An ELT Glossary : Gradable and Ungradable Antonyms

  • A gradable antonym is a type of "opposite" adjective or adverb where the words are on a scale with others before, after and/or in between  and  ungradable antonyms beyond. 
  • Examples : On the scale of eg : freezing - cold -chilly - cool - warm - hot - boiling, the gradable adjectives are cold - chilly - cool - warm - hot while freezing and boiling are ungradable
  • Negating a gradable/ungradable adjective or adverb does not necessarily mean its opposite - eg "not hot" isn't necessarily "cold"; "not loudly" doesn't necessarily mean "softly". (Compare this against other types of antonym - eg dead/alive where negation does imply the opposite term)
  • Gradable adjectives/adverbs can be used in the comparative and superlative, whilst ungradable adjectives/adverbs cannot:
           Gradable : I think it's hotter today than yesterday   but not ...
           Ungradable :   *I think it's more boiling today than yesterday.
  • Gradable adjectives/adverbs can be intensified by adverbs such as  extremely, a bit, quite but not by eg totally, completely, absolutely.  The ungradable adjectives/adverbs at the end of the scale  are the opposite :
        Gradable :  It was very cold    but not   *It was absolutely cold
        Ungradable : It was absolutely freezing    but not    *It was very freezing