Intensifiers in Current English
EDITH M.OORE PENZINGER
A DISSERTATION PRESEI:TFD TO THE GR~'DUMTE COUtICL OF
THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORID. IN P:,RIIAL FULFILLM-ENT
OF THE REQUIRL.iENI'S FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
__I I _YI_l
TABLE. OF CON;TiE;TS
AEPSTR1'3.T . . . . . . . . . iii
I. IUT IlIfl- I. TIO; .A;;D THE INiTEV ''IVE
..U.-LJFIF . . . . . . .1
":U.-L FIrR . . . . . . . . 1
1I. hI.2 T'.:IC:',L [,CV'LOP:..'Z'JT THE
I iJi; :SI'E :UALIFI F . . . . . 2
III. GRA'.:'ATIC'.L T'EAT.,';r:1' rF THE
SIJT:;S :IV ,LlU.LLi F IF. . . . . . 101
IV. DISTRIEULI TIO: :.iJD FlU:l:-TIO;J "'F THE
I T :i'-IV E .,U. LI IER . . . . . 140
V. C :C LII: ............... 175
BIELIO'RAFHY . . . . . . . . 1 3
BIO31A0 F f iIC L S KET H . . . . . . 1 7
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate Council
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Dezree of Doctor of Philosophy
INTENSIFIERS IN CURRENT ENGLISH
Edith Moore Benzineer
Chairman: Dr. John Algeo
Co-Chairman: Dr. Jayne C. Harder
Major Department: English
It is necessary to separate intensification as a
semantic notion from those elements which signal it. The
intensive qualifier is perhaps the most common linguistic
signal of intensification in current usage. Because it
is a discrete lexical unit, it is easily recognized and
may be described in terms of its distribution in positions
preceding adjectives and adverbs. This study examines the
phenomenon of intensification with specific emphasis on
the intensive qualifier as a structural class. Attention
is given the historical distribution of specific intensive
qualifiers, wherein it is shown that these qualifiers lose
lexical meaning as they become widely used and that they
pass in and out of fashion. As a class they enjoyed a
high degree of popularity during the nineteenth century.
Despite their widespread use, however, grammatical
treatment of intensive qualifiers has been largely inade-
quate. The tendency has been to dismiss them as an ill-
defined subgroup of the class of adverbs, and few writers
have described them in structural terms. Considerable
critical attention has been directed against them as
stylistic elements. However, examination of contemporary
sources of American Enzlish indicates that intensive
qualifiers enjoy widespread distribution through many
levels of current usage, that a core group of approximately
eighty qualifiers are most commonly used, and that among
these very, so, too, quite, right, and really occur most
frequently. It further becomes evident that intensive
qualifiers may be carefully selected to fulfill several
functions. Not only do they add emphasis, but also they
enhance social, regional, and educational differences in
characterization; further, they aid in creating and
maintaining tone; finally they clarify and add to meaning.
IIITE[;SIFIC.ATIOIN .: THE I'lTE.ISIVE QUALIFIER
Although the pheno.renon of intensification is
important to accurate communication of meaninE in English,
the grammatical devices for signalling, intensification
are frequently ignored as an area of study. Forms of
intensification are often dismissed as items to be de-
fined summarily in an appendix or a footnote. Yet be-
cause inrensificatior is a frequently occurring aspect
of cOjr.n unicatian, it deserves study.
To describe precisely how intensification occurs
is sometimes difficult. Further, it is necessary, to
rec, nize a distinction Detween intensification as a
semantic c-3tegory, i.e. intensification as a matter of
meaning, and the particular linguistic expressions that
convey that meaning. Some of the formal signals of in-
tensification are esy to recognize. Qualifiers, for
example, may signal intensification and are easy to label.
Other signals, more subtle, are to some extent dependent
upon environment anj factors extraneous to the lexical
symbols uhich comprise the utterance and are more dif-
ficult to analyze--shifted word order or an unusual
intonational pattern, for example. Thus to formulate
a clear and concise definition of the intensive is dif-
ficult indeed. It is true that grammatical signals
available to express intensification may be identified
and defined, but the semantic notion of intensification
cannot always be captured by a precise definition since
intensification is not always signalled by a specific
Since so many devices may signal intensification,
these elements must be defined and given attention. Among
then are hyperbole and exaggeration, inherently intense
words, profanity and obscenity, exclamations, symbolic
forms, repetition of words and sounds, multiplication
of synonyms, onomatopoetic forms, stretch forms, shifted
word order and other grammatical transformations, stress
and pitch, redundant prepositions and adverbial particles,
intensive personal pronouns, genitive forms with own, and
Some limitations then have to be imposed on any sin-
gle study of intensification because of the large number
and variety of elements which signal it. The intensive
qualifier, which will be described later in this chapter,
lends itself to close scrutiny because it is a common form
of intensification in ordinary speech. Its frequency of
occurrence is easily understood when one considers its
historical development. Not only is it widely used today,
but it has been widely used for centuries; thus an exami-
nation of the historical development of the intensive
qualifier as a grammatical class and of selected individual
intensive qualifiers logically provides a basis for the
study of its use today.
Despite the frequency with which the intensive
qualifier has appeared in English speech and writing, its
use has historically been condemned as a weak stylistic
device. Ironically, evidence to support this condemnation
exists side by side with evidence of increased frequency
in the use of qualifiers. Thus it is not surprising that
further study reveals that attitudes expressed by more-or-
less prescriptive grammarians today concerning the use of
the intensive qualifier vary greatly from outright condemna-
tion to tacit approval. Some writers ignore the issue
Given this situation, it is interesting to examine
the actual use of intensive qualifiers today to discover
how frequently intensive qualifiers occur in contemporary
speech and writing and with what specific effects they
are employed. It becomes increasingly obvious that despite
the fact that intensive qualifiers are often either ignored
or condemned, their distribution is widespread indeed, and
they have a unique function in communication.
Since an understanding of terms is vital to an
understanding of a concept, this chapter will concern
itself first with an analysis of intensification itself
and the devices which signal it. Because the intensive
qualifier is a form of intensification occurring very fre-
quently in contemporary speech and writing, a significant
portion of this chapter will be given to a discussion of
that word class as a structural element in contemporary
English. Chapter II will deal in detail with the his-
torical development of selected specific intensive quali-
fiers. Chapter III will make an analysis of the treatment
of intensive qualifiers in the writings of grammarians.
Chapter IV will present an analysis of the distribution
and function of intensive qualifiers in contemporary media,
and Chapter V will provide a brief suLTmary of findings.
Intensification satisfies a basic human need to
emphasize. Because we are often fearful that our listeners
may fail to comprehend the full impact of what we are
saying, we rely on intensification to underline the meaning
of our statements. Further, we are oriented towards multi-
ple degrees of values, i.e. we recognize various levels of
qualification in all areas of our lives. We do more than
simply like or dislike things, for example. We intensify
by liking things "a lot" or "very well." We intensify in
reverse by using what have been called downtoners; thus
we like things "a little" or "not at all." We need things
"urgently," "very much," "not particularly," or "not at
all." Because our needs and desires are complicated, we
employ intensifying elements and downtoners to express
degrees of value. The primary concern of this study, how-
ever, is intensification, not downtoning. Intensification
specifies some positive degree of a quality but allows
for a great leal of variation. Greater and lesser degrees
of intensification are available to express the many
levels of value we perceive.
It is now necessary to define those elements that
signal intensification. An intensifying element is any
linguistic signal that heightens or strengthens the meaning
conveyed by a particular utterance. The term "linguistic
signal" is employed here to exclude facial expressions,
hand gestures, or any other motions which might also signal
intensification. Heightened or strengthened meaning may be
understood a. a response on an Osgood semantic differential
scale that departs from the neutral position. In fact, the
Osgood semantic differential scale provides a graphic means
of recognizing an intensifying element. In attempting to
measure meaning, Charles Osgood sets up a linear scale in
relation to some specific concept. He arbitrarily places
polar opposite adjectives which can in some way be applied
to the concept at each end of this linear scale and des-
ignates a specific number of positions along the line
polar term x polar term y
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
The scale positions are then defined as follows:
(1) extremely x (7) extremely y
(2) quite x (6) quite y
(3) slightly x (5) slightly y
(4) neither x nor y, equally x and y
He assumes that the terms "extremely," "quite," and
"slightly" are "more or less equal degrees of intensity
of whatever representational process (x or y) happens to
Thus when Osgood is attempting to represent graph-
ically the "semantic differential" of a given expression,
iCharles Osgood, Percy H. Tannenbaum, and George
Suci, The Measurement of ;Meaning, pp. 2S-29.
20sgood, et al, p. 29.
he is actually specifying the degree of intensity that the
expression inherently possesses. In the very positions
which he names on the scales, he is recognizing intensive
qualifiers. However, he is recognizing that they have
varying degrees of force. For our purposes in defining the
intensive element, it would perhaps be precise to say then
that any element which would depart from the neutral posi-
tion on Osgood's scale is in some degree an intensive
Therefore every element which will be presented in
this paper and discussed as falling into the general category
of intensifying elements will stand up to one ultimate
criterion: in some way it signals emphasis or additional
force; it heightens and strengthens meaning in a way that
could be measured by a semantic differential scale. Pro-
ceeding from the most simplistic dictionary definition of
intensification and intensifying element through the careful
grammarians' examples and illustrations related to the body
of information they conceive of as grammar and to the his-
torically and culturally broad, imaginative implications
given to the term by H.L. Mencken and Leonard Bloomfield,
one discovers a wealth of aspects from which the phenomenon
of intensification may be considered. The problem is not
simply to define the intensive element as some sort of
grammatical element, but rather to discover how
intensification is signalled. The linguistic element that
signals intensification is most commonly a grammatical class,
the intensive qualifier, but intensive signals may take
Intensive elements are frequently used as vehicles
for emotion, emotion which the speaker feels at the moment
and emotion which the speaker elicits from his listeners.
It is easy to suriiise then that the meaning of intensive
elements may change slightly as the situations in which
they are uttered change. Thus the meaning of intensive
elements is unstable because of the connotations derived
from the conglomerate of situations in which one has heard
them. A study of the phenomenon must therefore attempt to
distinguish what is genuinely a part of linguistic competence
from those performance factors that are irrelevant to the
The most frequently occurring intensive elements
are words, and most intensifying words are marked by a loss
of original lexical meaning. When a word is used as an
intensive qualifier, the attention of the listener is
focused on the idea being intensified rather than on the
literal sense of the intensifying word. When one says that
he is "awfully tired," he is drawing attention to his
fatigue rather than to an aura of wonder suggested by awe.
Thus the intensifying word ultimately derives much of its
meaning from being bound to that idea which it intensifies.
However, if numerous intensifying words are combined in
such a way that attention is drawn to them, then focus on
the intensifying words shifts emphasis from what is being
intensified to the idea of intensification itself with
little concern f3r the lexical meaning of any words involved.
To be "terribly, horribly, excruciatingly bored" conveys
the idea of the ultimate in ennui. This shift which puts
emphasis on emphasis itself accounts for the fact that a
superfluity of intensive generally weakens the meaning of
an utterance as a whole.
Intensification is nurtured by a natural human
tendency to exaggerate. Under the influence of strong
feelings or emotions, one searches for words strong enough
to communicate his feelings and often settles on words
which may be stronger than a literal description of the
situation would demand. His listeners recognize the fact
that he is simply attempting to be emphatic, and they
realize that the forceful words are to be taken in an
intensive rather than literal sense. A "screamingly
funny person," for example, is not necessarily a person
who is shouting. The tendency to exaggerate reinforces
the lack of discrimination which marks many intensifying
words. In an effort to avoid tame expressions and ex-
pressions with limited referents, speakers turn to vague,
general qualifiers with scant concern for their literal
meanings, and we hear the familiar wonderfully, marvelously,
awfully, terribly, and others of the kind. Such exaggera-
tion seems to be a basic human characteristic. Its preva-
lence is demonstrated by the fact that this sort of intensive
element is among the most common--so common, in fact, that
it often escapes our notice, let alone our careful attention.
It has been said earlier that intensification may be
signalled in various ways. Among the devices used for this
purpose by speakers of English are the following:
(1) hyperbole or exageeration
(2) inherently intense words
(3) profanity and obscenity
(5) symbolic forms
(6) repetition of words and sounds
(7) multiplication of synonyms
(8) onomatopoetic forms
(9J stretch forms
(10) shifted word order and other grammatical
(11) stress and pitch
(12) redundant prepositions and adverbial particles
(13) intensive personal pronouns
Chief among these devices is the use of qualifying
words, i.e. words which signal adjectives and adverbs and
may be used in conjunction with them. Qualifiers, words
like very, quite, and too, are by far the most common in-
tensive qualifiers in contemporary English and will be the
focus of this paper. First, however, each of the intensive
elements listed will be discussed briefly in the following
pages. Those which have some connection with qualifiers
or which sometimes function as that part of speech (profan-
ity, for example) will be discussed separately, although
they will also be referred to in the discussion of quali-
fiers. The various ways of signalling intensification are
not mutually exclusive. There is in fact some overlapping.
For example, "It's hot as hell" is both profanity and
exaggeration, while "Hell, it's hot" is both profanity and
exclamation. Exclamations, like qualifiers, are a syn-
tactically definable class of words, whereas profanity can
be defined only culturally, and exaggeration is defined
semantically. Thus there is considerable overlapping
among classifications. Although the classification used
here is internally inconsistent, it has proved useful in
describing the many diverse ways intensification is ex-
pressed in English.
(1) Exaggeration is frequently connected with in-
tensification, and is often used to express an intense de-
gree of a quality. For example, in order to emphasize the
fact that a room was particularly stuffy, one might say
that the room was so full of smoke that he could not breathe.
His listeners would not believe the literal meaning of his
statement. Rather, they would have a clear understanding
of what he wished to communicate.
