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    • Join Date: Aug 2005
    • Posts: 250

    Too emphatic an emphasis?

    Hi all,

    This is my first posting so I hope I am directing my question to the right people.

    My question is regarding the adjective "unique" which suggests "one of a kind", etc.

    I often hear it modified and was wondering if it is superfluous or even flat out incorrect to have the word "unique" preceded by "very" or "quite" etc.:

    "He has a very unique narrative style".

    It's always the minor details ...

    Anyway, thanks!


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    English Teacher
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    • Join Date: May 2005
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    Re: Too emphatic an emphasis?

    Dear Bill,

    The rule is that non-gradable adjectives like unique cannot accept modifiers. However, that doesn't mean that educated, erudite native English speakers don't do it often. Everyone has a unique narrative style, but the phrase very unique conveys to me a meaning that is distinctly different from plain unique.

    If something is nearly invisible or almost impossible it means it is visible or possible. Yet we say that the bird's nest was nearly invisible in the tree top, and it is almost impossible to go downtown without running into a traffic jam and these things make perfect sense to us.

    My advice would be to avoid using modifiers with non-gradable adjectives unless it is absolutely unavoidable (as opposed to just plain unavoidable).

    Remember the famous words of Homer (Simpson, that is) "You are unique...just like everyone else."

    • Join Date: Aug 2005
    • Posts: 250

    Re: Too emphatic an emphasis?

    Thanks for clearing that up for me. I figured it was just too demonstrative, like saying some dishes are "extremely delicious".

  2. Casiopea's Avatar

    • Join Date: Sep 2003
    • Posts: 12,970

    Re: Too emphatic an emphasis?

    In addition,
    Technically, non-gradable adjectives cannot be modified in this way, because they denote absolutes, e.g. *‘more unique’; however, in informal speech absolutes are sometimes graded for emphasis. Source:


    [E]xamples such as the Sherlock Holmes instance, (" . . . some very unique features") indicates that when suitably modified, the phrases appears to be more acceptable. A true corpus-based study might be able to reveal the exact conditions, which allow it to be construed as "grammatical".

    On the other hand the number of collocates of "very unique" is one magnitude larger in the total Google corpus (See Table 4) than in any of the domains we have investigated, indicating that this usage is indeed being spurned by current educated users.

    • Join Date: Aug 2005
    • Posts: 250

    Re: Too emphatic an emphasis?

    Thanks again for the info. I had no idea it could be qualified in so many ways - I thought the modifier just indicated "sloppy" language usage! Amazing what you find out when you just take the time to ask!

    What a great forum this is - this was my first posting and I feel confident I'm asking the proper group of people for advice and examples.


  3. Casiopea's Avatar

    • Join Date: Sep 2003
    • Posts: 12,970

    Re: Too emphatic an emphasis?


    You're most welcome.

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