Absolute Adjectives

What are Absolute Adjectives?

Before getting into absolute adjectives, an understanding of gradable versus non-gradable adjectives should be established. Most adjectives are gradable, which means they can be intensified and used in comparisons. For example:

  • The weather got warmer after an hour.
  • I find this topic more fascinating.

By adding the suffix –er to the adjective “warm,” the sentence expresses that temperature has increased. Similarly, by adding more to the word “fascinating,” the sentence expresses that the topic being described can hold the speaker’s interest better.

However, there are some adjectives that can neither be intensified nor compared. These are called absolute adjectives. They’re sometimes referred to as ultimate or absolute modifiers. For example:

  • My report is complete.

If something is complete, something else can’t be more complete than it. You can’t add the suffix –er or the word more to increase the word’s degree. Here are some more examples of absolute adjectives used in sentences:

  • The universe is indeed infinite.
  • There are false rumors going around campus.
  • An unknown error keeps popping up in the system.
  • This gallery is empty.
  • Hanging out by the beach is the perfect way to spend a lazy afternoon.

Absolute Adjectives Rules

Sub-modifiersGrammatically, comparing absolute adjectives is incorrect. However, it’s possible to modify absolute adjectives with sub-modifiers or adverbs. But requires some level of proficiency. For example, something can’t be a little pregnant or very dead. But something can be nearly complete or absolutely necessary.

Also, it has to be noted that if you want to express your ideas in a concise manner, absolute adjectives don’t need adverbs most of the time. Be careful of using too much at the risk of sounding longwinded or unclear.

When used effectively, the adverbs absolutely, completely, or totally can be used to strengthen some absolute adjectives. For example:

acceptable, unacceptable, free, ruined, necessary, perfect, impossible, possible, dead, destroyed, finished, complete
Extreme AdjectivesSome absolute adjectives contain ‘very’ in their definitions. For example, awful means very bad; scalding means very hot; and amazing means very good. In these cases, only use the adverbs absolutely and really if you need to strengthen them.

Here are some absolute adjectives that work well with absolutely and really:

amazing, awful, boiling, ancient, delicious, enormous, excellent, gorgeous, fascinating, remarkable, terrifying, exhausted, small.
Exceptions in SpeechThough it’s a given that non-gradable or absolute adjectives aren’t typically used in comparisons, you might still hear native English speakers say things such as most favorite or more perfect.

This practice is grammatically incorrect but has become common in English speech. For English language learners, utilizing this style successfully is a way to showcase fluency in conversational English.

In fact, this practice is widespread in advertising, literature, and journalism. The purpose is to add drama or employ hyperbole. However, this must be avoided in any form of formal writing, such as academic or scientific writing.
Absolute Adjectives Rules

Examples of Absolute Adjectives

1. We have a complete record of the convention’s attendees.

2. One of my friends was in a fatal boating accident last year.

3. His success in publishing was inevitable.

4. You’ll encounter unavoidable errors in the system.

5. Tomoki has been single for the last three years.

6. The decision of the board of directors is unanimous.

7. Their account of my personal activities are fictional.

8. Pylon’s entire network has been compromised by the virus.

9. Our principal sponsors will receive handmade tokens.

10. They checked the containers but all of them were empty.


Absolute Adjectives Exercises with Answers

Exercise on Absolute Adjectives

Decide whether each of the following words is an absolute or gradable adjective:

1. alive – absolute/gradable

2. cold – absolute/gradable

3. flawless – absolute/gradable

4. superior – absolute/gradable

5. angry – absolute/gradable

6. important – absolute/gradable

7. expensive – absolute/gradable

8. invisible – absolute/gradable

9. guilty – absolute/gradable

10. pretty – absolute/gradable


1. alive: absolute

2. cold: gradable

3. flawless: absolute

4. superior: absolute

5. angry: gradable

6. important: gradable

7. expensive: gradable

8. invisible: absolute

9. guilty: absolute

10. pretty – gradable

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Absolute Adjectives List

Below is a table of absolute adjectives. Note that this is not a comprehensive list but includes absolute adjectives that are most commonly used:

Absolute Adjective Table
Absolute Adjectives List

Advice for ESL Students & English Language Learners

Sentences that contain adjectives are more descriptive and interesting. Using them enables you to be understood better and display a higher level of fluency. Few parts of speech are as strong and extensive as adjectives because they change regular sentences into something special.

Moreover, with the huge number of synonyms that each adjective has, using them makes it much simpler to articulate various levels of intensity. For instance, the word humiliated is more powerful than the word ashamed. Also, “a difficult problem” is less hard than a “grueling” one.

Adjectives can be used for all varieties of poignant English conversations. As such, English language learners might find the vast number of adjectives intimidating. To gain greater control of your own language usage, having an intricate comprehension of the different types of adjectives is essential. Reading through multiple sources and practicing regularly can certainly help boost your skills in communicating in English proficiently; however, mistakes are likely to be made along the way.

Read further for common errors usually made by ESL students with regard to adjectives and learn about some optimal methods for systematic learning. Additionally, it is important for learners to properly understand Attributive Adjectives and Descriptive Adjectives.

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Common Errors Made by English Learners

Absolute adjectives should never be modified in formal writing. In speaking and literary writing, however, modifying absolute adjectives has become a matter of personal choice. Because of this vagueness and the many exceptions to the rules, mastering this grammatical concept can be highly confusing to English language learners.