Words and phrases of affirmation and negation have
been strongly affected by the human tendency to exaggerate,
perhaps because we tend to affirm or deny emphatically. In
order to intensify our assent, for example, we employ numer-
ous exaggerated or hyperbolic expressions. Expressions such
as by all means, certainly, of course, to be sure, surely,
and sure serve both to exaggerate and to intensify affirma-
tion. The same sort of thing occurs with negatives, and
we find expressions like not at all, by no means, hardly,
and not a bit.
The need for intensification is also responsible
for the enduring popularity of the double negative. It
has never lost its emphatic negative force despite some
grammarians' insistence that it logically expresses an
affirmative. It has frequently been pointed out that a
person who says that he does not have no money does not
actually mean that he has money after all, despite the sup-
posed logic in his statement. It is highly unlikely that
the average user of the double negative has any conception
that the form has been used without censure in earlier
centuries. He uses it simply because it is emphatic, and
he is not concerned that it is generally considered sub-
(2) Related to exaggeration is the use of words
which are in themselves inherently intense. Even when
these words are literally appropriate, their semantic
associations are themselves powerful. For example,
gigantic, colossal, famished, crushed, annihilated,
slaughter, assassinate are all far stronger than words
like huge, hungry, destroyed, and kill. These intense
words are what speakers grope for in an attempt to make
statements that are fresh and effective. They are the
tools of any person who wants to convince or persuade an
audience or reader to the validity of his point of view.
(3) Still another group of elements used to signal
intensification is found in English profanity. It is
I3n 1901 James Bradstreet Greenough and George
Lyman Kittredge devoted a chapter in Words and Their Ways
in English Speech, p. 309 ff., to hyperbole and exaggera-
tion. luch of the material they present is directly
concerned with intensification.
generally recognized that American English uses profanity
of many forms and that hell and damn along with their
derivatives are the items of profanity which probably
occur most frequently in American speech. However, it
must be noted that while the word hell does not itself
function as an intensive qualifier, damn frequently does,
either as it stands ("I am damn tired") or in a derivative
form ("I am damned tired").4
In discussing profanity, it is worthwhile to consider
an analysis of hell suggested by H.L. Mencken. He cites
fourteen classes of usaee of hell, several of which he
notes as intensive in nature and which should then illus-
trate the intensive function of profanity.5
It should be noted that although Mencken labels at
least five of the classes as intensifying and although
many of the classes do express intensity, hell itself is
4When followed by some sounds, like /t/, as in
damn(ed) tired, the two forms of the word are, of course,
hom-iopnous in most speech patterns.
5Followirin is Mencken's catalog of usages of hell:
1. Hell as the equivalent of negative adverbs or as an
intensTiier thereof, as in the hell you sva and like hell
I will. 2. As a super-superlative, as in colder than
ellTT 3. As an adverb of all work, as in run like hell
and hate like hell. 4. As an intensifier ofquestions,
as in .ha t-he -hel, u.ho the hell, where the hell, etc.
5. As an intensitier o asseverations, as in hell yes!
6. As an intensifier of qualities, as in to be hell on
and hell of a price. 7. As an indicator of intensified
in no case functioning as a qualifier. Rather, it combines
with other words to function as an intensifier insomuch as
all profanity functions to intensify an emotion or action
or set of circumstances. Its Intensifying function is not
tied to grammatical structure.
Americans apparently hold contradictory attitudes
towards the use of damn and hell. As damn and hell become
used more and more frequently and by greater numbers of
people, we tend to lose sight of the blasphemous tones
originally attached to these words. However, we evidently
do not forget these tones altogether because we still pre-
serve numerous euphemisms for hell, damn, God, Christ, and
their compounds and forms. A surprising number of these
euphemisms can and frequently do function as intensive
There seems to be a growing trend insofar as
intensive profanity is concerned to move beyond profanity
experience, as in hell of a time, get the hell, and to
2ply hell with. S. In a more or less literal sense, as
in wouldn't it be hell, go to hell, the hell with, hell
on wneels, hell to F3, like a snowblTT in hel-, till ell
freezes over, 3n, to beat hell. 9. As a synonym for
uproar or turmoil, as in to raise hell. to give him hell,
and hell is lose. 10. As a verb, as in to hell around.
11. A7 an -ajective, as in a hellish hurry and heTl 5ent.
12. In combination with other nouns, as in hell's bells,
hell and red nirsers, hell and hi-h-water, hell and ,iaria,
he-ll-riser, hell-div.er, nell-b3nder, and hell-to-breakfast.
14. As a simple expletive, as in Uh hell. (The American
Language, Suonlement I, pp. 661-665i)
(the secular use of religious terms) to obscenity (the
casual use of socially taboo terms concerning sexual and
excretory functions). This may be due in part to a rela-
tive loosening of censorship of the press and to a conse-
quent liberalism in prose and in radio, television, and
cinema. Whereas Norman Mlailer had to make do with fugeine
in The i;..ed and the Dead, words such as fuckine, mother-
fucking, fu?:kir:i-A, screwing, farting, sitting, and
piss-poor are more and more frequently seen in print and
heard on stage. Although they are still considered to be
in questionable taste as far as polite society is concerned,
it is undeniable that they liberally lace the conversation
of great numbers of speakers of English. In each case the
intensive word serves to provide an earthy, earnest in-
tensification to the idea or phrase it modifies. Most also
function as qualifiers of adjectival and adverbial forms.
(4) Exclamations are perhaps the most obvious in-
tensive forms in English. They may take the form of
ordinary statements (words and phrases) marked by an
exclamation point, or they may be certain special speech
forms, such as al!, oh:, ouch!, hooray!, yippee! "These
forms all reflect a violent stimulus, but differ in con-
notation from an ordinary statement in which the speaker
merely says that he is undergoing a strong stimulus."6
Leonard Bloomfield, Language, p. 156.
The exclamation point commonly follows this sort of in-
tensive form. It is the mark of punctuation most expres-
sive of intensity and emotion in English utterances. It
should be noted that there is an exceptionally high degree
of overlapping between exclamations and profanity and
(5) It is also possible to include among the class
of intensive elements a large number of intense symbolic
forms whose sound illustrates their meaning more clearly
than does that of ordinary speech forms. A number of these
forms which unite intensity and symbolic connotation have
been tabulated by Leonard Bloomfield in Language:
[fl-n 'moving light': flash, flare, flame
[fl-3 'movement in air': fly, flap, flit (flutter).
[gl-} 'unmnovine light': glow, glare, gloat, gloom
(gleam, gloaming, glimmer), glint.
1sl- 'smoothly wet': slime, slush, slop, slobber,
[kr-] 'noisy impact': crash, crack (creak), crunch.
[skr-1 'grating impact or sound': scratch, scrape,
isn-1 'breath-noise': sniff (snuff), snore, snort,
sn-] 'creep': snake, snail, sneak, snoop.
[~-) 'up-and-down movement': jump, jounce, jii
(jio jug1le), jangle (jingle).
[b-] 'dull impact': bane, bash, bounce:, biff,
I[-tej 'violent mo.veTment': bash, clash, crash, dash,
flash, rash, mash, rnash, slash, splash.
[-Lr] 'bir light or noice'; rlare, blare, flare,
[-ai.wn '3 jick movement': bounce, jounce, pounce,
[-Im] mostly with determinati've t-erl, 'small lirht
or noise': dim, flimmer, rlimrmer, simmer,
[-hAmp 'clumsy': bump, clump, chump, dunm, frump,
hump, lump, rump, stump, slump, thump.
[-dt] with determinative 1-- r, 'particled movement':
batter, clatter, chatter, spatter, shatter,
scatter, rattle, prattle.
It must te emprohsized that the =ss5.ciati.ns of synb.lic
forms are not bound to etynolorical roots and that in rn.ny
cas-s the' association might appear to be varue. Further,
the associationS are not mutually exclusive nor do they
exclude other connotationF. However, it is undeniable that
in the minds of most speakers of Enplish certain forms have
taken on an intense symbolic connotation, although it may
normally be below the level of conscious awareness and
speakers are neither confused nor distressed by these forms.
The morphemic status of these forms is a problem.
lost rrarrnasrians would be reluctant to divide a word like
crash into two morphemes, cr-, 'noisy impact,' and -ash,
'violent movement,' chiefly because the sound-meaning
correlation is not reinforced by grammatical considerations
as it is in the case of items like deceive, receive, decep-
tion, and reception. What is important here, however, is
simply that the existence of the sound symbolism intensifies
the meaning of the word in which it occurs. Slam is more
emphatic than close forcefully by virtue of the sound
symbolism. As in most linguistic matters, one is ultimately
reduced to the question of meaning, and meaning is a valid
criterion for linguistic analysis insofar as it is consist-
ently recognized by the speakers in a given speech com-
These symbolic forms are often used in situations
that call for emphasis; and despite the fact that the
association between form and meaning might seem obscure,
the repetition of the forms and their frequent association
with specific ideas lends strength to their intensive func-
tion. The symbolic forms are consciously manipulated by
advertisers, poets, writers of children's literature, and
cartoonists. Such writers seize on a form which by associa-
tion and in a particular environment connotes and intensi-
fies an idea and proceed to play on this association. Thus
the effect of wetness is intensified with splirh splash,
and 3 child is cautioned not to skrunch (destroy totally)
his new toy.
A special type of intensive symbolic form may be
considered with this group. If a form is repeated with
some sort of phonetic variation, it may evoke further in-
tensified connotations, as in the partial reduplications
bim-bam, flim-flam, touncey-wouncev, snip-snan, sie-za,
riff-raff, hoity-toity, jim-jams, fiddle-faddle, teeny-
tiny, ship-shape, hod.e-podFe, hurger-murger, honky-tonk.
(6) To this group of repetitive symbolic forms
might be added expressions marked by repetition in general.
An attempt to strengthen the force of any word in English
is frequently marked by simple repetition of the word it-
self, as in the complete reduplications "He's a big, big
man" or "Hurry, hurry." Although any portion of an
utterance may be repeated for emphasis, intensification
may be heightened on the most obvious level through
repetition of individual intensifying qualifiers, as in
expressions like "Very, very tired."
Most speakers realize that whereas repetition may
be effective on a simple level, the sophisticated listener
will regard such repetition as evidence of the speaker's
inadequacy. Thus repetition under those circumstances
defeats itself as an intensifying device and comes to
have the opposite effect. Writers of advertising copy,
however, seize upon repetition for effective intensifica-
tion, repeating qualities which they wish to emphasize,
as in "no stirring, no shaking, no streaking" and "easy
to prepare--easy to clean." These writers also tend to
utilize repeated superlative forms, as in a "newest,
brightest, most advanced" discovery.
The intensifying effect implicit in nursery forms,
such as ma-ma, da-da, and pa-pD, and in nonsense forms,
such as tra-la-la, hey-diddle-diddle, tarara-boom-de-ay,
and fol-de-rol, has generally been recognized. It is
based in large degree on repetition of forms.
(7) Along with repetition of words, multiplication
of synonyms should be considered. This technique is the
repetition of words whose meaning is essentially the same.
It is a common advertising device. For example, "Clorox
sanitizes and disinfects"; "The rooms are large and
spacious." It is apparently effective when one is
8This sort of material is treated in Bloomfield's
Laneuaze, pp. 156-15S. Further, Bloomfield includes the
implication of intensity related to endearment in the use
of 'pet' names, i.e.,Bob, Ned, Dick, Bill, Peggy, IMa ie,
Fanny, johnnv, WillieTJirnie, and similarly reduced forms.
attempting to stress an idea in every way possible. The
device is 3 lor:n established one, being common as a tech-
nique of Old English poetry and occurring also in the
language of scripture.
(S) Similar to the repeated symbolic forms are the
onomatopoetic intense "forinm which refer to a sound or to
an object which emits a sound that can be imitated. These
expressions often have intensive connotations. Examples
are chui-chus, choo-choo, ding-done, tree-wee, bow-wow,
cuckoo, tick-tock, and mew-mew. These double syllable
forms are reduplications, partial or complete. Pow, bash,
crunch, and similar onomatopoetic expressions, however, are
(9) Still another intensifying element in American
English is credited by H. L. Nencken to the influence of the
Irish on the language of the United States. Mencken asserts
that the Irish display an extravagance of speech which
makes them almost incapable of saying plain yes or no, and
Americans respond to this characteristic. Thus Americans
have readily adopted from Irish immigrants expressions such
as no-siree, yes-indeedy, and teetotal, frequently used by
the Irish.9 These expressions are called stretch forms,
and rely on the reduplication of a sound teetotall and
9H L. lencken, The American LanSuave, 4th ed.,
indeedy) or on the addition of a final stressed syllable
(10) Still another device employed to signal in-
tensification depends on an awareness of word placement
within English utterances. Shifted word order thus merits
attention. A statement like "Away John ran" is felt to be
a more animated form and seems to have the effect of in-
dicating heightened significance of the action over what
is conveyed by the more straightforward "John ran away."
Since the English language depends heavily on word order
for coherence, there is a limited amount of latitude which
may be exercised in manipulating the order of elements that
compose English utterances. Because the adverb enjoys a
degree of mobility of position, manipulation of adverbials,
especially front-shifting them, is perhaps the most common
form of word order distortion that achieves an effect of
heightened intensity. Thus we frequently hear "Up he sat,"
"Down he fell," "Around he came," and similar expressions
involving an adverb of place and a verb of motion.
The choice of direct or indirect discourse frequently
bears on intensification. Instead of "I told him to go,"
one might find a statement made in which the two ideas are
reordered into a direct quotation with the quoted material
preceding mention of the speaker as in "'Go,' I said."
"'Will you save me?' I asked" would then be considered to
be ruore dramatic and hence more intense than "I asked him
if he would save me."
