non-gradable adjectives aren’t used in comparatives/superlatives.
- Non-gradable adjectives do not go with adverbs of degree.
- Non-gradable adjectives do go with intensifiers such as absolutely, completely, exceptionally, particularly, really, quite, totally, and utterly.
- Gradable adjectives we can use the following adverbs: a little (bit), a bit, pretty, slightly, fairly, somewhat, rather, quite, so, really, very, extremely, immensely, intensely, hugely.
- Both gradable and non-gradable adjectives can be used with pretty and really: That dog is pretty ugly. That dog is pretty hideous.
- Absolute adjectives can be quantified by the addition of almost, nearly, or virtually.
Have practice in using extreme and gradable adjectives.
Exercise 1. Complete the sentences with a suitable adjective:
starving, boiling, hot, enormous, fascinating, tiny, brilliant, exhausted, furious, essential, terrible, gorgeous, astonished, packed, filthy, freezing
- When will lunch be ready? We ‘re ______________.
- Can you close the window? I’m ____________.
- My cousins live in an ____________ house. It has got eight bedrooms, three bathrooms, two living rooms _____________.
- Susan looks _____________ in her new dress.
- We went to the cinema yesterday evening and we watched a____________ film.
- My parents will be ___________ if we are late again.
- The floor was covered in _________ bits of paper.
- Wash your hands before dinner. They are _________.
- Paul’s been working all day. He looks __________.
- The food in the hotel was ___________. We didn’t have any meal while we stayed there.
- Einstein was a ____________ scientist.
- Open the windows, please. I’m ____________.
- Computer are nowadays an ___________ part of our lives.
- We were _____________ at the extraordinary beauty of the pictures.
Exercise 2. Extreme and gradable adjectives. Choose the correct option.
- These shoes are a bit / absolutely small.
- The pasta was completely / very tasty.
- The dessert was absolutely / very delicious.
- It is not completely / very perfect, but it’s good enough.
- I’m completely / very late. I’m sorry.
- We were absolutely / very exhausted when we arrived home.
- My battery is totally / very dead.
- The book is absolutely / very amazing!
Exercise 3. Extreme and gradable adjectives. Choose the correct option.
B. a little
2. The cat was _____ dead when the vet arrived.
3. To make tea, the water should be _____ boiling.
4. Well done! Your homework is _____ excellent.
5. Don’t see that film! It’s _____ awful!
6. Hundreds of _____ terrified people ran for their lives.
7. I am reading a _____ good book.
8. Are you sure? – Yes, I’m _____ certain.
9. It’s _____ cold outside. In fact, it’s nearly freezing.
10. The country is in a _____ ridiculous situation. I laugh so much!