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In linguistics, an intensifier (abbreviated INT) is a lexical category (but not a traditional part of speech) for a modifier that makes no contribution to the propositional meaning of a clause but serves to enhance and give additional emotional context to the word it modifies. Intensifiers are grammatical expletives, specifically expletive attributives (or, equivalently, attributive expletives or attributive-only expletives; they also qualify as expressive attributives), because they function as semantically vacuous filler. Characteristically, English draws intensifiers from a class of words called degree modifiers, words that quantify the idea they modify. More specifically, they derive from a group of words called adverbs of degree, also known as degree adverbs. When used grammatically as intensifiers, these words cease to be degree adverbs, because they no longer quantify the idea they modify; instead, they emphasize it emotionally. By contrast, the words moderately, slightly, and barely are degree adverbs, but not intensifiers. The other hallmark of prototypical intensifiers is that they are adverbs which lack the primary characteristic of adverbs: the ability to modify verbs. Intensifiers modify exclusively adjectives and adverbs, but this rule is insufficient to classify intensifiers, since there exist other words commonly classified as adverbs that never modify verbs but are not intensifiers, e.g. questionably.

For these reasons, Huddleston argues that intensifier not be recognized as a primary grammatical or lexical category.[1] Intensifier is a category with grammatical properties, but insufficiently defined unless its functional significance is also described (what Huddleston calls a notional definition[2]).

Technically, intensifiers roughly qualify a point on the affective semantic property, which is gradable. Syntactically, intensifiers pre-modify either adjectives or adverbs. Semantically, they increase the emotional content of an expression. The basic intensifier is very. A versatile word, English permits very to modify adjectives and adverbs, but not verbs. Other intensifiers often express the same intention as very.

Examples of English intensifiers[edit]


Not all intensifiers are the same syntactically since they vary on whether they can be used attributively or predicatively. For example, really and super can be used in both ways:[3]

a. The car is really expensive. - Predicative intensifier
b. the really expensive car - Attributive intensifier
a. Today was super cold. - Predicative intensifier
b. a super cold day - Attributive intensifier

Words such as so can occur only as predicative intensifiers,[3] and others, such as -ass, typically are used only as attributive intensifiers:[4]

a. The car is so expensive. - Predicative intensifier
b. *the so expensive car - Attributive intensifier (not grammatical)
a. *Today was cold-ass. - Predicative intensifier (not grammatical)[note 1]
b. a cold-ass day - Attributive intensifier

There is dialectal variation in the "correctness" of certain forms.

Illocutionary force[edit]

Use of an intensifier subtly suggests to the reader or listener what emotion he should feel. By naming an emotion within the predicate, the writer compels the reader to consider this emotion and hence he begins to feel it.[5]

Persuasiveness and credibility[edit]


In general, overuse of intensifiers negatively affects the persuasiveness or credibility of a legal argument.[6] However, if a judge's authoritative written opinion uses a high rate of intensifiers, a lawyer's written appeal of that opinion that also uses a high rate of intensifiers is associated with an increase in favorable outcomes for such appeals. Also, when judges disagree with each other in writing, they tend to use more intensifiers.[citation needed]


A 2010 Stanford Graduate School of Business study[7] found that, in quarterly earnings conference calls, deceptive CEOs use a greater percent quantity of "extreme positive emotions words" than do CEOs telling the truth.[8][9] That finding agrees with the presumption that CEOs attempting to hide poor performance exert themselves more forcefully to persuade their listeners. David F. Larcker and Zakolyukinaz give a list of 115 extreme positive emotions words, including intensifiers: awful, deucedly, emphatically, excellently, fabulously, fantastically, genuinely, gloriously, immensely, incredibly, insanely, keenly, madly, magnificently, marvelously, splendidly, supremely, terrifically, truly, unquestionably, wonderfully, very [good].

A 2013 Forbes Magazine article[10] about counterproductive modes of expression in English specifically discouraged use of really and observed that it provokes doubt and degrades the speaker's credibility: "'Really' – Finder calls this a 'poor attempt to instill candor and truthfulness' that makes clients and coworkers question whether you're really telling the truth."


Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, in Human, All Too Human (1878), wrote:

The narrator. It is easy to tell whether a narrator is narrating because the subject matter interests him or because he wants to evoke interest through his narrative. If the latter is the case, he will exaggerate, use superlatives, etc. Then he usually narrates the worse, because he is not thinking so much about the story as about himself.[11][12]

A quote often attributed to Mark Twain but probably by newspaper editor William Allen White is "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."[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The exception is badass, which appears to be the source of this intensifier, rather than an instance of it.


  1. ^ Huddleston, Rodney D.; Pullum, Geoffrey K. (2002). "6. Adjectives and Adverbs". The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (1 ed.). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. p. 585 footnote. ISBN 0-521-43146-8.
  2. ^ Huddleston, Rodney D. (1988). "1. Preliminaries". English Grammar: An Outline (1 ed.). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. p. 4. ISBN 0-521-31152-7.
  3. ^ a b Tagliamonte, Sali A. (2012). Variationist Sociolinguistics. UK: Wiley-Blackwell. p.9
  4. ^ Zimmer, Ben. "Can "[adjective]-ass" occur predicatively?". Retrieved 10 March 2014.
  5. ^ Straker, David (2010). Changing Minds: in Detail. Syque Press.
  6. ^ Lance N. Long and William F. Christensen (Fall 2008). "Using Intensifiers is Very Bad – Or is it?". Idaho Law Review. SSRN 1138084. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  7. ^ David F. Larcker and Anastasia A. Zakolyukinaz (July 2010). "Detecting Deceptive Discussions in Conference Calls" (PDF). Stanford Rock Center for Corporate Governance. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  8. ^ Stock, Kyle (August 11, 2010). "How Can You Tell If A CEO Is Lying?". Wall Street Journal. New York, NY. Retrieved 2010-08-20.
  9. ^ Sutton, Bob (August 24, 2010). "How To Tell If The Boss Is Lying". Work Matters (blog). Psychology Today. Retrieved 2010-08-25.
  10. ^ "10 Words To Erase From Your Vocabulary". Forbes. New York, NY. October 5, 2013. Archived from the original on October 5, 2013. Retrieved 2013-10-31.
  11. ^ Human, All Too Human, § 343
  12. ^ Zimmern, Helen (translator) (1909). "6. Man in Society". Human, All Too Human. London, England: Wordsworth Editions Limited. p. 174. ISBN 978-1-84022-083-4. Archived from the original on 2012-03-25. Retrieved 2011-06-13. {{cite book}}: |first= has generic name (help)
  13. ^ O’Toole, Garson (2012-08-29). "Advice: Substitute 'Damn' Every Time You're Inclined to Write 'Very'". Quote Investigator. Retrieved 2021-09-09.

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