Intensifiers in current English

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Intensifiers in current English
Benzinger, Edith Moore, 1941-
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University of Florida
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Adjectives ( jstor )
Adverbs ( jstor )
Amplification ( jstor )
Hell ( jstor )
Lexical qualifiers ( jstor )
Lexical stress ( jstor )
Signals ( jstor )
Stress functions ( jstor )
Words ( jstor )
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Dissertations, Academic -- English -- UF
English language -- Semantics ( lcsh )
English language -- Syntax ( lcsh )
English thesis Ph. D
bibliography ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


Thesis - University of Florida.
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Intensifiers in Current English





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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



Edith Moore Benzineer

December, 1971

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.




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

grammatical element.

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
between them:

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

be elicited.'2

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

other forms.

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

grammarian's interest.

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.

Intensive Devices

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

(L) exclamations

(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

(14) own

(15) qualifiers.

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,, 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
flicker, flimmer.

[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,
slip, slide.
[kr-] 'noisy impact': crash, crack (creak), crunch.
[skr-1 'grating impact or sound': scratch, scrape,

isn-1 'breath-noise': sniff (snuff), snore, snort,

p. 245.

sn-] 'creep': snake, snail, sneak, snoop.

[~-) 'up-and-down movement': jump, jounce, jii
(jio jug1le), jangle (jingle).

[b-] 'dull impact': bane, bash, bounce:, biff,
bump, bat.

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

not reduplications.

(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.,
pp. 161-162.

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 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

lip. 111.

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

half appositives:

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

their antecedents.

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),, 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- 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),
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 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

a bit)'

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

degree forms.

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,," " 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-

sive qualifier.

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-

s ive.

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, 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

in tensity.

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 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.



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-

tensi.e qualifiers.

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

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

in meaning.

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,

and pure.

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

syntactic' function,

morphological structure,

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.

Group I

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,

and very.


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,
p. 203.

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

function intensively.

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

of patterning.

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 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

with completeness.

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 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 a forceful, emphatic statement, although it is

perhaps; the tone of voice which influences the interpreta-

tion .of r;th!er as an intensive.

RePa ll,

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 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

also continued into this century.

Siml y

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
logical meaning.

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,"

dated 15S2.

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

American Enzlish.


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

of circuristinces.

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,

of identity.

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 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, 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 ancicint."

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 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.

Grouo III

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.

Considerab ie

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 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
of pretty.