Adverbs of Degree
What are adverbs of degree?
Adverbs of degree are used to indicate the intensity, degree, or extent of the verb, adjective, or adverb they are modifying. They always appear before the adjective, verb, or other adverb they describe (except for the adverb enough, which we’ll look at further on.)
Degrees of strength
Adverbs of degree can be mild, medium, strong, or absolute in how they describe the intensity, degree, or extent of the word they modify.
Adverbs that are mild, medium, or strong are known as grading adverbs; those that describe an absolute state or degree are known as non-grading adverbs. Sometimes a grading adverb of degree can change in strength depending on the verb, adverb, or adjective it describes. Non-grading adverbs, on the other hand, always describe absolute states or degrees.
Here are some examples of adverbs of degree:
- “He undoubtedly stole the money.” (Absolute; non-grading)
- “He is definitely coming to the party.” (Absolute; non-grading)
- “It’s absolutely freezing outside.” (Absolute; non-grading)
- “She is very sorry for her bad behavior.” (Strong; grading)
- “I really love reading good books.” (Strong; grading)
- “Are you quite certain?” (Absolute—quite is a grading adverb, but it can describe absolute states when paired with non-gradable adjectives, which we will look at below.)
- “She’s quite mad.” (Strong)
- “I quite like Indian food.” (Medium)
- “My camera was pretty expensive.” (Medium)
- “It’s a bit cold outside.” (Medium or mild, depending on the speaker’s emphasis.)
- “It will take a bit longer to complete.” (Mild)
- “We were somewhat surprised.” (Mild)
Adverbs of degree with gradable vs. non-gradable adjectives
Gradable adjectives are those that can have measurable levels of degree or intensity. Non-gradable adjectives, on the other hand, describe an extreme or absolute state. Here are some examples of gradable versus non-gradable adjectives:
Because non-gradable adjectives describe an absolute state, they can generally only be modified by non-grading adverbs of degree. These serve to emphasize the extreme nature of the adjective. Likewise, gradable adjectives are generally only paired with grading adverbs of degree. For example, the following would be incorrect:
Non-grading adverb with gradable adjective
Grading adverb with non-gradable adjective
a bit tiny
However, we can see how they become correct if we reverse the adverbs of degree:
Grading adverb with gradable adjective
Non-grading adverb with non-gradable adjective
a bit small
There are exceptions to this rule, however: the adverbs really, fairly, pretty, and quite can all be used with both gradable and non-gradable adjectives:
Note that in informal speech or writing, many grammar rules are often ignored, misused, or misunderstood, so you may come across non-grading adverbs used with gradable adjectives (e.g., “utterly surprised,” “absolutely interested”) or grading adverbs used with non-gradable adjectives (e.g., “extremely certain,” “very tiny”). However, other than the exceptions listed above, this usage should be avoided, especially in formal or professional writing.
Enough as an adverb of degree
The word enough can be used as another adverb of degree, meaning “sufficiently or to a satisfactory amount or degree,” “very, fully, or quite,” or “tolerably.” Unlike other adverbs of degree, though, enough can only modify adverbs and adjectives, and it always comes after the word it is describing in a sentence. For example:
- “He didn’t finish the exam quickly enough.”
- “I’ll be happy enough to be back home.”
- “The play was interesting enough, but I wouldn’t go see it again.”
Enough as an adjective
If enough appears before a noun that it modifies, then it is functioning as a determiner (a type of adjective) meaning “adequate or sufficient to meet a need or desire,” as in “I have had enough food, thanks!”
Enough as a pronoun
It may also seem like enough can be used as an adverb to describe verbs, as in, “I’ve had enough,” or, “You’ve studied enough,” but be careful: In such instances, enough is actually functioning as an indefinite pronoun, meaning “an adequate or sufficient amount (of something).” Enough cannot modify verbs.
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