Numerous additional kinds of gramnnatical transforma-
tions draw attention to different elements of constructions.
For example, one might utilize identification clauses to
emphasize different no'uns in an utterance. If Joe hit
Mary, and one says, "The one who hit Mary was Joe," then
the emphasis is on Joe rather than on iny of Mary's other
sparring partners. In "The one Joe hit was Mlary," the point
is made that .Mary, rather than any other person, was the
victim :f Joe's blow. If 3 speaker provides a delayed
explanation in a *:3se like "He hit. M4ary--Joe did," then
the audience is st.re to realize'that the hitting itself
was being emphasized for some reason. If the utterance
is "Iary--Joe hit her," then the emphasis shifts again.
All .f these constructions are comrronly employed by speakers
of all levels of English usage. They function as a vital
technique for emphasizing a particular aspect of an
(11) Yet another element signalling intensification
is stress, a structural signal peculiar to speech. .y
stress is r.eant the relative loudness or force with which
a syllable is spoken in compari-on to other syllables in
the same utterance. There are, however, several devices
used in written English, i.e., bold face, capitals, and
italics which correlate with unusual stre-- patternF.
H. A. Gleason, Jr. outlines two functions of stress: "It
may assist in deliaiting certain units in a sentence, and
it may serve to identify the constructions that are so
delimited."0l Thus it is stress in a phrase such as
round house which distinguishes a house which is round
from a building used to house ard switch locomotives.
In addition to delimitine and identifying, stress
also functions to indicate intensification. Primary stress
in a position which would ordinarily be marked by a lesser
degree of stress provides emphasis. For example, in an
utterance such as "That is my book," it is possible to
place primary stress on any of its components. Placement
of primary stress determines the idea to be intensified.
If primary stress is placed on that, emphasis is being
placed on that particular book as opposed to any books or
articles with which it might be confused. If primary
stress is placed on is, emphasis is being placed on the
affirmation implicit in the statement. Primary stress
placed on my emphasizes the ownership of the book. Pri-
mary stress placed on book emphasizes the identity of the
article as a book rather than anything else. Bloomfield
points out that when stress is used to mark emphatic
forms, there is usually present an idea of contrast or
10Linruistics and EnlliLh Grammar, pp. 179-180.
contradiction to what might ordinarily be so.1
It has also been suggested that every clause con-
tains some new information signalled by the stress-
intonation center of that clause. In effect, the word
which receives the primary stress is the word supplying
the new or unexpected information to the listener and is
in fact intensified.12
Further, primary stress is often applied to a word
which is an intensive qualifier or an intensive pronoun
itself in order to reinforce the intensity. Since in-
tensives weaken and lose their force from frequent use,
primary stress provides a temporary stay in the weakening
process and revive? what rnay be the dyinz strength of a
word. '..hen iribieuity confuses the function of an intensive,
as for example, in the case of a word which might not
ordinarily function so, primary stress in connection with
juncture is oftLn an indication that the word has or has
not an intensifying effect. For example, applying a high
degree of stress to the truly in the utterance "He speaks
truly good English" helps reinforce the honesty of the
"He." If the stress falls on the English, then truly
127his intensifying function of stress is treated
in M.A.K. Halliday, "Notes on Transitivity and Theme in
English," Journal of Lin-uistics 3, 37-81 and
and good fall together, and truly serves simply to in-
tensify good. In an expression such as "He listened so
intently," primary stress on the so, followed by a pause,
indicates that so means 'in this fashion.' If there is no
pause after the stressed so, it becomes a definite intensive
qualifier. If intently receives the primary stress, then
so functions as a mild intensive qualifier.
The intensifying use of primary stress may also
account for the occurrence of the absolute form of a word
or phrase when ordinarily a sandhi form would occur.13
For example, in an attempt to intensify, one night say
"These are not good" or "This is really a house" using
the absolute forms of not and a. Absolute forms are
frequently used in conjunction with intensive qualifiers,
as in "That is really a very nice house," where the
absolute forms of is and a might logically occur.
Somewhat related to stress is the technique whereby
an individual syllable or word is lengthened in order to
supply additional emphasis, as in "How's my bi:g boy
today?" Often this syllable is itself given unusual
13According to Blcomfield, the form of a word or
phrase as it is spoken alone is its absolute form; the
forms which appear in included positions are its sandhi-
forms. He lists a number of words which commonly have
both absolute and sandhi-forms: a, an, the, is has, am,
are, have, had, would, will, them, not, and. Pp.-16-7.
stress at the same time.
(12) Prepositions and adverbial Farticles afford
yet another group of intensive elements, especially when
they appear to be redundant or literally superfluous to
the verb with which they are used. For example, there is
no apparent liter-il necessity for the particles in continue
on, revert bac., head uc, meet uo with, nack un, raise uP,
repeat. aain, fill uo, save up, hatch out, bleach out,
miss out, cool off, dry up, and hurry un. In each case
the occurrence of the particle can best be justified by
the fact that the particle reinforces and gives emphasis
to the meaning of the verb in question. Further, frequent
use of the particle-verb combination eventually makes it
so familiar that speakers begin to acquire the feeling
that the verb alone does not have the strength that the
verb-particle combination has and that the verb alone does
not mean precisely what the combination means.
In fact, the use of unnecessary particles has be-
come so common that in some instances the particle now
signals a difference in the lexical meaning of the utter-
ance. For example, whereas close uc may be simply
4For further discussion of gradience see Dwight
L. Bolineer, 'Generalitv, Gradience, and the All-or-none.
redundant, the uo serving only to intensify the close, the
expression close down bears the connotation of a longer
period of time and does not necessarily signal intensity.
The up in shut up may have an intensive function because
of the emotion with which this expression is usually
fraught, but the down in 7hut down signals the same sort
of meaning as does close down, again without adding in-
tensity. It is further obvious that the particle con-
tributes to the general connotation of the process of
diminution or cessation of activity, as does the down in
narrow down, quiet down, and calm down, three additional
phrases in which the particle is literally superfluous.
As well as being intensive, the particles in sit un,
sit down, jumo up, and jump down also are used to indicate
the position of the actor, i.e. whether he is lying down
or standing before he sits, higher or lower than the level
to which he will jump. Although the up in stand up may
be redundant if the person was standing all the time and
can function intensively, the down in stand down (from the
witness stand, for exampleJ signals an addition to the
meaning of stand. It is obvious that the particles men-
tioned in this paragraph give directional force to the
verb. Direction is also indicated by the particle present
in numerous additional expressions like kneel down, bow
down, fill up, and raise up,in which the particle does not,
however, suggest a sharp distinction in meaning of the
The with in visit with may be regarded as func-
tionine intensively, but it has come to signal a difference
in meaning. For example, while one is visiting the Jones
family, he may make it a point to visit with, i.e., have
particular conversation with, a particular member of the
family. The occurrence of visit with is parallelled by
the existence of visit upon which connotes a sense of
It should be noted further that frequently the
addition of a particle to a verb enables a transitive
verb to function intransitively. For example, shut is
transitive, while shut up can be either transitive Dr
intransitive. Raise is transitive, while raise up may be
either transitive or intransitive. Thus it may be con-
cluded that some particles have independent cognitive
meanings and chance the grammatical class of verbs, while
others function simply as intensifying elements.
(13) An important group of elements used to signal
intensity are compounds of the personal pronoun with self.
The intensifying effect of the self pronouns under certain
circumstances, as in "I myself will do it," as opposed to
the reflexive use, as in "I hurt myself" is generally
recognized. yvself, ourself, thyself, yourself, himself,
herself, itself, our-elves, yourFelves, themselves, and
oneself appear regularly (or have appeared, as in the case
of thyself) in the language. To this list one might add
theirself, theirselveF, and hiEself as dialectal forms.
';hen these pronouns are used intensively rather
than reflexively, the intensive forms stress the identity
of that which they modify. Therefore, they are commonly
considered to be in apposition with the words or units to
which they refer. They may be placed next to their nouns,
or they may refer to nouns which are sentence subjects and
are separated from them by verbal elements.
Ralph B. Long points out that as appositives the
intensive forms are capable of producing effects different
from the straightforward intensive effect one woulJ expect.
He writes that in the sentence "Christ himself had a traitor
among his followers" the Christ himself is like even Christ
in force. In a sentence like "I myself am inclined to
agree" the myself may be said to add an effect of modesty
to the I. He points out several examples of what he terms
He's taught Spanish himself.
She ;ade the dress herself.
You're inclined to postpone things yourselves.
George asked Louise to come himself.
George asked Louise to come herself.
Here the pronoun forms obviously intensify the identity of
The half principals [Lons's term for the
nominal to which an appositive is In apposition]
in all these sentences are the subjects of the
clauses in which the self forms are adjuncts and
half appositives. In Georre asked Louise to come
herself the adjunct herself modiiies the predicator
conm. No half principal for herself is expressed:
the implied subject of come, suggested by the first
complement ILouise) in the main clause, would serve
as half principal if it were expressed. Half-
appositive intensive characteristically refer to
subjects and are half-appositives to them, and it
is not unusual for the subjects to be implied rather
than stated--as, for example, in do it yourself.15
The half-appoEitives are at times apparently concessive in
function, but the emphasis put upon the concession and mod-
esty in such cases causes the self forms still to fall
within the broad area of intensification.
Today the isolated (i.e., non-appositional) self
form can combine the function of a personal pronoun and
the function of a signal of intensification. Thus when
a speaker needs to be emphatic, he chooses the self
pronoun form rather than the simple subject or object
pronoun form. The isolated intensive form is commonly
employed in some sort of subject relationship at the
end of a sentence, when a finite verb will be omitted
but will be implied, as in "He knew that his opponent
was as strong as (he) himself (was)." It can
15The Sentence and Its Parts, pp. 353-354.
also appear at the end of an independent proposition:
"The person of whom I wrote was (I) myself." Or it can
function as part of a predicate: "You are not (you)
yourself today." Occasionally one sees the isolated in-
tensive form as part of a compound subject at the begin-
ning of a sentence or clause, as in "John and myself were
there." This form has also been used alone dramatically
in an objective position, the most famous example being
a telegram sent by U.S. Grant to Secretary of War E. M.
Stanton in 1865: "General Lee surrendered the Army of
Northern Virginia this afternoon on terms proposed by
myself." Perhaps these self forms enjoy popularity today
because they obviate the necessity of choosing between
nominative and objective case forms.16
(14) Closely akin to the pronoun intensive ele-
ments are expressions with own--"my own possessions,"
"his very own words," "their own language." Barbara
Strang terms the own's in these constructions post-
positional genitive intensifiers and cites "his own house,"
"the house is his own," and "Shakespeare's own writing
desk."17 Other writers group own with determiners because
161n addition the self forms are sometimes more
modest. That is, "proposed by myself" seems modest or
self-effacing when contrasted with the starker and simpler
"proposed by me." This use, however, is anti-intensifying.
17Modern English Structure, p. 112.
it is part of a erenitive construction that most often is
used in determining function. Own tends to emphasize the
permanence of the possessive relationship, an aspect which
might not be clear with a genitive alone. The patterning
of own with other intensive elements is obviously restricted;
i.e. one can say "my very own'" but nrot "my really own" or
"[my surely .iun" or "imy own very."
(15) The elements that most clearly signal intensi-
fication in Enrlish fall into a syntactically defined class
whose rie- n-ers modify adjectives and adverts. In tradition-
al granuiir these intensive are called adverbs of degree.
However, because they are often not adverbial in form and
because some members of the syntactic class do not express
degree, it has become common to term these words qualifiers.
Some words which may function as qualifiers also have other
gramioatical functions in other utterances. For example,
consider "He runs surprisingly fast" and "Surorisingly,
he runs fast." Pretty frequently functions as a qualifier
("I did pretty i.ell indeed"), but it is identical in form
with pretty, an adjective. The two pretty's share a common
historical source but they function within different syn-
tactic classes. This study will treat a word as a quali-
fier w;hen that word fills the grammatical slot preceding
adjectives or adverbs or other qualifiers and when it
functions within this slct to modify the word following it.
The focus will, however, be on syntactic qualifiers that
are semantically intensifying.
It should be noted that the class of qualifiers does
include words other than semantically intensifying words.
Do.ntoners, words which express moderate degrees of quali-
ties, fall into this syntactic class--for instance, less
in "less useful." They, too, qualify the degree of a
quality though in the opposite direction from intensifiers.
On the other hand, an adverb like erammatically in "gram-
matically useful" fills the qualifier slot but limits the
referential range of the adjective rather than giving any
information about degree.
The following list is of semantically intensifying
qualifiers that are common in contemporary usage. It by
no means pretends to be a complete list, but it does cover
most of those words included in typical lists of intensive
qualifiers and most of those qualifiers frequently heard in
American English: absolutely, all, altogether, ny awful,
awfully, clean, comfortably, completely, conspicuously,
damn, damned, decidedly, dreadfully, emphatically, enor-
mously, enough, entirely, even, exactly, exceedingly,
extremely, fairly, far, frightfully, genuinely, gloriously,
coddamn, hardly, highly, how, incredibly, just, largely,
literally, mighty, monstrous, more, most, much, only, own,
perfectly, plenty, Eretty, pure, purely, quite, rather,
real, really, reasonably, ri-cht, scruculously, severely,
simply, .o, some, somehow, sone .hat, still, straight,
strongly, sure, surel, surrri singly, terribly, thoroughly,
too, totally, ruly, utterly, very, virtually, (La iay
well, whole, L.holl:', ornderfully. The following phrases
also function as intensive qualifiers: a_ -od deal,
a little, a little mite, a .ihole lot, all the more, far
and away, cood rnd k:injd f, mare and more, more or less,
nice andJ, quite bit, and so nuch. Various forms of Pro-
fanity and numerous euphemismF for God and dlamnr expand the
list still further. l
The qualifiers in the fcreroinc list are qualifiers
generally rec-snized as intensifying. However, the list
by no iearnz embraces all of the qualifiers which may func-
tion intensively, for the cLass of intensive qualifiers
18H. L. 'Ienrce-n Frovides a generous list of eupheT,-
ismi for Gjl and damn in The A.i.nrican Larnzuae, SCuo.rlement
I, pp. 664/;-u'-5. severall of the expressions tie :.lfers can
fill the quilifi.r position, e.. all-fire, blaIr-;,
blasted, bloi.ed, :cnfoi.ed, ', drn, durnredl dt hed, cursed,
danced, deuces, din-ed, suitche.- s-ir-,iered swo .rled.
