Lesson on intensifiers

1. The basics - gradable and non-gradable adjectives
2. Collocations - adverbs with adjectives
3. Collocations - adverbs with verbs
4. Collocations - adjectives with nouns
5. Intensifying with so and such
6. Intensifying with well
When people talk about intensifiers, they are usually referring to adverbs which modify
adjectives. This is not the only use of intensifiers, but it's what we will look at first.
1. The Basics
First of all we need to remind ourselves about gradable and non-gradable adjectives.

Exercise 1a - Gradable and non-gradable ?
Look at the descriptions of different types of adjective and fill in the examples from the box.
exhausted · unique
· dull · sole ·

·

tired ·

ecstatic

Gradable- can be graded or given different degrees on a sliding scale.
For example: ________________________

________________________

Non-gradable - can be divided into two types
Extreme adjectives - extreme equivalents of
gradable adjectives.

Absolute adjectives- they are either true or
not true, there is no middle ground.

For example: ________________________

For example: ________________________

________________________

________________________

Exercise 1b - Gradable, extreme or absolute?
Decide which category these adjectives fit into, using the selectors.
1
.

surprised

2
.

furious

3
.

essential

4
.

astounde
d

7.
8.
9.
1
0.

perfect
ridiculous
important
awful

5
.

friendly

1
1.

popular

6
.

impossibl
e

1
2.

overjoyed

Exercise 1c - Basic intensifiers (one or two perhaps not quite so basic) ?
quite

·

very

·

totally

·

really

·

extremely

·

pretty

·

absolutely

Which of these words can be used with the following. Enter the pairs in the same order as
they are in the box:
1 gradable only
.

.................................

.................................

2 non-gradable only .................................
.

.................................

3 gradable and non-gradable with the same
. meaning ................................. .................................
4 gradable and non-gradable with a different
. meaning ................................. .................................
Note - The word "really" is a very useful word in informal English for two reasons:
As you can use it with both gradable and non-gradable adjectives, you don't have to worry
about the grammar side of things.
It has more emotional content than very. Look at these sentences:
Thanks for the party, I had a very good time.
Thanks for the party, I had a really good time.
The first is polite enough, but the second sounds as though you really mean it. As if it came
from the heart.
In formal writing, however, it is best to try and find more specific intensifiers.
2. Collocations - Intensifying adverbs modifying adjectives
Exercise 2a - Here's a relatively easy exercise as a warm-up. Fill in the adjectives ?
idiotic · excited · obvious · loud · clear · long · surprised · cheap
grateful · expensive · absent · confident
1.

It was patently ................................. to everyone that he
wouldn't get the job.

2.

She was conspicuously ................................. from the meeting. I

3.

wonder why?
He made it abundantly .................................

4.
5.

satisfied.
We are supremely ................................. of winning this contract.
It was totally ................................. of him to do that. Whatever

6.

got into him?
She seemed genuinely ................................. when they

7.

announced her award.
The music from next door was excruciatingly .................................

8.

last night.
Their new hi-fi system was staggeringly .................................

9.

hope it's worth it.
The train journey was unbearably .................................

1

were agony.
I'm immensely .................................

0.
1

We're tremendously ................................. about our trip to India

1.
1

next month.
This last-minute deal is ludicrously ................................. .

2.

What's the catch?

that he was not

.I

. My legs

for all you've done for us.

Exercise 2b - A bit harder. Choose the best adverb to fit. Some might go with more
than one question ?
I was ................................. disappointed with my exam result.
bitterly - perfectly 1.
purely
2.

They've just bought a................................. new car.

3.

She's ................................. gifted for her age.

4.

Her wedding dress was ................................. expensive.

5.

It's a .................................

6.

It's .................................

7.

You should be................................. ashamed of yourself. You're an utter prat!
- purely - thoroughly

8.

I'm really sorry. It was .................................
- purely

bitterly - extraordinarily - thoroughly

hypothetical question.
cold outside.

purely - thoroughly - brand

purely - brand - ridiculously

ridiculously - purely - thoroughly

purely - utterly - bitterly

accidental.

bitterly

thoroughly - extraordinarily

9.

She wears .................................

high heels.

1
0.

I'd never been so .................................
thoroughly

1
1.

He couldn't be more .................................

1
2.

