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Can I use the same intensifier twice to emphasize something? For example,

The test was extremely extremely difficult.

I know this works with very ("very very difficult") but not sure how it works with other intensifiers. Is there a rule somewhere? I mean, to my ear it sounds ok especially when adding emphasis. I just wanted to know if there is a formal rule concerning this.

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  • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow did: 'There was a little girl, who had a little curl Right in the middle of her forehead, And when she was good, she was very, very good, But when she was bad she was horrid.' Commented Nov 19, 2021 at 11:29
  • “Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write 'very;' your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” -- Mark Twain. You can phrase things this way, but you may wish to find a more creative way.
    – jimm101
    Commented Nov 19, 2021 at 13:43
  • See also Are there other acceptable juxtapositions of polysemes. Commented Nov 19, 2021 at 15:15
  • Extremely - no. You'll sound dramatic. Generally loading up a sentence with intensifiers is crap writing. Commented Dec 2, 2021 at 19:18
  • This is not for writing, this is in a speaking context.
    – meepyer
    Commented Dec 4, 2021 at 6:51

3 Answers 3

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Intensifiers are used with gradable adjectives indeed. Repetition can be very effective, if used astutely. It is a literary device, so I doubt you will find grammar rules for it. For example:

  • Ashes To Ashes, dust to dust (English Book of Common Prayer)
  • And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting (The Raven)
  • Over and over (expression)
  • It is what it is.

There is no rule that prevents you from saying

The test was extremely extremely difficult.

However, if you want your sentence to have effect and sound less clumsy, you might consider another "extreme" intensifier, instead of repeating the same:

The test was extremely, incredibly difficult.

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With adjectives, some adjectives are gradable: there are degrees of goodness, so something can be fairly good or very good. Others are ungradable- something is either finished or not: it can't be very finished.

The same is true with intensifier adverbs: if very means 90%, you can intensify if further by saying very very to mean 99%. It's not wrong to say extremely extremely, but extremely comes from the latin word extremus, meaning outermost - you can't go any further- so we can think of it as meaning 100%. You can't get higher than that, so there's no point, unless your intent is to be over-dramatic.

According to this NGram graph, extremely extremely was relatively common pre-1820. It looks like has made a comeback since 2010, but most of the instances seem to be tabulated responses to questionnaires, where the word extremely occurs in two or three successive answers.

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  • I'm sorry to disagree, but this is simply not true. To say "extremely means 100%" is the etymological fallacy. The OED says: "In an extreme degree; exceedingly, very much" (emphasis added). It is certainly the case that extremely extremely is rare to the point of vanishing, but your reason is completely specious. Consider utterly, which etymologically is just as "extreme" as "extremely", but in a certain kind of gushing speech, utterly, utterly is found.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Aug 3, 2022 at 11:27
  • @ColinFine Many people in everyday conversation (and I will admit to it myself) use the word completely as an intensifier, for which there is no rational justification - e.g. We have been completely inundated with requests for information. What does it mean to be completely inundated? Or ...the regulations are completely mad. So we must distinguish the formal from the informal - but then the vast majority of our everyday speech is in an informal register. Another such word is literally - as in my head literally exploded.
    – WS2
    Commented Aug 5, 2022 at 6:42
  • @ColinFine "in a certain kind of gushing speech, utterly, utterly is found"... I think that gushing speech qualifies for my codicil "... unless the intent is to be over-dramatic:"
    – JavaLatte
    Commented Aug 5, 2022 at 8:17
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    @WS2: what has "rational justification" to do with anything? Languages are what they are, not what somebody thinks they should be. Logic and rationality don't enter into it, except incidentally. In particular, it's a canard that formal speech is more rational than informal. Socially approved forms of behaviour (including speech) are often given rationalisations rather than admit that they are essentially arbitrary, and the rationalisations are often specious.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Aug 5, 2022 at 11:24
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These types of utterances go beyond rules. If you want to emphasize a word, say it more times and stress it. You can do that with pretty much any word or phrase. There are usually cleaner ways to emphasize, but it's very common for people to stress an idea by just repeating it. Your example is entirely natural.

Most degree intensifiers (very, way, super, so) are so very often stacked and repeated for emphasis.

A unique example:

"never" is subject to both "never ever" and "never never" for emphasis, as in,

I have never ever done that.

and

I have never never done that.

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    Commented Nov 19, 2021 at 3:16

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