Gradable and Ungradable Adjectives for intermediate learners

'Gradable' means being able to put something into different grades. So, What are the differences between gradable and ungradable adjectives?

"Gradable and Ungradable Adjectives" in the English Grammar

What Are Gradable and Ungradable Adjectives?

In English, adjectives are divided into two groups based on whether they can be measured or not. Adjectives that can be measured are called gradable adjectives and those that cannot be measured are called ungradable adjectives.

Gradable Adjectives

Gradable adjectives are those that can be measured. In other words, they have a point on a scale. 'Hot' and 'cold' are adjectives that can be measured. We can say 'a little cold', 'cold', or 'extremely cold'. Take a look at the following examples:

The weather is a little cold right now.

It is extremely hot in this room.

Modifying Gradable Adjectives

We can use certain adverbs to strengthen or weaken a gradable adjective. Take a look at the list below:

  • Very
  • Extremely
  • Rather
  • Quite
  • Pretty

Now let us see some examples:

It is pretty cold in the evening here.

I'm quite tired after a long day at work.


It is useful to know that among the adverbs mentioned, 'very' is the most commonly used adverb with gradable adjectives. Let us study the following examples carefully:

It is very hot in summer.

This car is very expensive.

Ungradable Adjectives

Unlike gradable adjectives, ungradable adjectives cannot be measured. They are either absolute (dead), extreme (boiling), or classifying (nuclear) adjectives. Take a look at the following examples:

Be careful when you want to pour the boiling water in the cup.

As you can see, we cannot say 'a little boiling', or 'very boiling' because boiling is a fixed state.

As I was walking along the pavement, I came across a dead woman.

Please note that someone cannot be 'a little dead' or 'very dead'.

Modifying Ungradable Adjectives

There are some non-grading adverbs that we can use with ungradable adjectives to add extra meaning to them. Take a look at the list below:

  • Absolutely
  • Utterly
  • Completely
  • Almost
  • Nearly

Make sure you study the following examples carefully:

She was totally dead when I saw her.

He was absolutely sure of himself the other day.

Normally, ungradable adjectives cannot be made weaker or stronger. Study the following examples carefully:

This is a very enormous house. → This is an enormous house.

My grades are slightly excellent. → My grades are excellent.


Remember that not all adverbs can be used with all adjectives. You have to pay attention to their collocations.


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