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Gradable and nongradable . . .

Posted by R. Berg on March 17, 2003

In Reply to: Gradable and non-gradable adjectival participles posted by TheFallen on March 17, 2003

: : : : : I'd like to know how to discover when a adjective or adverb is gradable or non-gradable, without having to know a large list by heart. Can anybody help me?
: : : : : Thanks.

: : : : I don't understand the question. Do you mean gradable as in degrees -- "pretty, prettier, prettiest"? Or non-gradable meaning an absolute --"unique"? Something is unique or it's not.

: : : Here's what I found:

: : : "Adjectives can be divided into gradable and non-gradable (or classifying) adjectives. Gradable adjectives can be compared (happy-happier-happiest, good-better-best, beautiful-more beautiful-most beautiful) and modified with the intensifying word very. Non-gradable adjectives do not have comparative or superlative forms nor are they intensified: a financial plan, an electric train, semantic criteria."

: : : Another good site is:
: : :
: : :

: : Look! For an English native the gradability can possibly be considered easy, but not for other origin peoples, for instance the Latins's origin.
: : To realize how difficult it is, take a glance at the site about gradable and ungradable adjecitves modifiers on the site:
: : Thanks, HCD

: Your question doesn't actually seem to be about adjectives in general. I took a look at that site, and the crucial point they're making is about present and past participles when used adjectivally - are they gradable or not? The conclusion seems to be that participles originating from an intransitive verb root are non-gradable, as are transitive-based participles where there's an implied causal agent.

: I'm not sure whether I buy into all that or not, but it's probably a good rule of thumb. There are of course exceptions, as there are to so many grammatical rules - it is correct English to describe someone as "having a rather sunken face".

HCD, it's easier to learn English by being exposed to large amounts of it than to learn it from grammar books that assign words to categories that have names. I grew up speaking English. I went to school in the US. I had never heard of "gradable" and "nongradable" before.

It seems that a gradable adjective is one that refers to some quality that there can be more or less of. "Pretty"--one painting can be prettier than another. You shouldn't have to memorize lists of adjectives. What matters is the meaning of the word. Just translate the English adjective into your own language and decide whether it means something that can be quantified.