Difference Between Gradable and Non-gradable Adjectives

Key Difference – Gradable vs Non-gradable Adjectives
 

Adjectives describe various qualities or characteristics of nouns. Some of these qualities can vary in intensity or grade. An adjective is graded or modified by placing an adverb in front of them. Gradable adjectives are adjectives that can be modified in this manner whereas non-gradable adjectives are the adjectives that cannot be modified. This is the key difference between gradable and non-gradable adjectives.

What are Gradable Adjectives?

Gradable adjectives are adjectives that can be modified – made weaker, stronger or altered – by placing adverb(s) in front of them. These adjectives can be measured in degrees such as size, age, beauty, etc.

Given below are some adverbs that can be used to modify gradable adjectives. They are known as grading adverbs.

very, extremely,  a little, a bit, dreadfully, fairly, hugely, immensely, intensely, rather, reasonably, slightly, unusually

They can be used in front of gradable adjectives to modify the degree. For example,

She is very pretty.

He owns a fairly expensive car.

It’s a little cold in here.

She is extremely tall.

Their house is rather big.

It’s unusually hot.

Gradable adjectives can also be used with comparative and superlative forms. For example,

big, bigger, biggest

hot, hotter, hottest

Difference Between Gradable and Non-gradable Adjectives

It’s extremely cold.

What are Non-gradable Adjectives?

Non-gradable adjectives are the adjectives that cannot be modified by adverbs. They describe qualities that are completely present or completely absent. They cannot also be used with comparative and superlative forms. Some examples of non-gradable adjectives include impossible, dead, nuclear, electronic, southern, western, freezing, boiling, etc.

Are you sure he is dead?

The use of electronic devices is banned.

He wore a red t-shirt.

They entered through the southern gate.

Non-gradable adjectives are sometimes used with non-grading adverbs such as absolutely and completely to emphasize the quality.

For example,

This is completely impossible.

The cake was absolutely delicious.

Some adjectives, however, can be used as both gradable and non-gradable adjectives. For example,

Her father is very old.

This is her old boyfriend.

They united to defeat their common enemy.

This pattern is rather common, isn’t it?

Key Difference - Gradable vs Non-gradable Adjectives

A pot of boiling water

What is the difference between Gradable and Non-gradable Adjectives?

Modification:

Gradable adjectives can be modified by placing adverbs in front of them.

Non-gradable adjectives cannot be modified by placing adverbs in front of them.

Qualities:

Gradable adjectives describe qualities that can be measured in degrees such as age and size.

Non-gradable adjectives describe qualities that are completely present or completely absent.

Adverbs:

Gradable adjectives can be used with grading adverbs.

Non-gradable adjectives can be used with non-grading adverbs.

Comparative and Superlative Forms:

Gradable adjectives can be turned into comparative and superlative forms.

Non-gradable adjectives cannot be turned into comparative and superlative forms.

 Image Courtesy:
“Boiling Water” by Scott Akerman (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr
 “RUSSIA-COLD-WEATHER” by Diariocritico de Venezuela (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr