1. Education




Repetition of the intensifier very in Carl Sandburg's poem "Very Very Important"


A word that emphasizes another word or phrase. Also known as a booster. See Examples and Observations, below.

Intensifying adjectives modify nouns; intensifying adverbs commonly modify verbs, gradable adjectives, and other adverbs. Contrast with downtoner.

See also:


From the Latin, "stretch, intend"

Examples and Observations:

  • "Oh, I am so not in the mood for this. I've just been shot!"
    (Meg Masters in Supernatural, 2005)

  • "The woodwind has a slightly greater scope than the violin."
    (John Philip Sousa)

  • "I'm Jewish, but I'm totally not."
    (Sarah Silverman)

  • "Dude, I am so wicked psyched to slay my first dragon!"
    (Huntsboy #89, American Dragon: Jake Long, 2006)

  • "There, where once a fine gabled house must have stood, squatted a new Holiday Inn, a building so ugly, so characterless, so squat that it stopped me in my tracks."
    (Bill Bryson, Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe. William Morrow, 1992)

  • "Future grammarians will someday agree that [Newt] Gingrich suffers from the worst case of clinical adverbia the world has ever seen: rare is the Gingrichian sentence that doesn’t get goosed along by an adverbial modifier. Nothing can be wrong without being fundamentally, profoundly wrong; no act isn't stupid enough not to be stunningly, staggeringly stupid."
    (Andrew Fergusun, "A Newt for All Seasons." Time, Feb. 6, 2012)

  • "A really good detective never gets married."
    (Raymond Chandler)

  • "The women I had as very close friends were very independent women, very progressive. They're very sensitive about social change."
    (Toni Morrison)

  • Functions of Intensifiers
    "To some degree, an intensifier acts as a signal: it announces that the word following it is worn out, and that it should be understood as inadequate. For example, in the phrase an utterly beautiful night, the author is saying, 'Look, I mean something beyond beautiful, even if I don't have the precise word word; try to imagine it.' . . .

    "When intensifiers lack force, they are sometimes propped up by italics--'she was very important, very rich"'--or, in speech, by volume and theatrical pauses: 'She was a [pause] WONDERFULLY [pause] special person.' But when used repeatedly, such props become so weak that they de-intensify; they become gnatlike and annoying."
    (Arthur Plotnik, Spunk & Bite: A Writer's Guide to Punchier, More Engaging Language & Style. Random House, 2005)

  • Boosters and Language Change
    "Humans are indeed natural-born exaggerators, and this trait is one of the main driving forces behind language change. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the constant renewal of intensifying words, or what are sometimes called 'boosters.' These are the little words that fortify adjectives. They express a high point along a scale. Something isn't just good but awfully good, terribly good or even bloody good. Inevitably, such dramatic words wear out with time and become mundane. Alternative expressions then have to be found. This has already happened to boosters like awfully, terribly and horribly. You can see that at the root of these expressions are words like awe (originally, 'fear, dread'), terror and horror. So they had strong, even gruesome beginnings. But overuse bleached them of this energy and force, and before long they meant little more than 'very."
    (Kate Burridge, Gift of the Gob: Morsels of English Language History. HarperCollins Australia, 2011)

  • Repeat Intensifiers
    "The sheer number of [intensifiers], all with more or less the same meaning, is significant. If you haven't made your case, you have to pound the adverbial drums, the same way the boy in the story had to insist that this time, there really, really, really was a wolf."
    (Ben Yagoda, When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It. Broadway Books, 2007)

    "Intensifiers can be repeated for emphasis, e.g. very, very good, so so much better, far far more carefully (Quirk et al. 1985:472). An informal, expressive feature attaches to multiple intensification (Cacchiani 2003, 2005a)."
    (Silvia Cacchiani, "Lexico-Functional Categories and Complex Collocations." Exploring the LexisGrammar Interface, ed. by U. Römer and Rainer Schulze. John Benjamins, 2009)

    "What grammarians call 'a repeat-intensifier'--for example, 'I so so love you' or 'I really really really love you'--has the paradoxical effect of lessening the sentence's sincerity. In terms of sense and rhythm, there is nothing that anyone can do to make the most famous three-word sentence in the English language more heartfelt or convincing than it already is. 'I love you' can never be more than 'I love you.' Those who try to extend it through repetition are often trying to cover up a lack of true feeling."
    (Terence Blacker, "Must Love Be Around?" The Independent, Sep. 28, 2010)

  • Strunk and White on Intensifiers
    "Rather, very, little, pretty--these are the leeches that infest the pond of prose, sucking the blood of words. The constant use of the adjective little (except to indicate size) is particularly debilitating; we should all try to do a little better, we should all be very watchful of this rule, for it is a rather important one and we are pretty sure to violate it now and then."
    (William Strunk, Jr., and E.B. White, The Elements of Style. 1972)

  • William Cobbett on the Adverbs of Exaggeration (1818)
    "Be rather sparing than liberal in the use of Adjectives. One which expresses your meaning is better than two, which can, at best, do no more than express it, while the additional one may possibly do harm. But the error most common in the use of Adjectives is the endeavouring to strengthen the Adjective by putting an adverb before it, and which adverb conveys the notion that the quality or property expressed by the Adjective admits of degrees: as, 'very honest, extremely just.' A man may be wiser than another wise man; an act may be more wicked than another wicked act; but a man cannot be more honest than another; every man who is not honest must be dishonest; and every act which is not just must be unjust.

    "'Very right,' and 'very wrong,' are very common expressions, but they are both incorrect. Some expressions may be more common than others; but that which is not right is wrong; or that which is not wrong is right. There are here no intermediate degrees. We should laugh to hear a man say, 'You are a little right, I am a good deal wrong; that person is honest in a trifling degree; that act was too just.' But our ears are accustomed to the adverbs of exaggeration. Some writers deal in these to a degree that tires the ear and offends the understanding. With them, everything is excessively or immensely or extremely or vastly or surprisingly or wonderfully or abundantly, or the like. The notion of such writers is that these words give strength to what they are saying. This is a great error. Strength must be found in the thought, or it will never be found in the words. Big-sounding words, without thoughts corresponding, are effort without effect."
    (William Cobbett, A Grammar of the English Language in a Series of Letters, 1818)
Pronunciation: in-TEN-si-fi-er
Also Known As: qualifiers, amplifiers
  1. About.com
  2. Education
  3. Grammar & Composition
  4. Grammar & Rhetoric Glossary
  5. Icon - Lower Case
  6. intensifier - definition and examples of intensifiers in English

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.