It was a(n) .................................

ridiculously - perfectly - thoroughly

happy in all my life. blissfully - purely -

wrong.

enjoyable trip.

utterly - ridiculously - bitterly

thoroughly - utterly - perfectly

Exercise 2c - And some more ?
In the next two exercises, some adverbs will go with more than one adjective, whereas others
will only go with one. You will have to work it out by process of elimination. In this exercise,
for example, more than one adverb could go with 'rude' in Q2. But the correct answer will only
go here, and nowhere else.
absolutely · plain · totally · downright · incredibly
utterly · extortionately · perfectly · dead · ravishingly
1.

You look ................................. ridiculous in that
hat.

2.

He was ................................. rude to me at the
party.

3.

Don't say that! That's just .................................
stupid.

4.

You're .................................
(informal)

5.

Well sorry, but I think you're .................................
wrong.

6.

Baby seals look so .................................
defenceless, don't they?

7.

Don't worry, that's .................................
understandable.

8.

She's ................................. talented, that girl.

9.

The prices in that place are .................................
high.

1
0.

Both sisters are .................................

right there, mate.

beautiful.

Exercise 2d - And even more ?
insanely · impossibly · simply · exceedingly · strikingly · perfectly
· horrendously · meticulously · ravenously · stunningly ·
1.

The canyon looks .................................

2.

beautiful at dawn.
I'm ................................. hungry. I could eat a

3.
4.

horse.
She is ................................. like her mother.
That sounds like a(n) .................................

5.

good idea!
This chocolate cake is .................................

6.
7.

delicious.
I got ................................. drunk last night.
She's ................................. capable of looking

8.

after herself.
Mr. Kipling makes ................................. good

9.
1

cakes. (TV ad)
Her flat is always ................................. clean.
He's ................................. good-looking.

0.
As you saw in that last exercise, we often wildly exaggerate (another collocation!) when
using intensifiers, to strengthen the meaning of a word. We also use negative expressions.
The next exercise contains some more of these.
Exercise 2e - Getting fiendishly difficult. Choose an adverb from the left hand box
and an adjective from the right hand box?
Tip - Fit all the adjectives in first, before you worry about the adverbs. You can then do a partcheck.

superior · awful · talented
sad · coincidental · filthy
eccentric · better
rude · beautiful

1.

The sunset was so .................................

2.

hardly find the words.
That actor is .................................

3.

to get an Oscar.
Their house was .................................

4.

they never clean it?
She was .................................

5.

phone.
The film is .................................

6.

tear-jerker.
This solution is .................................

delightfully · perfectly ·
inexpressibly · purely ·
unspeakably · infinitely
incredibly · unutterably
indescribably · vastly

.................................

.................................

. He's sure

.................................

.................................
.................................

I can

.

Do

to me on the
. It's a real

.................................

than the

7.

other one we tried.
This hotel is .................................

.................................

8.

one we stayed in.
He has a(n) .................................

.................................

9.

humour.
The food was .................................

1
0.

.................................

eat there again.
Our meeting like this is .................................

to the last
sense of
. I'll never

.................................

.

I didn't plan it at all.

3. Collocations - Intensifying adverbs modifying verbs
If you're not sure about these adverbs, you could have a look at About.com, where there is a
description of the meaning of each one. There is a link below.
Exercise 3 - Choose the best adverb to modify the verb. ?
1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

8.

The suspect .................................

denied robbing the bank. honestly - readily -

categorically

I .................................

regret having said that to you. deeply - quite -

enthusiastically

They .................................

support their local team. honestly - enthusiastically -

categorically

I .................................

appreciate your position, but ... deeply - fully - strongly

I .................................

believe that I took the right course. utterly - positively -

honestly

They .................................

encourage their employees to take up a sport.

positively - sincerely - utterly

I .................................

We .................................
strongly - utterly

hope I am wrong about this. strongly - sincerely - deeply

recommend that you think your decision over. quite -

9.

They .................................

reject all the accusations made against them. totally -

deeply - enthusiastically

1

This screw .................................

0.

utterly

1

I .................................

1.

readily - strongly

1

Don't worry, I .................................

2.

deeply - quite

refuses to budge (move). readily - strongly -

admit that I'm rather fond of bitter chocolate. sincerely -

understand your point of view. categorically -

4. Collocations - Intensifying adjectives modifying nouns
Exercise 4 - In each question two adjectives collocate with the noun. Click on the adjective
which does not go with the noun, or goes least well with it ?
1.

That film was just a lot of ............ nonsense. (not ................................. arrant - utter comprehensive

2.

We have ............ confidence in your abilities. (not .................................) pure - complete unshakeable

3.

He showed ............ skill in the way he handled the car. (not ................................)
consummate - unadulterated - faultless

4.

Don't trust her. She's a(n) ............ liar. (not .................................) perfect - inveterate compulsive

5.

