Saturday, March 26, 2011

Lesson on intensifiers

I've noticed that a few people who have googled "intensifiers" have landed up on a post I wrote some time ago about "ridiculously". And I imagine they've felt rather disappointed, as it didn't say much about other intensifiers, just defended the use of ridiculously.
So here, to make amends, is the real McCoy, a lesson on intensifiers.
  • The basics - gradable and non-gradable adjectives
  • Collocations - adverbs with adjectives
  • Collocations - adverbs with verbs
  • Collocations - adjectives with nouns
  • Intensifying with so and such
  • Intensifying with well

When I say a lesson, you're the one who does all the work, of course. As usual, I don't believe in handing it to you on a plate. You can check your answers as you go along, but try keeping at it till you get them right. If you get stuck, or you just want some quick answers, you can use the buttons at the bottom of the page to show the correct answers.
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. This post is mainly how certain adverbs collocate with other adjectives, verbs and nouns. If you are more interested in looking at the differences between gradable and ungradable adjectives, there is a new post here.

1. The Basics

First of all we need to remind ourselves about gradable and non-gradable adjectives.
Click and Drop where you see this symbol ? mouse over it for instructions

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   ·   tired
  • Gradable - can be graded or given different degrees on a sliding scale.
    For example:
  • Non-gradable - can be divided into two types:
    • Strong or Extreme adjectives - strong or extreme equivalents of gradable adjectives.
      For example:
    • Absolute adjectives- they are either true or not true, there is no middle ground.
      For example:

Exercise 1b - 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. Try using them with the adjectives from Ex 1a and see if they sound OK. 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

Exercise 1c - Gradable, strong or absolute?

Decide which category these adjectives fit into, using the selectors. Try putting very or absolutely before them.
1. surprised
2. furious
3. essential
4. astounded
5. friendly
6. impossible
7. perfect
8. ridiculous
9. important
10. awful
11. popular
12. overjoyed
I'm not going to go into any more detail about gradable and non-gradable. As advanced students you should be pretty familiar with the idea. But I've written a new post here, and there are some links below if you need more help with them.
Note - The word really is a very useful word in informal English for two reasons:
  1. As you can use it with both gradable and non-gradable adjectives, you don't have to worry about the grammar side of things.
  2. 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 wonder why?
3.He made it abundantly that he was not satisfied.
4.We are supremely of winning this contract.
5.It was totally of him to do that. Whatever got into him?
6.She seemed genuinely when they announced her award.
7.The music from next door was excruciatingly last night.
8.Their new hi-fi system was staggeringly . I hope it's worth it.
9.The train journey was unbearably . My legs were agony.
10.I'm immensely for all you've done for us.
11.We're tremendously about our trip to India next month.
12.This last-minute deal is ludicrously . What's the catch?

Exercise 2b - A bit harder. Choose the best adverb to fit. Some might go with more than one question. ?

1. I was disappointed with my exam result.
bitterly - perfectly - purely
2. They've just bought a new car.
purely - thoroughly - brand
3. She's gifted for her age.
bitterly - extraordinarily - thoroughly
4. Her wedding dress was expensive.
purely - brand - ridiculously
5. It's a hypothetical question.
ridiculously - purely - thoroughly
6. It's cold outside.
purely - utterly - bitterly
7. You should be ashamed of yourself. You're an utter prat!
bitterly - purely - thoroughly
8. I'm really sorry. It was accidental.
thoroughly - extraordinarily - purely
9. She wears high heels.
ridiculously - perfectly - thoroughly
10. I'd never been so happy in all my life.
blissfully - purely - thoroughly
11. He couldn't be more wrong.
utterly - ridiculously - bitterly
12. It was a(n) enjoyable trip.
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 right there, mate. (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.
10.Both sisters are beautiful.

Exercise 2d - And even more ?

insanely   ·   impossibly   ·   simply   ·   exceedingly   ·   strikingly   ·   perfectly   ·   horrendously   ·   meticulously   ·   ravenously   ·   stunningly   ·  
1.The canyon looks beautiful at dawn.
2.I'm hungry. I could eat a horse.
3.She is like her mother.
4.That sounds like a(n) good idea!
5.This chocolate cake is delicious.
6.I got drunk last night.
7.She's capable of looking after herself.
8.Mr. Kipling makes good cakes. (TV ad)
9.Her flat is always clean.
10.He's good-looking.
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 part-check.

delightfully   ·   perfectly
inexpressibly   ·   purely
unspeakably   ·   infinitely
incredibly   ·   unutterably
indescribably   ·   vastly
superior   ·   awful   ·   talented
sad   ·   coincidental   ·   filthy
eccentric   ·   better
rude   ·   beautiful
1. The sunset was so I can hardly find the words.
2. That actor is . He's sure to get an Oscar.
3. Their house was . Do they never clean it?
4. She was to me on the phone.
5. The film is . It's a real tear-jerker.
6. This solution is than the other one we tried.
7. This hotel is to the last one we stayed in.
8. He has a(n) sense of humour.
9. The food was . I'll never eat there again.
10. Our meeting like this is . 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, 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. The suspect denied robbing the bank.
honestly - readily - categorically
2. I regret having said that to you.
deeply - quite - enthusiastically
3. They support their local team.
honestly - enthusiastically - categorically
4. I appreciate your position, but ...
deeply - fully - strongly
5. I believe that I took the right course.
utterly - positively - honestly
6. They encourage their employees to take up a sport.
positively - sincerely - utterly
7. I hope I am wrong about this.
strongly - sincerely - deeply
8. We recommend that you think your decision over.
quite - strongly - utterly
9. They reject all the accusations made against them.
totally - deeply - enthusiastically
10. This screw refuses to budge (move).
readily - strongly - utterly
11. I admit that I'm rather fond of bitter chocolate.
sincerely - readily - strongly
12. Don't worry, I understand your point of view.
categorically - deeply - quite

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
10. Taking a risk like that was ............ madness. (not )
utter - arrant - 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!
10.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   ·   true   ·   happening   ·  
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 person. Much more of a night owl.
4.He thinks I'll go out with him. Well, that's so not .
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. (Thanks to the person in Poland who googled that one)

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 'ultra-informal' 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   ·   aware   ·   annoyed   ·   bad   ·   afford
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 her up. (UK informal)
7.We were well chuffed () when our team won. (UK informal)
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)
10.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!
Personally I like to keep it for those occasions when I really need it.
For some choice examples of its use from British TV programmes, see links below .

Answers to the exercises - Click on a button and return to the exercise.

Printer friendly post

You can make a teacher copy with answers by clicking on 'Show All'. Make sure you 'Clear All' before printing student copies. I strongly recommend doing a Print Preview first. You might want to change your margins and you probably won't want to print every page.

Recommended grammar book

Much of the grammar in this lesson is based on Grammar and Vocabulary for Cambridge Advanced and Proficiency (Longman), which I highly recommend.

Related posts

Links - Gradable / non-gradable adjectives

Links - Intensifiers

Links - Miscellaneous

Links - Videos


  1. Thanks for sharing, helped me a lot to prepare some exercises for a class.

  2. WOW! I think I've struck gold with you guys!!

  3. Hi, My name is George Rabadi. I teach English in Spain.
    It is the first time I come across your page. Excellent work,good training and reference materials. Thank you.