Big can get bigger and even become the biggest, loud can get louder and even become the loudest, but why can’t perfect get perfecter or the perfectist? Because, my dear readers, there are gradable adjectives and non-gradable adjectives (otherwise known as absolutes.)
Learning about these gradable and non-gradable adjectives will exponentially help your grammar. You will begin to understand why one can’t be very unique or more correct, or the most unique or most correct. Think about it like this. Being correct is absolute, you’re either correct or you aren’t, right? You may disagree because in reality people can be correct within the context of a particular area, but overall incorrect in the grander (that is a gradable adjective by the way) scheme of things.
In light of this, there is some room in the middle by way of modifiers. Modifiers allow us to say things like almost impossible or quite excellent. We know that impossible is absolute, but nearly impossible implies a slight possibility.
A trick to master this area of English grammar is to think of words as being able to grow or being static. For example, something can be hotter than something else, so hot is gradable – hot, hotter, hottest. But if something is impossible it just is, it is static and remains final. Similarly, if something is excellent, it is already at its best. It is static, final.
Have a go at trying to determine whether the following adjectives are gradable or non-gradable. If you think a word is gradable then expand on it as follows: hot, hotter, hottest. If the adjective is non-gradable then leave it as it is. Answers are below, too. No peeking!
- Cold, colder, coldest
- Fast, faster, fastest
- New, newer, newest
- Old, older, oldest
- Ugly, uglier, ugliest
- Sweet, sweeter, sweetest