In English grammar, an absolute adjective is an adjective, such as supreme or infinite, with a meaning that is generally not capable of being intensified or compared. Also known as an incomparable, ultimate, or absolute modifier.

the list

I saw a list depends on this matter such as person can’t be more or less dead. In the same way, a sphere can’t be more or less round.

Thereby, I found,on the same list, a lot of words which can be graded, such as furious, obvious, huge, tiny, by adding an adverbs like extremely, too, very.

  • Extremely furious, he stormed my house sith a gun, trying to shoot everyone sitting over there.

What is your explanation for this condition, that why we couldn’t use adverbs with adjectives, huge, furious, tiny...etc?

  • What "condition" are you referring to? That someone included gradable words in a list of supposed non-gradables? Dec 18 '17 at 12:36
  • Why couldn’t we use adverbs to grade the levels of these adjectives, furious, huge..etc? @Tᴚoɯɐuo Dec 18 '17 at 12:38
  • Yes, this is what i want to say @Tᴚoɯɐuo Dec 18 '17 at 12:42
  • Literature abound with adjectives used with absolutes: They body was riddled with bullets. He looked extremely dead Also you can have a sphere that is not perfectly round: youtube.com/watch?v=ZMByI4s-D-Y
    – mplungjan
    Dec 18 '17 at 12:43
  • 1

There are two kinds of "absolute adjectives", and everybody seems to lump them together.

The first kind are adjectives which essentially have very in their definitions. For example, the definition of furious could be taken to be extremely angry or very angry.

For these, it doesn't make any sense to say slightly furious, because the adverb slightly contradicts the definition of extremely angry. For some reason I don't completely understand, we also tend not to use adverbs like very or extremely with these adjectives, but we can use a number of near-synonyms of very — for example, absolutely furious and truly furious are both grammatical. And while I might recommend saying angrier rather than more furious (although Google shows that a lot of people do use it), I think even more furious is fine.

The other kind of "absolute adjective" is a category that pedants seem to have invented, that doesn't reflect actual usage very well. These adjectives supposedly don't come in degrees. For example, these pedants say things are either dead or alive, complete or incomplete, pregnant or not pregnant, unique or not unique, infinite or finite. People tend to ignore these pedants and say a little bit pregnant, very unique, somewhat complete. I wouldn't worry about this second kind — if you think it makes sense to use slightly, very or more with these, go ahead and do so.

  • 1
    "Extremely furious", "remarkably furious", and "most furious" all sound... off. They're undoubtedly grammatical, but they don't feel right. I find it interesting, though, that "absolutely furious" doesn't feel off in the same way, despite being similar semantically
    – Darael
    Aug 9 '18 at 18:02
  • @Darael: you're right — absolutely furious and truly furious are used more than these other alternatives. I've changed my answer. Aug 9 '18 at 18:05

The use of absolute adjectives is (or can be) tricky.

On the one hand, it's pretty clear that, as mattdm has stated, you can almost always find a way to make fine distinctions in the use of absolute adjectives. In the example you give, for instance, there is "furious" in the sense that "he entered the house and began shouting", and there is the sense that "he entered the house and began shooting". Ordinarily, one would say the the latter is more furious than the former.

However, in the case given, it's not clear that you need to use a qualifying adverb to modify furious. In either case, the degree of fury is indicated by the action taken.

Other items on the list are readily modified, such as "impossibly huge" or "horrible beyond belief", but you should notice that all of these degrees are generally pretty rare. Ordinarily, absolutes are used as stated. If you want to modify an absolute adjective, you might take a second to ask yourself if you really need to.


You can do this all you want. People who are complaining about this are either:

  1. Being pedantic because they like to feel special about knowing rules (even when those rules are really mostly guidelines).
  2. Concerned with concise writing. If you're a novelist or a short-story writer, it's good to be intentional with your words, and throwing adverbs at adjectives can be seen as somewhat* loose, especially if done frequently.

The list you give in particular is very questionable. Many of these things have degrees. Water can be at a low boil, or a roiling boil. You can be brilliant, but not Einstein-level brilliant. Something might be a bit incredible (but possible), or it can be absolutely unbelievably incredible. This is true of all of the size qualifiers as well.

In other cases, the words given have an idiomatic sense that everyone understands. When you say you are full after a meal, we understand that it's probably not the case that every cavity in your body is at its maximum. So, there's plenty of room to say "completely full" or "beyond full" even though those wouldn't make sense if this were literal. Same for starving, freezing, exhausted.

* see what I did here?

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .