An ELT Notebook : Gradable and Ungradable Antonyms

  • A gradable antonym is a type of "opposite" adjective where the words are on a scale with others before, after and/or in between  and  ungradable antonyms beyond. 
  • Examples : Hot /cold - which are on a scale of eg : freezing - cold - cool - warm - hot - boiling
  • Negating a gradable adjective does not necessarily mean its opposite - eg "not hot" isn't necessarily "cold" .
  • Gradable adjectives can be used in the comparative and superlative, whilst the extreme (ungradable) adjectives (those at the ends of the scales) cannot :
           Gradable : I think it's hotter today than yesterday   but not ...
           Ungradable :   *I think it's more boiling today than yesterday.
  • Gradable adjectives can be intensified by adverbs such as  extremely, a bit, quite but not by eg totally, completely, absolutely.  The ungradable adjectives at the end of the scale (here freezing/boiling) 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