- Non-gradable adjectives express qualities that cannot be intensified by using degree adverbs such as ‘very’, e.g. *‘very male’.
Notes The qualities expressed by non-gradable adjectives tend to be absolute, and they often fall into pairs, e.g. ‘male/female’, ‘married/single’, ‘black/white’, ‘true/false’. When such adjectives are modified by degree adverbs like ‘very’, the effect is sometimes to give emphasis rather than to express the degree of the characteristic expressed, e.g. ‘That’s very true’, ‘It was a very black day’. Alternatively, the nature of the adjective is changed: compare ‘I’m Scottish’ (= nationality) with ‘I’m very Scottish’ (= I have many Scottish characteristics).
FRC, I would like to ask you a question from a point of ESL learner. How can you distinguish from gradable to ungradable/non-gradable ajectives? For me, 'fascinating' is a hard one for me to categorize this as non-gradable adjective. There are some adjectives that I can think of now, would you please check if it is correct.
non-gradable: perfect/ fabulous/ fantastic/ awesome/ wonderful/ perfect
Can you provide some nore commonly used adjectives if there is any? Thank you.
Sources from here
Absolute terms are words that supposedly
cannot be compared, as by more
, or used with an intensive modifier, such as very
. The terms identified in many handbooks as absolute include absolute
itself and others such as chief, complete, perfect, prime
. Language comentators also like to list terms from mathematics as absolutes: circular, equal, parallel, perpendicular
, and so on.
Of course, many adjectives cannot normally be compared or intensified. Adjectives from technical fields or with very narrow meanings often fall in this group. Think of biological, catabolic, macroeconomic, millenial,on-line, retroactive, ultraviolet
. You just do not encounter statements like These cells are more somatic
or Our database is so on-line
. But you do come across remarks such as He wanted to make his record collection more complete
and You can improve the sketch by making the lines more perpendicular.
People object to these constructions because they seem to violate the categories of logic. Something is either complete or it isn't. Lines are either perpendicular or they aren't. There can be no in-between. The mistake here is to confuse pure logic or a mathematical ideal with the working approximations that distinguish the ordinary use of language. Certainly, we all have occasion to use words according to strict logic. But we also think in terms of a scale or spectrum, rather than in distinct, either/or categories. Thus, we may think of a statement as either true or false according to rigorous tests of logic, but we all know that there are degrees of truthfulness and falsehood. Similarly, there may be degrees of completeness to a record collection, and some lines may be more perpendicular - that is, they may more nearly approximate mathematical perpendicularity - than other lines: Is that picture frame more horizontal now, or have I made it even less? She has some of the most unique credentials I have ever seen on a resume.
Such examples are not less logical than their stricter counterparts. They simply represent a different way of using language to discuss a subject.
Certain absolute terms, such as parallel, perfect,
, have become enshrined in the lore of writing handbooks and may provoke a negative response when modified by degree. These words are treated in more detail at their entries under Word Choice. (from The American Heritage Book of English Usage)