Uthier l will fill the position with the addition of a suffix
which makes then adjectival in f;rm. e. ., drat(te),
blia.med), blastlsi)l, darn(ed), cu.s.(d,' di7 EJ-, din-ir d)
durn elJ), c3ld.arT d), r.ldr--(d d o.-o I( ,) consarn(n ) ,
v-dat-1 d os.d rnie ) -Fsh.iurn( ed I iaJ- ol.am d),
.da -blutfedT) dad-L-ur-b ed), dt-,d-shame(i( ., d .d-si r zle( e d)
dad-rot ited), daj- ietch) di, .id-a t imed) dad--sEl.id),
din.--burteil d.1 -rau(ed dii ri-bl.A td)t h -1 n- )l (d).
is to a large degree an open class. Speakers of English
freely use other qualifiers as intensives in an attempt to
be creative. For example, in each of the following ex-
pressions, a qualifier functions as an intensifier and
supplies additional connot..tions at the same time through
its literal .eaniig. In effect, the qualifier drais upon
its own lexical meaning to make the intensification more
striing. Thus one encounters constructions like the fol-
lowing: "a remarkably fine day," "a strikingly different
costume," "a frighteningly near explosion," "an incredibly
short tine," "an cverwhelminnly large majority," "a respect-
fully silent crowd," "a satisfyingly simple answer," "a
disturbingly loud rernark," and "a firmly closed mind."
The positions which intensive qualifiers occupy in
constructions now take on special significance. The in-
tensive qualifier has already been defined largely in terms
of its position; i.e. it is a word which fills the gram-
matical slot preceding adjectives or adverbs or other quali-
fiers and which functions within this slot to modify the
word which follows it. It falls within that group of
grammatical elements sometimes called function words which
are important in indicating relationships among form classes
in English utterances. Intensive qualifiers do not pattern
with verbs or nouns as adjectives and adverbs do. Rather,
they signal that the word following is an adjective or
adverb and not a noun or verb. Faul Roberts supplies an
example of this function: "For example, . ar orderly
room is ambiguous, at least in writing, since we don't
know whether orderly is a noun or an adjective. But a
very orjerlv room is unairmbicuous, for very signals the
adjective. similarly, a rather moving. van must mean a
van that stirs the emotions; it can't mean a van in motion
or a van for moving furniture. 'He '...-s rather potted'
must mean he was drunk; it can't mean his remains were
placed in an urn."19
The fact that qualifiers often resemble the morpho-
locicil class labeled adverb may contribute to a confusion
in distincuishinet them. It has been mentioned previously
that the two classes have some overlapping, of membership
and position in utterances. Intensive qualifiers may be
homophonous with simple adverbs. For example, the quali-
fier in "terribly tired" is homophonous with the adverb in
"He sane terribly." They may be homophonous with simple
adjectiveE; i.e. the qualifier in "mihlty tired" is
homophonous with the adjective in mightyy warrior." They
may occur singly, as in the examples just cited, or in
varying combinations, as in "really terribly tired" or
"really mighty nice."
19Under-tanjninu ERnlish, p. 200.
Intensive qualifiers occur in varying relationships
to each other. All fill the position immediately preceding
the adjective or adverb, "very tired" for example. Some
carl also precede another qualifier, so in "so very tired,"
for example. Some can precede a combination of several
qualifiers and the word they modify, "really so very tired,"
for example. All qualifiers are not interchangeable,
Both adjectives and adverbs commonly occur in three
forms, which have traditionally been termed the positive,
comparative, and superlative decrees. In considering these
six forms, one discovers by a process of elimination that
the most common intensive qualifiers pattern with those
forms according to a regular, rather simple system of dis-
tribution. In order to illustrate this system, let us
extract from the long list of qualifiers already mentioned
those most frequently listed by grammarians and observed
in use as common intensive qualifiers: a good deal,
a whole lot, any, awful, awfully, damned, even, extremely,
fairly, far, far and away, rood and, just, mighty, more,
20The problems in attempting to define categories of
intensive qualifiers in terms of distribution or collocation
are illustrated in a study by Sidney Greenbaum (Verb-
Intensifier Collocations in :Enlish, Janua Linguarunm, Series
iinor, No. Eo)l which is relevant to a study of intensive
qualifiers. His concern is restrictions or cooccurrences
of intensifierss" with verbs. By intensifierss" he means
adverbs that may occur before verbs and which heighten
more or less, mont, much, only, 2r-, eLt, auite, quile a bit,
rather, real, real' ri,'hc, 5imp so, syme, somehow,
somewhat, -till, terribly, too, very, and (a )w av. Since
these. particular qualifierF appear so commonly, it is
reasonable to assuie- that they constitute a sample adequate
and valid for specific study.
The distribution of intensiive qualifiers is not
determined only by the form of the intensive qualifier
itself; i.e.,intensive qualifiers homophornusr with aJjec-
tives do not pattern differently from intensive qualifiers
hoiophonouF with adverbs or intensive qlualifierrs which are
phrases. There is no relation between the form of the in-
tensive qualifier and its distribution in Enrilih utterances.
For example, one hears equally "awful fast," "extremely
fast," and "nice and fast."
It becomes obvious then that intensive qualifiers
fall into four general categories based on the positions
the force of the verbs. e choose--, for his study certainly,
really, l, (es r much, sreatlv, -etirely, utterly, and
conmletely-. -s prt of hiE Studi y he dili eer tiir .r.te' among.
what he calls decree intensifiers in terms of their pat-
terninp. however he runs into proble.ns early. Although
he diraw. upon nuirer.ou tests and informants as a basis for
analysis of ihe distribution of intensifiers, some of the
forms he cites as not occurring do in fact occur. In set-
tini up classes of degree intensifiers, he offers such as
"''Hoi totally'" ;-nl "'How.ever entirely" as ex imples :f
constructions ohich wo.ul'd not occur. However, in the in-
terests of achieving intensity, such constructions do
appear iin inforarrl contemporary uFare. Thus his study
serves further to illustrate the proLlee.is of categoriiin3
intensive elements according to collocation and distribution.
they fill in English utterances rather than on their own
forms alone. All of them will fill the position immediately
preceding some forms) of the adjective or adverb ("very
pretty," "terribly happy"). However, if this position is
already filled with a qualifier, not all qualifiers will
fill the position immediately preceding this qualifier,
i.e., the second qualifier position. Some will, e.e.,
"really very good," but others will precede only specific
qualifier forms, e.g., "very damned good" but not "every
really nice." 'jihen the two positions immediately preceding
the adjective or adverb are filled, some (but not all)
qualifiers will fill the position immediately preceding
them, the third qualifier position, e.g., "really terribly
damned nice," but ""terribly really damned nice." However,
the determining factor here is the form of the qualifier
in this second position.
Closer observation reveals that there is a pattern
to this apparently random distribution within utterances.
The distribution depends primarily upon three factors:
the form of the qualifier itself, the form of the qualifier
which follows the qualifier in question, and the form of
the adjective or adverb following the qualifier in question.
Is the qualifier itself homophonous with an adjective or
adverb? Is the adjective or adverb which follows in the
positive, comparative, or superlative degree form? (Ap-
parently in the case of adverbs, degree is more important
than whether the word is an adverb of manner, time, or
place.) Is the qualifier a phrase (more cr less, quite
It has been stated earlier that altoEether there are
four categories c-f intensive qualifiers. At this point it
should be mentioned that within each category there are
qualifiers hornijphrnouE with adjectives, qualifiers homo-
phonous with adverbs, and qualifiers which are in them-
selves phrases but which function as single intensive
qualifiers. The categories themselves are determined by
the form of the adjective or adverb which the qualifiers
will precede. ',hen a qualifier can precede, for example,
the positive degree form of an adjective, it can also
precede the positive degree form of an adverb prettyty
good," "pretty fast," "pretty soon," "pretty terribly,"
"pretty near"). It should also be mentioned that more
and most come into play in dual roles. In the first place
more and most are frequently used instead of -er and -est
to form the comparative and superlative degrees of imny
adjectives and most adverbs. In such constructions they
are indeed qualifiers, though the whole phrase is a
comparative or superlative form. However, more and most
are also used themselves as intensive qualifiers rather
than as sig-nals :f degree. When they function intensively,
they do not pattern with comparative and superlative
The first category is comprised of qualifiers which
precede positi-re degree forms of adjectives an- adverbs
("awful near," ""'aiful nearer," "swful good," "*awful
better" '"1wful best"). In the group of qualifiers studied,
the following qualifiers fall within this category: awful,
a'jfLflly, e:.renely, fairly, Zood and, mighty, more, mo t,
pretty, quite, real, richt, so, terribly, too, and very.
Each qualifier within this category will comfortably pre-
cede other qualifiers in combinations, and the qualifiers
which they precede may be homophonous with both adjectives
and adverbs ("pretty damned tired," "right terribly done
in"). Each qualifier within this category can be preceded
in turn by other qualifiers, but they seem to be preceded
rost often only by qualifiers homophonous '.,ith adverbs
("simply pretty tired," '"damned pretty tired").
The second category is composed of qualifiers
which precede the comparative degree forms of adjectives
and adverbs ("still tireder" "*still happiest," "much
sooner," ''*much soonest"). Among members of this category
are a whole lot, any, far, much, and still. The qualifiers
within this category ..ill precede cther qualifiers in two-
or tlree-qualifier comnbinations. However, a whole lot, and
far, will precede only adjectives and adverbs which exist
in some Ecrt of comparative degree form ("a whcle lot
closer," "far shorter," "*.far closest"). "till will pre-
cede qualifiers hc.rrophonLous with both Adjectives and
adverbs ("still r.ic-r," tilll more terribly). Still,
much and in2 demand chat the adjective or adverb followiin
be in the cofiparrative degree form ("still yoeuncer,"
"Fstill youngest" "-nuch nicer," "ml-uch nicest," "any ..:re
difficult," "::any moFt difficult,"), but still .nd much
will .l o pattern with a Fuperlative decree form preceded
by the ("much the youngest"). Each of theze qualifiers can
be preceded by ether qualifiers, Lut the principles deter-
mining the types of qualifiers which precede them are
,'emberE of the third category .:.f qualifiers are
qualifiers which will precede both the positive and coin-
parative degree formal of adjectives and adverbs ("rather
soon," "rather sooner," "-rat'-ier soonest," "quite suitable,"
"quite more suitable," "sonme good," "some better," "some-
what rapid," "somewhat mo-:re rapid"). ;.embers of this
category include a g-d de2al, quite, quite a bit, rather,
some, iad somewhat. These qualifiers .;ill precede other
qualifiers in combinations, and the qualifiers they precede
may be ho-nophonous jith toth adjectives a nd adverbs. How-
ever, they demarnd that the word following be in the posi-
tive or comp3ar.-tive deg-ree forr ("quite terribly torn,"
"quite a bit too earl,," ".so.ne damned good," "sorne greater
good," "*quite a bit most important"). Each of these
qualifiers is not freely preceded by another qualifier.
However, rely and still can precede each of these
qualifiers, and so perhaps can on occasion ("really some-
what nice," "still a good deal better," "so quite accept-
The final category of qualifiers will pattern before
all three forms of adjectives and adverbs--positive, com-
parati'.e, and superlative degrees. (A)iay, damned, even,
far and aav, lust mare or less, only, recall, somehow,
and simply are among the members of this class ("really
nicest," "more or less nice," "somehow better"). Members
of this category will combine with other qualifiers and
will precede qualifiers ,lhich are homophonous with both
adjectives and adverbs ("simply terribly exciting,"
"really pretty tired").
These four categories are as far as formal analysis
has been carried out here. Beyond this step it may be neces-
sary to deal with meaning, with semantics, if one wishes to
break down the categories further, or there may be structural
classes that have not been isolated yet. So far, there is
no explanation for the fact that the utterance "He is
simply terribly fed up" is possible, whereas "He is terribly
simply fei up" is incoherent. The difference may depend on
the meanin-. of the individual lexical items, or it may
rest on som- more general Erammatical distinction that has
not been discovered.1
It should be obvious, nevertheless that the apparent-
ly random distribution of intensive qualifiers is indeed
ordered. More remairin to be s~id later about the dis-
tribution of specific qualifier as they are discussed in
later chapters. It does seem reasonable, however, that
most qualifiers will fall into one of these four general
categories acccrdinc to the positirins they most commonly
assume in relation to the words following them.
Despite the numerous obvious distinctions between
intensive qualifiers and other adjectives .ind adverbs, many
traditionalists have not acknowledged the need to recognize
their as a unique clafs of modifiers. George 0. Curiae, for
example, says in a book published in 1931 that "the most
common way to express the absolute superlative is to place
before the poFitive of the adjective a simple adverb such
as very or real (widely used in colloquial ALrmerican
speech)."' As late as 1959 I1arearet Bryant was writing
along the saie simplistic lines in explaining that .ery
21Harry Spitzbardt has in fact classified intensive
qualifiers acco,.ring to ,iea.ning in a study, "English Adverts
of Degree and Their Semiantic Fields," Philoloica PrjEenila
8, 3'-!357. ,lthouch he does not dpal with their patternini
with each other, he sets up sixteen semantic fields into
which he places &.2 intensifyyinr adverbs.
