Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Absolutely Important!

It used to be that there were some adjectives that were said to be "ungradeable", or "ungradable" *(looks better, but both acceptable). With most adjectives you could say "fairly" or "very" or "quite" (I'm talking about BrE here) or even "slightly". And you could use "more" or "less" with them and make comparatives and superlatives

But the ungradeable ones weren't like that. If something was "unique" it couldn't be more unique than something else. Less absolute than the one-off "unique" but also ungradeable were adjectives like "vital", "essential" or even "perfect" (though the latter was sometimes used with "more" or "less" as indicating a quest for that impossible perfection). These were thought ungradeable because, as one's English teacher used to say, "Well, is it essential, or not? It can't be slightly essential, can it?" Just about the only thing you could add to these "ungradables" was "absolutely", which, logically, might have been unnecessary, too.

Now, however, even with wordsmiths and broadcasters, anything seems to go. We not only hear ungradeables graded but we have eg "absolutely" used with gradeable* adjectives. It is not only "absolutely vital" but "absolutely important". This sounds like the sort of thing foreigners, but not educated native speakers used to say: "very delicious", comes to mind but now I hear it all the time.

Is it part of the word inflation I've often talked about? I mentioned both that but also ... um ... something else as well, too.

*"Ungradable" and "ungradeable" both look ok to me but "gradeable" doesn't. Comments?


  1. Just realised that I must eat well if I hear "very delicious" so much.

  2. I think you do - it is all very delicious.