An ELT Glossary : Intensifiers / Intensification

Quirk et al  (1972) describe intensifiers are words which have a heightening or lowering effect on the item they modify. They  may be :

Intensifying adjectives

These are generally attributive only - ie they pre-modify nouns - eg an utter idiot; mere folly; sheer foolishness; total rubbish.  They  cannot be predicative - ie occurring as complement :  *The idiot was utter; * His foolishness seemed sheer; *The rubbish looked total etc.

Intensifying adverbs

These may pre-modify either verbs - I really liked it,  or adjectives - It was incredibly hot in there.

Quirk et al (ibid) divide them into three categories and further subcategories :

a) Emphasizers - eg definitely, certainly, clearly, obviously, really etc: It's obviously wrong.

b) Amplifiers, which subdivide into 

  • Maximisers - absolutely, completely, thoroughly, totally etc: I'm totally convinced that....
  • Boosters - deeply, greatly, terribly, highly, very much etc: He deeply regretted saying that....

c) Downtoners, which have four subcategories :

  • Compromisers - kind of, sort of,  rather etc - I was kind of expecting it.
  • Diminishers - partially, mildly, somewhat etc : He's somewhat strict but....
  • Minimizers - a bit, hardly, scarcely, in the slightest etc : I could hardly see through the smoke.
  • Approximators - almost, nearly, virtually, practically etc : It's practically impossible.

Intensifiers may be repeated to give extra emphasis : He was really, really tired.


Quirk, R., Greenbaum, S., Leech, G.,  and Svartvik, J., 1972, A Grammar of Contemporary English. London: Longman