22 ntx, p. .
zvnta;, p. 507.
and "similar words" belong in the same class as exceedingly
as adverbs of degree, that this is one of the "numerous
varied uses" of the adverb." She apparently means by
adverb of degree more or less what is meant here by inten-
However, the basic problem of classification of ele-
ments -.ithin language was recognized and stated in 1921 by
Edward Sapir, who stressed the fact that although the
linguist is not interested in any abstract and universal
scheme of the parts of speech--"their number, nature, and
necessary confines,"24 language analysis depends on the
scheme within each individual language, on the formal de-
marcations which it recognizes.25 He goes on to state
that "No language fails to distinguish noun and verb,
though in particular cases the nature of the distinction
may be an elusive one. It is different with the other
parts of speech. Not one of them is imperatively required
for the life of the language."26
23A Functional Enelish Grammar, p. 190.
24Languaoe, p. 119.
25Those scholars who are interested in universal
schemes of language would certainly disagree with Sapir's
26Sapir, p. 119.
It iE perhaps the fact that intensive qualifiers
are not "imperatively required" on an individual basis
that accounts for their v.aueness of sense. The presence
or absence of qualifier rarely alters the fundamental
meaning of an utterance. Thus a samplingg from common desk
dictionaries reveals much imprecision in the definitions
of intensive qualifiers. Uebster' s Seventh r'.wr Colle.riate
Dictionary defines quir.e as 'rather,' rather as 'somewhat'
or 'in some decree,' real]: as 'actually' and truly and
very as 'to a hirh degree' and exceedinglyy.' The American
College Dicti.onary defines quire as 'really' and 'truly'
and both quite and re;llv as 'actually'; it also defines
very as 'extremely' and 'exceedingly,' while quite is 'to
a considerable extent .r degree,' and rather is 'to a
certain extent.,' and very is 'in a high degree.' The con-
fusion and duiDlication evident in this collection of defini-
tions underlines the imprecision with which these qualifiers
are defined and reinforces the idea that their primary func-
tion is. to add em.nhasis despite whatever etyymoloaical
meanings they may have had earlier. In fact, The Amnrican
College Dictionary at one point simply calls very an inten-
It is obvious to the most naive speaker of English
that these words are all exchangeable in patterning. One
can say "It is very hot," "It is quite hot," "It is really
hot," "It is rather hot," "It is bloody hot," or "It is
damned hot" with equal facility and with the expectation
of being easily understood. However, it is also apparent
to any speaker of English that these expressions are not
entirely synonymous. They are not interchangeable in
meaning, and particularly not in the situations in which
they are used.
A group of Penneylvania college women sensed widely
differing connotations evoked by each of the expressions
mentioned above. They decided that "It is rather hot" and
"It is bloody hot" seemed British to them, and they asserted
that they would expect the speakers to be British subjects.
It is probable that they tended to equate the fact that
these expressions were not commonly used in their area and
the fact that they did hear these expressions in British
films. Thcy joined "It is rather hot" and "It is quite
hot," however, as expressions which seemed sophisticated
to them when used by American speakers. They said that
they would expect these spea':ers to be well educated. "It
is really hot' and "It is very hot" were the expressions
most familiar to them, and they felt that these expressions
conveyed an impression of average "American." "It is
damned hot" was considered by them to be mild profanity,
inappropriate under most circumstances, but the strongest
of the expressions Jiven.
..s,.ed to ran!: the intensive qualifiers in order from
weal:ect to stron.rest, the students decided on the following
order: r r.iher, quite, ,," t, .1 o danrnej. The
group were then conrfr-nted with the simple statement "It
is hot," .pol':en slo.'ly, ..ith primary Ftres on each word.
They were then divided in opiniDn. Some of them felt that
this was the strongest ezxression of all, whilee other: felt
that it iw ; t he ..aKe:l-.:st because no intensive qi.lifiier w3a
included. itore .of them were consci:ou; of the fact that the
unvarying Sr.res was itself unusual and waS a formT of in-
tensifictiron. lHot one of the students, however, felt that
all of the expresE ions ~were equal either in nearninm or in
Let it be Eranted that this sort of experiment is
-re3tly simPlified and that this group of respondents wjs
fairly n.aive. Ho',.ver, the reaction illustr-tes t.,o facts:
first, even if intensive qualifiers have lost much of their
orisin.al mesning .ai.J force, the choice of one qualifier over
another :.iav.ea definite difference in meaning, Elieht as it
may be; second, the eliminrtdon of intensive qualifiers en-
tirely and the reliance on unusual stress patterns may be
itself a forceful sort of intensification.
As one exr.Tines the phenomenon of intensification
more closely, it becomes increasingly obvious that in-
tensification is not an dele.t.ent of langua-e which yields
itself to siLple definition and easy analysis. As an area
of study, its implicAtions are broad; thus one must perforce
choose to limit his observations to one aspect of the subject.
It has been indicated earlier that the intensive
qualifier is a form of intensification occurring frequently
in contemporary speech And writing. Further, the qualifier
is the intensive form most easy to recognize and suffering
least fromT arnbizuity of interpretation. Yet ironically
very little attention has been given this element, and
that attention h.hich has been directed toward it nas been
largely pejorative in nature. Despite this criticism,
however, the intensive qualifier continues to occur freely,
as it has for centuries. Therefore, this study will concern
itself primarily with, a discussion of intensive qualifiers,
zivins attention to their historical development and to
their current distribution in the language.
HISTORICAL DEVELOP;FI'UT OF THE ii.TEN IVE CU4LIFIER
The 1!e 'L eninri Proncess
It has been stated in Chapter I that although the
intensive qualifier is a common forn, of intensification
in contemporary speech and writing, far too little critical
attention has been eiven it. It has not been singled out
for study even though its widespread jue is by no means
limiited to present-day Erinlish. Furthermore, usage never
the centuries has brou.iht about chnriges in imeanirig of in-
div.idual intensive qualifiers. It seems ippropriste then
that before we proceed to ..n examination of the distribution
of this form in contemporary speech and writinE, we devote
som,,e attention to the hiEtorical Jevelopment of the in-
It has been noted in Chapter I that intensive quali-
fiers commonly weaken in r, eanine over a period of time as
they are ror,' frequently used. The semantic weall:enin- wlas
explained as being a result of the follow..iri combination
of factors. The mrre fa.niliar intensive qualifiers become,
the less effective they are. Eecaiuse of the natural human
propensity toward ex::aieratiobi, Fpeakers constantly search
for stronger and more remphatic expressions, while their
listeners efficiently separate the literal denotation? of
an isolated word from its application within a particular
statement. In many cases the meaning of a word in context
is considerably less than its etymology would indicate.
Let us now examine this weakening process as it
affects intensive qualifiers in general. Having done so,
we shall proceed to examine the development of particular
intensive qualifiers over a period of time with an eye to
a historical overview of the pattern they illustrate.
Many intensive qualifiers begin as adjectives or
adverbs referring to absolute or incomparable qualities.
Both absolute adjectives and other aJjectives which be-
come intensive qualifiers are first used in the full sense
of their lexical meanings. For example, awful was origi-
nally used in the sense of 'awe inspiring'; a terrible
object was one which evoked terror; when Chaucer applied
very to a character, his audience recognized the implica-
tions of truth attached to the word.
However, frequent use of strong adjectives makes
them too familiar to be effective, so a pattern becomes
evident in their development, a pattern in which they pro-
gressively weaken in meaning as they are reduced to in-
tensive qualifiers. These adjectives come to be used
more and more frequently in combination with other power-
ful adjectives in order to gain force. Consider this
hypothetical e:-:lrn.ple. A writer ,ig-ht describe his monster
not merely as n "awful ionster" but as an "a.fawul, gro-
tesque monster." It is reasonable to conjecture that the
r.e::t step in the we,;::eninr_ of the adjective mirht be the
o.,issC.:in, in sWEech, of the intonation terminal and, in
writing, of the co,,a that represent.' it, sco that a',ful
-eea.Ti to modiJify ; r:-.tecquE e rather than mionFter, .nd c.ne
writes about an "ai.Jful grotesque iror,r ter." In the final
step, the adjective loses its adjectival force alone with
its original connot'ti.on and picks up an -1. adverbial
ending. It becom-es an iintensilyi,'l adverb, a qualifier
whose primary function is simFly to intensify the force of
adjectival elpnnents -which ;f'. llow it. It loses its unique
lexical ripeanin and takes on the function of intensifying
the de-ree of tha quality expressed in the word following.
As intenoifyinr qualifiers wt.eaken in force, they no longer
fulfill their original purposes, and speakers and writers
turn to never and fresher qualifiers, qualifiers which are
more effective because they are less famiiliar. However,
frequent use destroys the novelty of fresh quali fiers, and,
as they eventually ;eaj:en, they neej the support of still
other fresh qualifiers which will themselves eventually
ue3ken ,nd be replaced. Thus a pattern emerges wherein
words progressively weaken in meaning. g-.ost intensive
qualifiers fir the pattern by sharing two co-mion factors:
first, they originally refer to very strong or absolute
qualities, aind second, they gradually weaker in force rnd
Because it has not been the practice in the rpat to
treat qualifiers as a separate syntactic group iiitensive
qualifiers have been most often referred to as falling into
the class of adverbs. It is helpful at this noint to refer
to the master list of intensive qualifiers compiled on
page thirty-five in Chapter I. ;'.ost of them 'would tradi-
tionally tha:e been labeled adverbs of degree; all of them
have shared in the process of weakenirni of .Teaning.
Let us now consider individually a number of these
intensive qualifiers, concerning ourselves. primarily with
their historical development as they have become associated
more and more with intensification and less and less with
their ety.:ological meanings.
Individual intensive qualifiers have been selected
for examination in this chapter for several rsecific
reasons. First, they are themselves the qualifiers gram-
marians use most frequently in compiling liFss of intensive
qualifiers. They appear on virtually every such list and
have in fact been extracted from the longer lists of cur-
rently used qualifiers supplied in Chapter I. Second,
they are, with the exception of one small group, the
qualifiers which h do in fact appear with a g-reat deal of
frequency in present-day Enzlish. Third, they are typical
in their historical developmentt, in that each has pro-
pressively weakened in fcrce.
They fall into three croup,, each of which will be
treated separately. The first group consists of qualifiers
which are widely used today on all levels of usage. The
qualifiers falling into this gro-up are awfully, even,
extremely, much, quite, rather, really, Trrilg so, till,
urYly, too, arid V-ry.
The second roui, of qualifiers conEists of those
qualifiers whichh are wvidel, used today but which are some-
what restricted as to levels of usage. ;'-eraberF of this
group are inirhy, anly, l pretty, and ri -ht.
The third group of qujlifiers is made of those ..hich
are rarely used today except. in colloquial, dialectal, or
certain pat expressions. However, these qualifiers have
been widely used in the past and occur frequently in litera-
ture of past periods and in the informal speech of certain
dialect areas today. Thus any kind of historical overview
would be incomplete without them. The qualifiers within
this group are considerable, deseratI, full, joful l, mortal,
The lists of the preceding paragraphs are not ex-
haustive. The discussion here cannot attempt to provide
a thorough historical examination of all intensive quali-
fiers. However, the limits do afford a representative
sampling of typical qualifiers, and they are broad enr.uah
to suggest a generalization about the hiFtorical dis-
tribution and use of intensive qualifiers.
We will treat these groups and the qualifiers within
each group in the order listed. Within each group we will
examine qualifiers one by one in terms of their individual
chronological development. We will consider the following
features for each item when they are applicable:
lexical ii.aning (in a literal, referential sense),
collocational ranrre (any cooccurrence restrictions
scope of use (geo.praphical, historical, social,
sexual, occupational, stylistic, modal).
It will become apparent as we progress that the
development of individual qualifiers illustrates the
weakening in reanino mentioned at the beginning of this
chapter. It will also become obvious that intensive quali-
fiers are subject to periods of popularity and that they
pass in and out of fashion.
The first group of qualifiers to be examined are
qualifiers which are widely distributed in contemporary
American usage. More than that, however, they occur con-
sistently on multiple levels of usaee and appear in both
formal and informal expression. By examining each quali-
fier in terms of its chronological development, it will
be made evident that this group of qualifiers illustrates
the overall weakening of lexical meaning characteristic
of intensive qualifiers.
Qualifiers which will be considered in this group
are the following, and they will be examined in the order
in which they are listed: awfully, even, extremely, much,
quite, rather, really, simly, so, still, surely, too,
It is interesting to note that despite the fact that
awful (from the Scandinavian a3i and awfully have been
used since the i'lddle English period, awfully was com-
paratively late in assuming an intensive function. The
original meaning of awfully was 'in a manner character-
ized by awe or dread,' as is illustrated in a 1375 Oxford
English Dictionary citation, "lukit he awfully." This
meaning has apparently died nard; and awfully continued
to be used in this sense into the Modern period. Thus
we have as evidence a 1657 citation, "The lion awfully
forbids the prey," and an 1?3? entry, "awfully were his
features wr ucht. "
By the nineteenth century, however, awfully had
largely lost its original connotation of awe and was re-
duced in meaning to the point where it functioned Fimply
to intensify. In fact, it has been painted out that
awfully was the intensive adverb m'ino in vjaue durinEg the
second half of the nineteenth century. The C::ford
English Dicti.onary supplies nunmerouF citation. as evidence
of the intensive .iistribution of r-wfully during this
century. In 1S30 we find "awfully sad," in 1FL2 "awfully
bad," in 186c, "awfully clever."
In the twentieth century awfully rarely appears in
the sense of provoking ai.e and appears most commonly as a
simple intensive qualifier meaning 'very.' Today little
distinction is made between the forms awful and awfully
when they are used as qualifiers except for the fact that
awfully is considered better usage by those who recognize
that an adverbial form normally modifies adjectives, other
adverbs, and verbs.
