By: Teacher Ellen

When can we add modifiers like ‘very’, ‘extremely’, and ‘a little bit’ to adjectives? It depends on whether the adjective is non-gradable or gradable. 

Non-gradable Adjectives

Do not use modifiers with non-gradable adjectives.

An adjective is non-gradable if it:

(a) is binary (0 or 1, All or nothing)

For example, dead and man-made are binary. The bird cannot be a little bit dead. It is either dead, or it’s not.

She picked the dead bird up.

There is nothing in between.

The lake was either man-made, or it wasn’t.

One of the main of my hometown is a man-made lake in the south.

(b) contains ‘very’ within its meaning

  • Freezing means very cold.
  • Delighted means very happy. 
  • Exhausted means very tired.

If you use ‘very’ before these words, it is equivalent to saying, “I’m very very happy,” which is unnecessary repetition. Likewise, “She’s a little bit very cold” doesn’t make sense.

Gradable Adjectives

All other adjectives are gradable and can be modified.

You can use modifiers like ‘very’, ‘ a bit , and ‘extremely’.

  • She is sad.    
  •   She is really sad.    
  •   She is not very sad.

  • She is happy.    
  •   She is really happy.    
  •   She is not very happy.

  • John is tall.    
  • John is unbelievably tall.    
  • John is pretty tall.