Extreme Adjectives and How to Use Them

A man carries out an extreme sport - rock climbing on the side of a large cliff

You can add a lot of detail and flair to your speaking and writing with just a few well-chosen words. In this blog post, we’ll work on adding more nuance to your speaking and writing with extreme adjectives.

Students can often sound a bit black and white, omitting the variety of language in between. Using nuanced language adds personality and emotion to your English communication.

However, you still need to be clear, so blindly swapping phrases for synonyms could lead to confusing or incorrect expressions.

Don’t forget to download your handy extreme adjectives cheat sheet at the bottom of the blog.⬇️

What are extreme adjectives?

Most adjectives in English are gradable, which means that we can show their strength through comparatives, superlatives or by using modifiers such as very or quite. Extreme adjectives are non-gradable, and their meaning already includes the modifier “very”.

For example, we could say “this cake is very tasty” or “this cake is delicious”. We cannot say “this cake is very delicious“.

Note: Other adjectives that are non-gradable are called absolute. They behave the same way as extreme adjectives and are sometimes counted among them. These adjectives describe a state that is final or cannot be changed. Examples of absolute adjectives include perfect, finished, started or unique.

Examples of extreme adjectives

Regular adjectives

small
big
good
bad
hot
cold
clean
dirty
happy
sad
funny
angry
scary
interesting
unusual
hungry
tasty
tired
old
wet

Extreme adjectives

tiny
huge
great
terrible
boiling
freezing
spotless
filthy
delighted
miserable
hilarious
furious
terrifying
fascinating
extraordinary
starving
delicious
exhausted
ancient
soaking

How can you use extreme adjectives?

There are three main things you should remember when using extreme adjectives.

1- Do not add -er or -est suffixes or the words more and most to make it into comparatives or superlatives.

I am exhausted. BUT This is the most tired I’ve ever been.

2- Use the following modifiers: absolutely, utterly, really or pretty (informal). Do not use other modifiers such as fairly, extremely or very.

The house is utterly filthy. NOT The house is very filthy.

3- Many common adjectives have more than one extreme adjective. These include, for example, big, small or good.

This building is huge. = This building is massive.
My holidays were fantastic. = My holidays were great.

4- Make sure the meaning of the extreme adjective is the same or nearly the same as “very + original adjective”. Many extreme adjectives only refer to one aspect of the non-extreme adjective.

I saw some ancient artefacts in the museum.
My neighbour is ancient rather old.
The shipwrecked sailors couldn’t find any food on the island and were starving.
I haven’t had breakfast. I am starving.

Why use extreme adjectives?

As I mentioned before, extreme adjectives are great for adding more variety to your text or a presentation. You can also use them to show urgency. Additionally, students can overuse the word “very” when they’re not confident about using other modifiers. Below, you can see two versions of the same text. Take a look and decide which one you prefer and why?

Version 1

When I returned home, I felt very tired. I had a rather long day, and I was ready to rest. When I entered the kitchen, I saw a very big rat on my table. I like to keep my house very clean, so I was quite annoyed. I couldn’t understand how it got inside. I was very scared that it would keep coming back. I startled it, and it ran into a very small hole in the wall. I plugged the hole the next day and haven’t seen it since.

Version 2

When I returned home, I felt exhausted. I had a long day, and I was ready to rest. When I entered the kitchen, I saw a huge rat on my table. I like to keep my house spotless, so I was quite annoyed. I couldn’t understand how it got inside. I was terrified that it would keep coming back. I startled it, and it ran into a tiny hole in the wall. I plugged the hole the next day and haven’t seen it since.

Time to practise

Can you match the ten most common extreme adjectives to their regular adjectives? Start with the ones you know and work your way to those you’re unsure of.

Regular adjectives

1 – small
2 – tasty
3 – good
4 – bad
5 – big
6 – hot
7 – cold
8 – old
9 – tired
10 – hungry

Extreme adjectives

a – great
b – tiny
c – terrible
d – delicious
e – boiling
f – starving
g – freezing
h – huge
i – exhausted
j – ancient

Get your free downloadable

Extreme Adjectives Cheat Sheet right here!

Answers

1 – b
2 – d
3 – a
4 – c
5 – h
6 – e
7 – g
8 – j
9 – i
10 – f

This content was written and recorded by Intrepid English Teacher Lida.

Lida

You can find out more about Lida on her Intrepid English Teacher Profile Page.

Book a free trial lesson today to discuss this topic in more detail, and talk about your English learning goals with an experienced and friendly native English teacher.

If you have any questions, or you would like to request a topic for a future blog, you can contact us using the chatbox, send us an email, or even drop us a message on any of our social media channels.

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