Thus it may be seen that the evolution of awful and
awfully into intensive qualifiers exemplifies the overall
Chjrles Carpenter Fries, American English Grammar,
weakening of lexical meaning typical of intensive quali-
fiers. The qualifier comes into the language functioning
as an adjective with specific semantic associations. Be-
cause of the force of its meaning, it begins to be used
intensively and exists as both adjective and intensive
qualifier for a time. Ultimately, it loses its original
adjectival force and functions simply as an intensive,
until it means little more than 'very.' In succeeding
pages it will be shown that the stages in this development
of awfully are applicable to other intensive qualifiers as
Another common intensive qualifier is even, from
the Old English efne. Its original adverbial meaning was
'exactly,' 'precisely,' or 'just.' However, early in its
development it began to assume an intensive function, al-
though it has not always functioned as an intensive
qualifier. The Oxford English Dictionary draws the
earliest intensive citations of even from the Old English
period in "efne swa" constructions. The editors go on to
supply thirteenth century exRmples, one of which is "efne
bisse worden," dated 1204; and citations from succeeding
centuries indicate that even consistently continued to
The fourteenth century Lsupplies "stand even in,"
dated 1340. The fifteenth century provides the phrase
"even into ship," dated 00OO. In the sixteenth century
we encounter again an intensive use of even which has per-
sisted throu-.h the years in "even so," dated 1576. From
the seventeenth century we e::tract a 1611 citation, "even
before." The eighteenth century supplies "even on that
occasion," dated 1776. In the nineteenth century even
began to appear commonly in constructions which are clearly
recognized as incorporating intensive qualifier. Citations
such as "even greater" and "even more applicable" illus-
trate this use. During this time period even was used
particularly to emphasize comparative qualities.
This brief group of citations ranging from the Old
English period through the nineteenth century clearly show
that even has been used intensively since the Old English
period. Other forms of the word have existed side by side
with its intensive form, but as time has passed, it has
come to be more and more widely utilized as an intensive
In the modern period even has come to be an ex-
tremely versatile intensive word. For example, even can
function as an intensive qualifier occurring before
adjectives and adverbs ("even prettier" and "even now")
and prepositional phrases functioning as adverbs ("even
in the morning "J. When even is used as a qualifier
preceding adjectives ani adverbs, it patterns most usually
before the compara'tive degree fornmn of these words or be-
fore riore. However, even will precede certain other fc.rmis,
such as "even happy."'
Ex:tre-'iely (from rthe French extreme) .sa used literal-
ly in the sixteenth century to indicate something to the
utterrmost deSree, something farthest from center. HoWIever,
it: ,,leaning speedily teg-in to weaken, and it ias used as
an intensi'.e qualifier during the s-rme century. Tihe
Oxford Enril ; sh Dictiornrv provides several examFles of
this us:aEe in citations such as "txtremTely crocked," dated
1540, jnd "extremely racked," dated 1563.
Duririg succ-edins centuries its force weakened
still further. In the r-eventeenth century we find
"extremely d-angerous," dated 1638, as an exajmle of its
intensive force, L.hile a 1776 citation, extremelyy
favorable," serves to illustrate its distribution in the
Even .ls. functions to intenFify other construc-
tions. It c-n be used befIore nouns (" .ven nn AgreeJd"),
verb; ("'We even orro;iued") nouns and their Tol.iifiers
("even .he proetc"), n-,rl djepend.ent clausFes ("even after
they proriied'") In these conrtructions e':en is na.t an
intensive q.lualifier in the strict sense of the definition
because it dicoes rot precede adjectives or adverbs. How-
ever, it is here obviously intensi'.e in function, :jnd
thee intensI'.e con r tonr stru Lo i r perhar. as cocri:.,on today
as constru.ctions 'here even is clearly an intensive quali-
eighteenth century. It became quite common indeed in the
nineteenth century, having lost virtually all of its
original etymrlogical ireining in exp-ressions such is
"extremely strong and cool," dated 101S?.
In the twentieth c?rntury extremely functions to a
large degree as an ordinary intensive qualifier with the
force of very.
The word much (from the Ijte Old EnElish mvcel)
has been widely used Fince Mliddle ECnlish times in the
sense of 'gre3t.r' -arly in its development, however, it
began to function as -n intensive qualifier, and it has
continued to function intensively simultaneously with its
adjectival and nominal functions. It has been e:nployed
both before sirLnle-word modifiers and before miodifiers
composed of phrases.
iluch was used intensively as early as the fifteenth
century. This is illustrated in Oxford Enrlish Dictionary
cititions "m'ic:h bisie," dated 14L9, and muchuh gladly,"
dated 14]90. Since busy is an adjective and gladly is an
adverb, the use of much in these two constructions fulfills
the definition of the intensive qualifier set up in this
In the sixteenth century much came to be used in-
tensively to precede other than adjectives or adverbs.
The Oxford 7nlish Dictic.nqry provide= a 1551 entry,
"much like uncourteis," as an illustration c-f this sort
Much continued to be used as an intensive qualifier
in the seventeenth century. The Oxford 'Enlish Dictieic-ry
provides a 1650 construction "much del ihtful". as proof.
In discussing the use of much during the eighteenth century,
the dictionary editors eq.ua.-te it with v.ry, thus proving
that by the eighteenth century much was solidly established
as an intensive qualifier. "''uch unkind," dated 1796, is
offered as evidence.
In the nineteenth century much was quite cmc.rmonly
used to function intensively, as is illustrated in an
183. citation, ".nuch different." Jespersen su-gests that
in expressions like the fc.llowing nineteenth century cita-
tions, much is a 'stren,'thener,' i.e. an intensive, neaninr
nearly. He cites "much the same thin-," "kept pretty much
to the samee" "much such a part," "much such a sort of
Jespersen suz ests that during this century
"a gc.a deal," "a great del," "c-.nsiderably" and "far"
were used as ;uore Lr less synonymouFs with much. He
supplies citations from Fieldinc ("far the greater number
are of the mixt, kind") and from '.'alpole ("a man a good
deal the elder of Francis") to substantiate this usage.
I'odern Enrilish Gr mTiar, FPrt VII, p. 401.
earthen jar," and "relapsing much into its usual state."'
This intensive usage of much as close in meaning to nearly
is borne out by an 1875 citation in the Oxford English
Dictionary, "much the largest river." Stoffel provides
yet other citations which support the same principle.5
In the twentieth century much is frequently employed
as an intensive qualifier in combinations with other quali-
fiers. For example, one commonly hears phrases like "very
much" with participial adjectives like pleased and amused
or with too as in "very much too young." One also hears
the less formal "pretty much."
The use of much with a single participial modifier
is common today in constructior.s like "much obliged" or
"much inclined to agree."
Quite, derived from the Old French quite, seems
to have begun to function intensively in the Middle Fnglish
period, when it meant 'completely,' 'wholly,' 'altogether,'
'entirely.' The Oxford English Dictionary supplies
4Modern English Grammar, p. 400 ff.
5C. Stoffel, Intensifiers and Downtoners, p. 151 ff.
A number of references to this monograph will be found in
the pages following. The monograph is heavily annotated.
and the first half is directed specifically to intensive.
Many of Stoffel's statements are somewhat dated, and this
fact will be pointed out when it is applicable.
citations which indicate that in this sense quite dates
from the fourteenth century. For example, a 1375 entry,
"Blynd I ame quhyt," implies that the speaker is entirely
Citations drawn from the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries indicate that this meaning was sustained through
these periods. "Quite upright," dated 1597, and "quite
dead," dated 1604, serve as typical examples. By the
eighteenth century, however, the meaning had expanded to
include implications of 'actually,' 'really,' and 'truly,'
This usage draws on the implication that the circumstances
surrounding the utterance are such that they fully justify
the use of the word thus qualified. Phrases such as "quite
smart and handsome," and "quite Anglican character" are
supplied as examples of the expanded meaning of quite.
Quite continued to be used intensively through the
nineteenth century, as the 1801 entry, "quite certain,"
illustrates. It retained to some extent its associations
By the twentieth century, however, it has become
increasingly obvious that quite is used far more commonly
in the sense of 'very' than in the sense of 'absolutely'
or 'completely.' What was in the eighteenth century an
expansion of the original meaning of the word has in
fact led to a progressive weakening of its meaning.
To some degree 1quie has lost the sense of completeners,
and when we say that somet.hin- is "quite fooi," for exaa ple,
we Ido n.'ot imply that. it is perfectly good or that it can
not be better. 'We simply mean that it is very food indeed.
In terms of position, quite has historically been
used before noun phrases, as in "quite a nice job" and
"quite the young man," as well as before adjectives and
adverbs, as in "quite nice." Today, it is more formal
than infc.r:.al. Its development historically is typical
of intensive qualifiers; as it has ccnie to be used more
as an intensive, it. has weakened in a literal, lexical
sense. Today it iieans little ricre than very.
The .meaning of rather (from the Old English hra;or)
has shiftedJ sharply over the centuries. During the Old
English and ;i-iddle English p-.riods it was used to denote
precedence in ti.Te as in "/tte a rather earlierr an] nerre
day," 1429. In the seventeenth century, however, it began
to be applied tc. adjectives and adverbs with a more gen-
eral meaning and was used to express 'to some extent'
and 'somewhat,' as an Oxford English Dictionary citation,
"rather bitter," dated 1662, illustrates. In this sense
rather w'.s used as a limiter or downtoner rather than as
an intensive, but as a qualifier nevertheless. In the
eighteenth century, rather continued tc function as a
qualifier expressing a restrained intensity, as "rather
inconvenient," d-iated 170i illustrates.
In the twerntietn cernt ury rather frequently displ- ay
a reversal of i:Le3ning and is used as an inten-sive qualifier
rather than as a dowrtoner. "That was rather ,ood" is
tc.day a forceful, emphatic statement, although it is
perhaps; the tone of voice which influences the interpreta-
tion .of r;th!er as an intensive.
Really (fr.:m trhe Ar.nro-',;rnion real) has been in comn-
mnun usage since the fif;eenith century, -jienr it vwa s Led to
emphasi ze the- spe~Iker's belief in the truth *or correctness
of a state.net. By the seventeenth century its meaning
had weakened, and it had been reduced to an intLerinive quali-
fier. The O.:ford r:l ish Eiction-ry provides a 1610 citr..-
tion, "really blessed,'' as an early example of its intensive
In the eighteenth century really continued to func-
tion as an intensive qualifier ("really frightful," 1772,
for example), and was frequently coupled with truiv as
a sort of doubly strong qualifier. Citations such as
"real good," 1718, and "real fine," 1227, sucpest that
the colloquial real has alternated with really since the
eighteenth century. Rea lly functioned as an intensive
qualifier on through the nineteenth century and has become
one of the miore widely distributed intensive qualifiers in
use today. The close association of really and truly h.as
also continued into this century.
Simply (froim the French simple) was first used in
English during the .'iddle English period, when it expressed
an absence of complexity, of compositerness, of intricacy.
In the sixteenth century it began to be used intensively
because it had come to mean 'without exception,'
'absolutely.' Thus to say that something ;was "simply
good" was to say that it was intrinsically Eood under all
circum.s.tances. However, this forceful meaning of simply
quickly be.-an to weaken, and during the sixteenth century
one could already apply simply to modifiers without in-
tendiing to imply the full force of its meaning. One could
say that. some';hin' wasa "simply good" without meaning liter-
ally that it was always goad under all conditions, for
example. The Oxford Enrlish Dictionary supplies the first
citation of simply as an intensive qualifier in the phrase
"simply the best," dated 1590.
The editors go on to supply citations which illus-
trate that simly continued to be used as an intensive
qualifier through succeeding centuries. For example, they
provide "simply necessary," dated 1621, and simplyy un-
jeniable," djted 156, setting up a progression that runs
throou.h the nineteenth century.
In the twentieth century simply is widely used as
an intensive qualifier in boch formal and informal speech.
As an intensive, it merely adds emphasis without the
associations of its original et.ymolocical meaning.
So is yet another of the mo:t widely used intensive
qualifiers today. The Cxford English Dictionary supplies
proof that _o (from the Old English swa) has been used
intensively as well as comparatively from the time of the
earliest written records. The editors observe that in
affirmative clauses it has commonly been used as an
intensive without comrarative force from the Old English
period through the present day.
6C.S. Lewis devotes some attention to simply in
Studies in Words, p. l07 ff. He writes that in essence
simply functions like the Greek adverb haipos, which
means 'intrinsically,' 'unconditionally,' 'not in
relation to special circumFtances.' The opFpnste of
haplos can be expressed by some fcrm of reservation, by
an expression like "in a way," "in a sense," or "up to
a point." He maintains that our older writers used
simply in this sense and to use it otherwise is a
logical absurdity. He says, for example, that a bone
micht be Food for a doS, but a bone is not good simply.
While still in the animal, it was sood for him, and it
may be good some day for a paleontologist, but it is
never crod simply. Current use of simply as an intensive
qualifier is a manifestation of its 'deterioration' of
The earliest examples of the intensive use of so
date from the Old English period. The phrase "swa
openlice" is typical. So was used intensively in the
thirteenth century, as the citation "swa wra e," dated
1225, illustrates. In the fourteenth century phrases such
as "so myghty," dated 1340, were apparently common.
The fifteenth century supplies a 1412 entry, "flesche
so frele," as typical. Moreover, during this century the
construction "so--as" was being used in simple affirmative
sentences to express intensity. The "so--as" construc-
tion continued to be used in the sixteenth century in
phrases such as "so soon as the all-cheering sun."
Entries such as "so swete," dated 1503, continue to ullus-
trate the intensive use of so.