English has long been considered a highly creative language and native English speakers have the tendency to play with words in their speech. In almost all cases, modifying absolute adjectives is an attempt of making a dramatic, creative, humorous, or persuasive effect in language expression. It’s typical to find this habit of dramatizing situations in the following:

  • newspapers and social columns
  • informal speech.
  • social media

Think of it, then, as a communicative concept and not a segment bound strictly by linguistic rules (which can be said in the larger topic of conversational or informal English). Using sub-modifiers to magnify absolute adjectives takes a lot of skill, but it is a way to achieve or display native-level fluency.

Due to its arbitrary nature, there is no solid set of rules to master this skill. The first step is to identify errors and avoid them. Only then would you be able to develop fluency or eloquence through consistent exposure to native speakers who exhibit this linguistic choice (e.g. films, novels, advertisements, marketing text, etc.). 

For many English language learners, the errors usually come from incorrect word choices. It’s important to be familiar with correct usage and the exact meanings of sub-modifiers, including their connotations. The following are examples of correct usage of adverbs modifying absolute adjectives.

  • We were really exhausted after 12 hours on the road.
  • Don’t worry, I’m nearly finished with the essay.
  • The movie was absolutely amazing! You should’ve joined us.

Study the following list of adverbs and how they change the meanings of sentences when used with absolute adjectives:

nearlyThe design is nearly perfect.Meaning the design needs just a little more work to achieve perfection.
absolutelyWearing protective gear is absolutely necessary.The adverb absolutely adds intensity to the adjective, making it sound more dramatic.
justThis resort is just amazing!The adverb just is added for effect, emphasizing how much they admire the resort.
veryLeslie is very pregnant.This means Leslie looks ready to give birth, but this can be considered rude in context.
practicallyHiroshi’s essay is practically finished.Hiroshi is almost done and requires only a small amount of effort or time to finish what he’s writing.
Table for Absolute Adjective with Adverb Use
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Learning Strategies and Best Practices with Absolute Adjectives

The best learning strategies that can help master adjectives are as follows:

  • Studying the different types of adjectives.
  • Familiarizing oneself with the right placement of adjectives.
  • Learning the functions of antecedents and their modifiers.
Learning StrategiesExplanation
Language ListsLists are great resources for English Language Learners. They can describe any grammatical concept in a thorough way, which includes absolute adjectives. They can also contain valuable sentence examples and learning methods, making the specific functions of the different parts of speech convenient to compare, recall, and apply to your own usage of the English language.
Language ExposureEnglish media consumption (reading books, listening to podcasts, watching online or social media videos, etc.) exposes you to how native speakers use the English language in various contexts, topics, and areas of expertise and therefore will increase your own background knowledge by way of osmosis or mimicry. Additionally, because it’s almost impossible to learn adjectives without learning their synonyms, doing so will increase your vocabulary, boosting your fluency in a faster and more significant way. 
Language ExchangeTalking is important to fluency. Use what you’ve learned in daily interactions with English-speaking friends and fellow English language learners. You can organize study groups or make an effort to engage in English conversations. Soon, you’ll have the ability to speak naturally and use absolute adjectives with ease.
Learning Strategies for Absolute Adjectives Table

Absolute Adjectives Frequently Asked Questions

“Absolutely” is an adverb. It can modify adjectives, verbs, and other adverbs. Its adjective equivalent is absolute.

Absolute and attributive adjectives are both descriptive adjectives. The term “absolute” is used to differentiate adjectives that can be used in comparisons from the ones that can’t.

Yes, you can use adverbs to modify both gradable and non-gradable adjectives, but non-gradable adjectives cannot be used in their comparative or superlative degrees. The term “attributive” is used to differentiate the placement of adjectives in a sentence, whether they come before their antecedents (which is what an attributive adjective is) or come after (called predicative adjectives).

You can only determine that an adjective is attributive when you use it in a sentence, as they usually come before their antecedents or the words they modify. Here are 5 examples:

1. The blue van drove past the cafe. 
2. There are many older customers in the toy shop today.
3. I think painting the wall blue is a horrible idea.
4. It seems like an impossible venture but let’s try.
5. Kitty wanted to carry the large tub to the yard.

Adjectives that describe the qualities of their subjects or antecedents – for example, size, shape, color, material, etc. – are called descriptive adjectives. Absolute adjectives belong under this category. 

1. articles – a, an, the
2. possessive adjectives – my, your, his, her, its, our, their
3. demonstrative adjectives – these, those, this, that
4. distributive adjectives – any, both, each, every, either, neither
5. interrogative adjectives – which, what, whose (used in questions)
6. number adjectives – anything that answers the question “how many”?
7. indefinite adjectives – no, many, any, few, several
8. appositive adjectives – adjective or adjectives that function like appositive nouns
9. attributive adjectives – adjectives that come before their antecedents
10. predicative/predicate adjectives – adjectives that come after their antecedents, usually after verbs
11. absolute adjectives – final, complete, impossible, married, major
12. proper adjectives – Filipino, Buddhist, Japanese, Asian, Slavic
13. cumulative adjectives – a series of adjectives from different categories describing the same noun
14. coordinate adjectives – a series of adjectives from the same categories describing the same noun
15. compound adjectives – red-hot, blue-collar, right-wing, short-term, well-traveled
16. participial adjectives – boiled, breaking, fascinated, rising, elevated
17. denominal adjectives – mathematical, Kafkaesque, cowardly, biological, polar
18. nominal or substantive adjectives – the innocent, the opposite, the British, the rich, the strongest

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