Adjectives describe qualities (characteristics) of nouns. Some qualities can vary in intensity or "grade", for example:

  • rather hot, hot, very hot; hot, hotter, the hottest

The adjective hot is gradable.

Other qualities cannot vary in intensity or grade because they are:

  • extremes (for example: freezing)
  • absolutes (for example: dead)
  • classifying (for example: nuclear)

The adjectives freezing, dead and nuclear are non-gradable.

Gradable Adjectives

A gradable adjective can be used with "grading adverbs" that vary the adjective's grade or intensity. Look at these examples:

grading adverbs
a little, dreadfully, extremely, fairly, hugely, immensely, intensely, rather, reasonably, slightly, unusually, very
+gradable adjectives
angry, big, busy, clever, cold, deep, fast, friendly, good, happy, high, hot, important, long, popular, rich, strong, tall, warm, weak, young
"Gradable adjectives" are also called "qualitative adjectives". "Grading adverbs" are also called "submodifiers".

A gradable adjective can also have comparative and superlative forms:

  • big, bigger, the biggest
  • hot, hotter, the hottest
  • important, more important, the most important

Look at these example sentences:

  • My teacher was¬†very happy¬†with my homework.
  • That website is¬†reasonably popular. But this one is¬†more popular.
  • He said that France was¬†a little cold¬†and Denmark was¬†rather cold. But Sweden was¬†the coldest.

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