The seventeenth century supplies the phrase "so
dodged," dated 1629, to illustrate the intensive function
of so, while the "so--as" construction continued to flourish,
as the phrase "so harsh a name as madness" illustrates.
Numerous illustrations prove that in the eighteenth century
constructions with "as--as" became quite common along with
the "so--as" constructions. These constructions seem to
have been interchangeable, as examples like "as soon as,"
"as long as," "as often as," and "as far as" seem to in-
dicate. The simple so intensive continued, however, to
be widely used during this period, as the 1741 entry
"so silly," illustrates. The nineteenth century shows the
same sort of distribution of so, as Trollope's 1857 phrase
"so excellent" demonstrates. Stoffel writes also that it
was during the nineteenth century that "so--as" construc-
tions become more fashionable and hence more popular than
"as--as" constructions and been to replace them.'
The adverb so functions today in the twentieth
century as a widely used intensive qualifier. It has been
suggested that so has so easily assumed an intensive role
because the most traditional use of so as an adverb is to
indicate or imply a degree of comparison, or result. There-
fore, when one says he is "so glad" or "so tired" about
something, his listeners assume that some sort of result
is implied, that the speaker is "so glad" or "so tired"
that he could do something, or that a comparison is im-
piled and he is "so -lad" or "so tired" as someone else
is. Indeed this connotation o0 comparison may well help
to account lor tne wile distribution of so as an intensive
7P. 73 ff.
8On the other hand, Jespersen represents another
approach to the function of so. He writes that in an
expression like "I was so llad to help Mr. Fenwick; he
interested me so," _o functions simply as an intensive
used in the positive degree. In other words, he does
not see so as an adverb with an implied comparison.
modernrn Enrli.h Cra.rmar, Part VII, p. L02.
In the twentieth century the "as--as" constructions,
which have been mentioned in connection with the develop-
ment of so, appear to have replaced "so--as" constructions
to express simple compariFons showing the relative equality
of things, e.g. "as pretty as a picture." A "so--as"
construction seems to be more of a conscious archaism for
the sake of intensity, as in the familiar "so long as you
both shall live."
The simple intensive qualifier so, however, enjoys
widest disFribution of occurrerce. It indicates the degree
of the quality which it modifies. It has been used with
intensive force since the Old Enrlish period and shows no
sign of vanishing from the language at this point.
Etill has come to function intensively only in
comparatively recent times. As an adjective still was
used first during the Old English period, when it meant
'noiseless,' and 'without commotion.' By the sixteenth
century, however, still had come to suggest 'in a further
degree,' 'yet.' The Oxford Enrlish Dictionary records
this usage occurring in 1593.
It was not used freely to emphasize a comparative
quality until the eighteenth century, when it was used
intensively in the sense of yet in expressions like
"still less reason," "still more strongly," and "more
precisely still." That it continued to be used intensively
through the nineteenth century is indicated by an 1832
citation, "still louder."
It is coi'n only used today as an intensive qualifier
emriphasi-zin a progressive sense of 'more and more.' Its
distribution is similar to that of rather.
Surely (from the Old French rur) has been employed
intensively since the fourteenth century, as the citation
"surely roth" suggests. Little in its history is particu-
larly distinctive except for a slight shift in meanin-.
Oripinally it implied 'safety' and 'security' and had
protective connotations, but in the late Middle Enrlish
period it had also assumed implications of 'certainty.'
It continued to be used in both sense, succFestinf security
and certainty throughout succeeding centuries. During
these centuries it functioned intensively but only rarely
as an intensive qualifier. For the most part it intensi-
fled verbs and nouns, as citations from the Oxford Enzlish
Dictionary ("surely do," dated 1599, and "was surely his
wife," dated 1661) illustrate. The editors refer to
surely here as a "mere intensive."
By the nineteenth century the idea of protection
had rone, and surely implied 'certainty' of a general sort.
It functioned freely ;s an intensive qualifier preceding
adjectives and adverbs, as in "Surely best is meet," 1S50,
and "Surely very feeble," 1907.
Today it is current in standard usage as an intensive
qualifier with only a weakened sense of certainty, with
little force at all, as in "You just saw surely the best
movie ever made."
The qualifier too (from the Old English to) was
being used intensively as early as the fourteenth century.
An Oxford English Dictionary citation dated 130, "to
moche charity," indicates that too filled the qualifier
position at this time. It continued to function as an
intensive qualifier through succeeding centuries and
during the Renaissance was frequently reduplicated for
additional emphasis, as is illustrated in 'too, too soft,"
Both constructions occurred through the seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries, as the following citations in-
dicate: "too, too solid," 1602; "too lovely," 1697;
"too many," 1721; and 'too, too nice," 1745.
In addition to the single too and the reduplicated
too, yet another intensive too construction began to be
used commonly in the nineteenth century--"only too." This
use is illustrated in "only too pleased," dated 1889.
All three too constructions are widely distributed
in the twentieth century. In fact, too is today one of
the most commonly used intensive qualifiers in current
Very (from the Old French verai) is by far the most
commonly used intensive qualifier in American English today.
The Middle English adjective verray meant 'true,' as is
illustrated in the works of Chaucer, whose "verray parfit
gentil knight" was true and well-born, and whose "verry
angel" was a genuine angel. The process by which a quali-
fier loses its etymological meaning and becomes primarily
an intensive is slow and Fradual. However, numerous
references nay be found in the literature of the four-
teenth and succeeding centuries to illustrate the decree to
which very came to function intensively.
DurinT Chaucer's lifetime very was already begin-
ning to take on an intensive function while losing some
of its lexical meaning. The Oxford EneliFh Dictionary has
citations which show that very functions intensively with
adjectives, adverbs, and past participles (as in "very
early" and "very repentant") as early as 13?7. The
editors co on to show that very continued to be used in-
tensively in the fifteenth century by supplying citations
such as "vere hartely," dated 1448, and "verray trewe,"
dated 1470. However, most of the citations of very during
the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries indicate that very
was still being used primarily as an adjective in the
sense of "true" or genuinee."
By the sixteenth century very had come to be used
frequently as an intensive qualifier, and since that time
intensification has been its primary function. In the
Oxford Enelish Dictionary one finds a 1567 entry, "very
first," illustrating that very was commonly used intensively
with superlatives. Other citations along this line are
supplied by C. Stoffel, who points out that the following
statement appears in Stephen Hawes' Passetyme of Pleasure,
written in 1506: "And whan that I had sene everything,
my spere I charged, and that was very great." He supplies
a statement from Sir Thomas More with several uses of
very: "All -uche priests too, as can no more than theyr
grairtmer, and very scantly that; conteyning such hygh
difficulties as very few learned men can very well
attayne; he . can not tell when he shoul- take the
tone . is not, for translating into english, a man
very mete." He cites a statement by Sir Thomas Elyot
in 1531: "Wfrastlynge is a very good exercise;" and then
a statement made in 1549 by Hugh Latimer: "Then I was a
scholer . I heard very pood report of London . .
very busie and . verie good worckmen."'
Thus it is evident that by the end of the sixteenth
century very was solidly established as an intensive quali-
fier. It. was still being used to some degree with its
original adjectival force, however. Stoffel cites
Shakespeare's The '-:erchant of Venice, Act III, Scene -,
Line 225, where there is a reference to "my very friends
and countrymen." Here it is obvious that the speaker
is referring to his true friendE, and it is further
obvious that the adjective very and the intensive quali-
fier very were existing side by side. .hakespeare also
uses very in phrases such as "very now'" where very is
intensive, but the mooern reader recognireF that the in-
tensive use of very in this combination hSE die.l out in
the years intervening.
During the seventeenth century we continue to find
very u.ed with its original adjectival force in phrases
9Cited in Stoffel, p. 29.
10Cited in Stoffel, p. 31.
11Stoffel cites this construction from Othello, I,
i, 8. However, ?toffel cites other constructions,
"very bootless" and "very ready," for example, (p. 33)
which he sayr have vanished from the language but which
have not. Perhaps the word bootiess" is no longer in
coTmmon usare, but very is used with synonyms for bootless
in simiilar constructions today, e.g. "very vain," "very
like "my very son." However, the Oxford Enplish Dictionarv
also supplies phrases like "very discontented," dated 1641,
and the "very next day," dated 1654, to illustrate the
point that it was also an intensive qualifier commonly used
with "superlative" forms.
In the eighteenth century very becomes even more
common as an intensive qualifier. The Oxford Enrli-h
Dictionary records "very best" dated 1717 and "very large,"
dated 1774 as typical examples of this usace. Very was
also used before nouns in its intensive function in a
construction such as "He thought proper to put the matter
very home Very was occasionally used alone
with some adjective understood, as in the following sen-
tence written by Jonathan Swift: "The fit went off,
leaving me sickish, but not very."13
Perhaps the most significant development in the
intensive use of very to occur in the nineteenth century
is the fact that it bean to be coupled hith own to em-
phasize ownership. The Oxford Enclish Dictionary notes
12Jesersen supplies this citation from Fielding
in a discussion of very. He terms this sort of usage
"rather peculiar." LanFuage. Its Nlature, Develorment,
and Origin, p. 400 ff.
13Jespersen, Laneuare: Its Nature, Development
and Oririn, F. 400 ff.
this usace as first rhvin9- occurred during this period
and cites an 1363 exa-iple, "my very own hand." The super-
lative veri est also occurred commonly at this time. As
evidence Stoffel cites Dickens' phrase "the veriest old
well of a shiverinrT best parlour that ever was seen."14
In the twentieth century very has come to be the
most widely used of intensive qualifiers. It has lost
almost all of its original etynoloiical associations and
is used in virtually all situations and under all sorts
One frequently encounters very used before a noun
today, as in expressions like "That's the very thine,"
"He's the very person," and "That's the very one." Des-
pite the fact that when very is used before a noun, it is
no longer an intensive qualifier because intensive quali-
fiers by definition pattern before adjectives and adverbs,
it is obvious that in these examples very is used to add
emphasis. It seems to emphasize the idea of coincidence,
Very continues to be coupled with own in the
twentieth century. This occurs both in casual conversa-
tion 'snd in Corral writing, as in "Ea-h individual must
cast his very own ballot."
ILCited b.- Stoffel, p. 31.
However, the most common uae of very in the twen-
tieth century is as an intensive qualifier which expresses
the high decree of a quality. It appears mo.st frequently
before adjectives and adverbs, but then only before the
positive and superlarive degree forms of these words. We
tend to use "very much" before adjectives and adverbs in
the comparative decree and before past participles, unless
the participle has lost its verbal character entirely.
Thus much is used with the verbal participle, "vry much
filled," but not with the adjectival participle. We tend
to say "very pleased," ".very satisfied," "very contented,"
and "very frightened." We introduce the much in such
expressions to add still another note of emphasis or in-
tensity; and ,e also insert much when that uhich is
modified is itself a phrase, as in "She is still very
much a young girl."15
It should be obvious here that the development of
very is typical of the historical route taken by most in-
tensive qualifiers. It originally functions as an
15Jespersen sets forth an interesting, argument
about the development of very as an intensive qualifier.
He maintains that very is used today in places where it
could replace much in an earlier construction. He offers
citations from the fifteenth through nineteenth centuries
with phrases including much and where the much would today
be repl- ced with very. Some of his examples are: Catron
--"they were moche- 'tte;" ''ilton--"In much uneven scale;"
and Fuskin--" . ideas which I find for the present
much obsolete." Jespersen, Lznru-ae: Its Nature,
DevLeloanent, and Ori.in, p. c'3r ff.
adjective with specific semantic associations. As it
begins to appear intensively, the two forms coexist for a
time. Ultimately it is used primarily as an intensive
At. thiis point we have examined a selection of in-
tensive qualifiers which are freely used in contemporary
speech and w-riting and which today appear orn all levels
of usa;e. Frequent use has caused all of these qualifiers
to weaken prorressi.'ely in terms of their strict lexical
raesrninr. In fact they have weakened so much that the word
very could today be substituted for most of them.
G rup, II
Ihe second group of qualifiers to be examined in
this chapter are those qualifiers ..hich are widely used
in contemporary usage but which are restricted in terms
of the levels of usage on which they occur today. For the
most part they aJre restricted to informal modes of ex-
pression, although in previous centuries they were standard
in formal expression.
They will be examined individually in terms of their
chronological development, and it will become evident that
they too exhibit a progressive weakeninE of lexical meaning.
Qualifiers which will be considered in this group are the
following: mihty, only, pretty, right.
The adjective mighty dates from the Old English
period, when mihti- meant 'powerful.' As an adjective it
has retained this meaning through succeeding centuries,
but at the same time it has functioned as an intensive
qualifier. The Oxford English Dictionarv notes that
;.lihty, modifying adjectives and adverbs, was used inten-
sively as early as 1300, as the citation "mighty meek"
Mighty continued to be used as a simple intensive
steadily ,..eaakening in meaning. During the nineteenth cen-
tury, however, a chance in its intensive meaningz began to
be evident, and by 1901 Stnffel had come to feel that
mighty was used intensively chiefly in ironical speech.
He offers expressions such as "This is all mighty fine,
but what are we to do in the meanwhile?" and "He looked
mighty wise" to illustrate this point.16
More recently mirhtv has regained its original
intensive force, and today we hear expressions like
"That's mighty hot coffee" and 'It was mighty late."
This usage is generally considered to be colloquial,
16 toffel, p. 126.
Only derived from the Old EnE-lih 3nlic, has been
in the language since the Old English period. Historically
it has sur.ested 'a single, solitary thin, or fact' and
has tended to be a limiter or dov.ntoner rather than an
intensive. However, durin- the nineteenth century only
began to be used intensively to throw emphasis on a
particular i:rd, phrase, or clause. The earlicrt such
construction pro-iJed by the Oy:frd j F.nrlish tictionar', is
"only thinr: how lon," dated 133., and since then we find
expressions like ":'nly in an emerC,-ncy" and "only dimly"
in common usaze. i.lien only appears before an adjective Dr
adverb ("only dimly") in order to thrw emphasis on it, it
may properly be considered an intensive qualifier.