The holiday was a(n) ............ disaster. (not ................................) unmitigated - total perfect

6.

It was an act of ............ stupidity. (not ................................) sheer - crass - compulsive

7.

She has ............ faith in her abilities. (not .................................) complete - unshakeable
- pure

8.

It was by ............ luck that he landed that job. (not ................................. ) rank - pure sheer

9.

The race was won by a ............ outsider. (not .................................) rank - sheer complete

1

Taking a risk like that was ............ madness. (not ................................. ) utter - arrant -

0.

sheer

5. Using so and such as intensifiers
Exercise 5a - Fill in the gaps ?
so

·

so much

·

such a

·

many

·

a lot of

·

such

1.

We were ............................. disappointed to miss ............................. an important
event.

2.

It was ............................. a lovely day yesterday, and the sun
was ............................. hot.

3.

There were such ............................. people there that we lost count.

4.

You have ............................. lovely children, and they're ............................. polite.

5.

Their house must have cost ............................. lot. It's enormous.

6.

That is just ............................. like him to do that. He's ............................. waster.

7.

We haven't seen you for ............................. long. - I know, it's
been ............................. ages.

8.

He's ............................. a lucky guy that she loves him ..............................

9.

He's ............................. rude person. - You're ............................. right there!

1
0.

We're ............................. pleased that so ............................. people came on
............................. wet day.

5b The so not construction
This expression seems to have originated with Californian 'Valley Girls' (see below) in the '80s,
and has been made popular through films and TV. It is used especially, I think, by young
women. Some people absolutely hate it, but I rather like it myself. If you use it, keep it for
talking informally to young friends. In many cases 'so' can be (I think; I'm not an expert)
replaced by 'totally' in the same style of speaking - She's totally not into him.
Exercise 5b - Choose the best word to fill the gap ?
going
·

·

over

·

worth it

·

fair

·

my type

·

morning

1 It's so not ............................. that I stole your boyfriend.
.
2 She's got all that money and good looks too. It's so not
. ..............................
3 I'm so not a v............................. person. Much more of a
. night owl.
4 He thinks I'll go out with him. Well, that's so not
. ..............................

·

true

·

happening

5 I'm so not ............................. to their boring drinks party.
.
6 'Cause I'm so not ............................. you. (song by Simply
. Red)
7 He is so not .............................. No way am I going out with
. him.
8 Forget him. He's so not ..............................
.

Similar expressions are also used with so
That dress she's wearing is so last year.
She is so over him. At least that's what she says.
I am so through with you.
6. Using well as an intensifier
The word well is often used for emphasis or as an intensifier. The first five examples are quite
standard English. The next three are informal, and the last two, which I've marked as 'ultrainformal' are often associated with a particular British stereotype of the sort of young person
who leaves school at 16. This use really annoys some British adults, so is best avoided (unless
you're feeling provocative). I've put them in here for fun and out of pure linguistic interest (or
sheer bloody-mindedness perhaps).
Exercise 6 - Choose the best word to fill the gap ?

able

·

too

·

pleased

·

nice · in · worth
bad · afford

·

aware

1.

This book is well .............................. reading. You should give it a
shot.

2.

We were well .............................. of what might happen.

3.

She knew only .............................. well that she'd made the wrong
decision.

4.

Why does he drive that old banger? He could well ..............................
a new car.

5.

Don't worry about him. He's well .............................. to take care of
himself.

6.

She was well .............................. with him when he stood here up.
(UK informal)

7.

We were well chuffed (..............................) when our team won. (UK
informal)

·

annoyed

·

8.

Did you see the way she smiled at him? He's well ..............................
there. (informal)

9.

Working in a burger bar! That's well ..............................! (UK ultra
informal)

1
0.

That was a well .............................. dress she was wearing. (UK ultra
informal)

7. The F-word - The ultimate intensifier?
Watching Hollywood movies or comedies on BBC3, you could be forgiven for thinking that
fucking was the most commonly used intensifier of all. But you need to be careful when and
how you use it. It's not likely to shock many people, but there are still occasions when it's not
really considered acceptable. It's not used on television, for example, before 9pm.
The second consideration is that if you don't know how to use it properly, you could just end
up sounding stupid.
And lastly, when used too often or inappropriately, it can make people look uneducated, or at
best unimaginative,
and I'm talking here mainly of native speakers. This is particularly true when it is used as a
catch-all adjective, with no
emphasising or intensifying function. A good example here is its use in comments on YouTube
which often make the
commenters look like total morons (another collocation). So be careful!