Despite the fact that graimtmatically and lo-ically
only should be placed closest to the word it is supposed
to modify, its position is fluctuating in common usaj-,
largely for the sake of intensification. The speaker is,
in a sense, emphasizing the only 3a well as the ides which
he intends to stress. For example, one hears expressions
such as "She is only the prettiest rirl in town" and "I'm
only tired and dirty," where. a stressed only is clearly an
intensive qualifier. Ambiguity presents no problems be-
cause stress and pauses clarify the structure of the
sentences and reinforce the inLensifyin; function of
The word pretty was originally an Old English
adjective prrettig, meaning 'cunning' or 'crafty.' By the
fifteenth century it had come to mean 'clever' and
'skillful' ind had, in addition, taken on the meaning
'pleasinE' or 'comely.' It is this last nraeaning which has
survived in succeedinE centuries. In general pretty has
been an epithet expressing admiration and appreciation
since this erioJ.
In the sixteenth century rrettv began to function
as an intensive qualifier. Citations illustrate that
when it appeared before another adjective or adverb, it
tended to lose its full meaning and cecoine simply a word
functioning to show decree. The Oxford En.lioh Dictionary
records the first evidence of the intensive use of pretty
in a 1565 citation, "pretie hardie felaw."18 That pretty
continued to be used as an intensive qualifier through
17Contrary to popular belief the separation of
only from the word or phrase it is Frammatically sup-
posed tc nodify is nor, a recent development. The Oxford
Enalirh Dictionary reports that thick has been a common
practice since the fifteenth century. It was not con-
spicuously avoided in writing until the nineteenth century.
18Charies Carpenter Fries discusses this intensive
use of pretty -hrourh the centuries, illustrating it with
numerous citations, in ,ilerican Enclirh Grammar, p. 201.
the seventeenth century i illustrated in a 163W citation,
Pretty .3aTe to be widely used as an intensive quali-
fier during the eighteenth century. As a qualifier, it had
much the same force as rather. A 1749 citation frcm the
Oxford English Dictionary, "pretty considerable," -lakes
this evident. It is clear tPat as an intensive, prett.t
had cone to. vary greatly from i its etymcolo.'ical meaning.
An 1.-'$ citTtion in the 'xf,.rd nc-lish rDictionary,
"pretty equally balanced," provides pr:oof that pretty
continued to function intensively. It had in general
bec.:me somerre.hat stronger than rather by this point. Inter-
estinoly, St.'ffel points out that during this century
Rpretty wai rarely employed before adjectives and adverbs
expressEin neJgtive or unfavorable ideas. He writes that
"pretty poor," "pretty ill," "pretty weak," "pretty smalll"
"pretty bad," and the like i;ere unusual. Fr more cocimmon
were expressions like "pretty co;rfortable,'' "pretty goodd"
'pretty gracious," "pretty cheap," and "pretty often."19
These expressions deal with ideas which are either posi-
tive or neutral.
In the twentieth century there is little preference
today ;s to the appearance of pretty before positive and
19.t ffel, p. 152.
negative ide3s. "Pretty bad" see-ns to be as common an
expressio-n as "pretty .good." Pretty has in fact become
a strong intensive qualifier which is freely applied to
all sorts of' qualities.
Pretty is today widely used as an intensive quali-
fier. In addition, it survives as an adjective referring
to that which is aesthetically pleasing, having lost en-
tirely its etymological meaning. '.s rn intensive qualifier,
however, it has. much the Fsame r.eaning as v'ry.
Rieht, in its early form riht was used as a noun
and as a verb during the Old English period. However, the
editors of the Oxford Enrlish Diction-ry point out that
it had begun to be uzed as. n adverb by the end of that
era; and by the thirteenth century rirht was functioning
as an intensive qualifier, both with adverbs and with
adjectives. It retained its earlier associations with
'straight,' 'precisely,' 'exactly,' and 'just' and was a
forceful intensive. The phrases "right well" and "'right
interesting" are typical of the citations riven from this
By the fifteenth century the intensive force of
right had weakened sone%,hat, and speaking of its intensive
function, the editors of Oxf-rd Enclish Dictionary define
right, simply as 'very,' citing a 1477 usa-e, "I should
like it right well," as an example. In the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries right continued to be used quite
commonly as an intensive qualifier. Num-erous citations
substantiate this usaee: "rirht gracious," "'rirht true,"
"right fair," "richt glad," and "riCht suddenly."
By the nineteenth century rivht was becorin. less
common in formal usare and less widely accepted in all but
informal speech. In effect it was .vanishing as a natural,
unaffected intensive qualifier. Today, however, rirht is
fairly common in the informal speech of many people. It
is frequently used with the positive degree forms of adjec-
tives and adverbs ("That's 3 right pretty dress; I like it
ri.ht well"), and it occasionally appears witth oth'r c7on-
structions as in "right to the point." It should te noted
that only the constructions in L.hich rirht crecedes a phrase
are Fenerally considered to Do standard ani acceptable in
formal uFare today. The other combinations are in some way
limited to particular geographical areas or social str:ita.
We have now examined a second -roup of intensive
qualifiers, qualifiers which are freely used toLay but
whose use demonstrates some sort of restriction in terms
of levels of usare on which they are appropriate. It has
been shown that these qualifiers also illustrate the
progressive weakening of lexical meaning characteristic
of intensive qualifiers as a syntactic class.
The third and final group of intensive qualifiers
which will be considered in this chapter are qualifiers
which are rarely heard in contemporary American usaEe ex-
cept in colloquial or dialectal usage or in a few pat
expressions. These are qualifiers, however, which have
been freely used in the past. Thu? they occupy signifi-
cant positions in any historical overview of the intensive
Furthermore, they serve as evidence of a statement
made earlier in our discussion of inten-ive qualifiers in
which it was asserted that intensive qualifiers pass in
and out of popularity, that they can become so overused
and meaningless that they virtually disappear as intensive
qualifiers from the langusae. These words have all at one
time been widely used and today appear intensively only
Each item will be examined individually according
to its chronological development and will be seen to have
weakened significantly in terms of its original lexical
meaning. The following qualifiers will be examined in
this froup: conFiderable, deFoerate, full, jolly,
mortal, and pure.
Considerable came into the language from the French
considjrer in the middlee Enirlish period, when it was an
adjective meaning 'worthy of being taken into account,'
'worth, of consideration.' In the seventeenth century
the meaning shifted somewhat, and the adjective consider-
able bean to be used in reference to anything which was
important. During this century the adverb con- ideralbly
began to function as an intensive qualifier, as an
Oxford F.nclish Dictionary citation, "considerably less,"
dated 1670, illustrates.
By the eighteenth century the original meaning of
considerable, i.e. in reference to something w..hich should
be taken into account, had died, and considera-ble simply
meant 'worthy of regard.' In that century, h.oiw-ver, it
began to take nn additional implications and came to sug-
ert so-TmcthinE that was worthy of reward because of its
magnitude. Consi erably continued to function intensively,
as the 1790 citation "considerably remote" indicates. In
the nineteentci century considerable bean to join consider-
ably anJ to function as an intensive qualifier in informal
American usage. It had picked up the implications of
magnitude and as an intensive qualifier suggested a large
quantity of the quality modified.
Although considerable and considerably were used
with equal frequency during the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries, considerable is only rarely heard today. It
is colloquial or dialectal, while considerably is standard
in general usaze.
DesEerate apparently caie into the language from
the Latin desp7ratus during the fifteenth century. Its
original meaning was 'having lost hope' and it retained
this meaning through the sixteenth century. However, in
the seventeenth century, it began to take on additional
connotations and in colloquial usage bean to function as
an intensive qualifier whose force was implied by the
literal sense of the word. Although desperate was used
only colloquially as an intensive during this Feriod,
the adverb desperately was being used intensively at the
same time and in more formal usage. The Oxford Enrlish
Dictionary provides examples of the intensive use of both
desperate and desperately from this century, "desperate
malicious," dated 1636, and "desperately pale,' dated
1696, for example.
Both desperate and desperately continued to be used
intensively through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries,
as an EI30 entry, "a desperate bad road," and an 1T43 entry,
"desperately rapid," illustrate. However, desperate is
only rarely usEd as an intensive qualifier today, despite
its previous popularity. It is used colloquially in
constructions like "I am desperate tired," while decerate-
lv occur in general usaze. In b:.th cases the meRninz
'hopelssl:y' has been replaced by a simFle intensive force
best paraphrasej :s 'extremely' o.r 'excessively.'
Full is one of the oldest English intensive quali-
fiers, although it is not frequently used today. Its
earliest appearances dar.t from the Old ECnliFh period,
when it existed as an int-nsive qualifier meaning 'exceed-
inrly. The Oxford Enrlish Dicticnnry provides expressions
such as "full unrrte," dated 888, as examples of its usa.e
during this period.
During the Middle P.nglish period it was the most
frequently employed intensive qualifier. For example, the
works of Langland and Chaucer are replete with full's where
i'odern English works would employ very's. Further cit;-
tions fr:m the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth
centuries show that full continued to function as a popu-
lar intensive qualifier; "full brihte," 1200; "ful deer
brederen," 1380; and "full wretched," 1450.
It was in the sixteenth century that very bean to
replace full as the most widely used intensive qualifier.
However, full continued to be employed, and by the end of
the century Shakespeare was still using it freely in'
expressions like "full dearly," "full little," "full many
a," "full oft," "full so valiant," and "full lovely."
That full continued to be used through the seventeenth,
eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries is illustrated in
citations like 'full little," dated 1635, "full slowly,"
dated 1782, and "full well," dated 1875.
Today full is only rarely used as an intensive quali-
fier. It exists primarily in a few pat expressions such as
"full well" and "full many." It is otherwise used as a
conscious archaisn. The form fully, however, is frequently
used as a qualifier in phrases such as "fully aware,"
"fully ready," and "fully satisfied." Whereas full has
almost vanished as an intensive qualifier, fully freely
occurs with adjecti.'es and adverbs.
olly (from the French jolif) was widely used in
the Middle English period as an adjective with joyous and
festive connotations. However, over the years it weakened
until it became an intensive qualifier with a shift in
meaning. It had originally been used both adjectivally
and adverbially in an appreciative or admiring sense to
qualify other adjectives and adverbs, but the Oxford
English Dictionary indicates that in the sixteenth century
it came to be used frequently .ith ironic overtones and
then in the same century %.eakenred to the level of the in-
tensive qualifier ve'.r. 'unong sixteenth-century citations
which illustrate the intensive function of joll' are "jolly
fortunate" and "jolly quiet.' It continue to be used in-
tensively through succeeding centuries.
By the end of the nirieteenth century jolly was in
such cor.mon w.i.Je.spread usaEe as an intensive qualifier that
Stoffel could call it "the characceristic schoolboy in-
tensive" and sucoort this statement with numerous cita-
tions, such as "jolly soon" and "jolly decent. "20 Stoffel
was ob-vijsly thinking about the nineteenth-century Eritish
schoolboy, however, because oll y has not been as popular
in American usa;e.
As an intensive qualifier, jolly is seldom heard by
Aimerican speTkers,, althouTh they often readJ it in British
literature. It is occasinnally used by an American speaker
attempting to imitate Eritish usage or attempting t, draw
especial and unusual attention to what he is rayingi. The
American speaker frequently couples -lly with good and
well, although it could easily pattern with positive
degree forms of any ad jectives and adverbs.
20Stoffel, p. 122.
Mortal, borrowed from the French, has been widely
used as a simple adjective since the Middle English period.
Since It refers to an absolute quality hardly subject to
qualification, 'being destined to di', it is easy to see
how it could have come to be used intensively. As an in-
tensive qualifier, it would originally have implied an
absolute certainty as inevitable as death and would thus
have been a forceful modifier indeed.
Apparently mortal has been used as an intensive
qualifier throughout most of the modern period, for it is
cited in the Oxford English Dictionary as being used so
in 1407: "the peril was so mortal strong." It was com-
monly used to intensify in the nineteenth century, .hen
it freely occurred before nouns as well as other quali-
fiers. Phrases like "I ;.as a mortal Fight younger,"
'a mortal lazy fellow," and "through a whole mortal season,"
all nineteen-cnth-century citations, illustrate its intensive
function during this period.
Today mortal is occasionally used colloquially as
an intensive qualifier, as in "I am mortal tired." In
these cases it has entirely lost its earlier fearsome
During the iiiddle English period oure (from the
French pir) i.e. 'not mixed,' 'unalloyed,' anotherr adjec-
tive which expressed a quality hardly susceptible of
qualification, bEran to be used. It has been us-d in
succeeding centuries: to maJify adjectives, 3adverbs, and
noun constructio-,ns to sui:-estt 'absolutely, 'thorou, hly,'
'coincla tely,' 'fully,' 'utterly,' and 'entirely.' The
adverb form purcl has been u.ed in the same sense. The
Oxford Znplish Diction-irv prcvidcr citations like the fol-
lowinir to demonstrate the distribution of the two wcrds:
"pur gidy and wod," 1297; "pur lytel," 1394; "purely
destroyed," 1429; "pure easy," 1491; "pure aged," 1560;
"pure 0ood," 1710, "purely iEnorant," 1656; "pure swarrpy,"
By the nineteenth century these words were passing
out of use as intensive, and neither pure nor ourely is
widely heard today except in occasional colloquial usage.
One also occasionally hear-- ure-tee as a stretch form of
pure, as in "I ami pur-tee exhausted."21
21The form .ure-tee is itself of uncertain origin.
One also hers ure-uee; and either may be a stretch form