Adverbs of degree help us to express ‘how much’ (or to what extent) we do something. They can either intensify the meaning (I am extremely hungry) or make it weaker (I’m fairly certain I locked the door). Common adverbs of degree include: very, slightly, quite, totally, fairly, absolutely and extremely.
In this study guide, we will walk you through a range of adverbs of degree with examples of how to use each of them in a sentence. Don’t forget to check out the exercises at the end to test your understanding! You can also download this guide as a free pdf to use offline.
We use adverbs of degree to qualify what we are talking about. We might tell our friend that we are happy, but we may want to explain the degree (or level) of our happiness: I’m really happy, I’m quite happy or I’m not very happy. Adverbs of degree can be split into two groups: adverbs that intensify the degree of something vs. adverbs that weaken the degree of something.
Adverbs that increase, or intensify, the meaning include words such as: very, totally, completely, and absolutely. For example: I’m totally convinced Sam will quit his job.
Adverbs that decrease or weaken the degree of meaning include words such as: fairly, quite, slightly, and a bit. For example: I’m fairly certain it will rain tomorrow.
An adverb of degree can modify an adjective, another adverb or a verb. Have a look at the following examples:
Adverbs of degree can modify adjectives or adverbs:
Subject + main verb + adverb of degree + adjective
e.g. Jane is very happy.
Subject + main verb + adverb of degree + adverb
e.g. Tom walks extremely quickly.
Adverbs of degree can also modify verbs:
Subject + adverb of degree + main verb
e.g. The boys thoroughly enjoyed their trip to the theatre.
With modal verbs, the adverb of degree can appear before the modal verb or before the main verb, depending on the meaning.
Subject + adverb of degree + modal + main verb
e.g. You really should look where you are going!
Subject + modal + adverb of degree + main verb
e.g. You should really look at the instructions first.
With auxiliary verbs (e.g. have and is/are), the adverb usually goes before the main verb. For example:
Subject + auxiliary verb + adverb of degree + past participle
e.g. I have really enjoyed studying at this school.
Subject + auxiliary verb + adverb of degree + past participle
e.g. I have totally forgotten to bring my phone.
As we’ve mentioned above, we can separate adverbs of degree into two main types: adverbs that intensify the meaning or make it stronger (e.g. very), and adverbs that weaken the meaning, also called ‘downtoners’, (e.g. slightly).
There are times in English when we want to specifically describe our use of an adjective or adverb. For instance, we may wish to express that we are quite nervous or a bit cold. This is more exact than just saying I’m nervous or I’m cold. The adverbs in this category are all used in the same way. The position of the adverb is before the adjective or adverb.
The following adverbs all weaken the adjective or adverb and all appear before the adverb or adjective in the sentence: a bit, fairly, pretty, quite, rather, slightly, and somewhat.
There are many adverbs that intensify, or make the meaning stronger. For grammatical reasons, we need to separate these adverbs into two groups. Our choice of adverb depends on whether the adjective (which the adverb is intensifying) is gradable or ungradable.
For example, ‘hot’ is a gradable adjective, but ‘boiling’ is ungradable. So, we can say: It is very hot AND It is absolutely boiling, but NOT It is very boiling. The table below gives further examples of gradable and ungradable adjectives and the intensifiers used with them.
|Intensifier + gradable adjective||Intensifier + ungradable adjective|
|Very cold||Absolutely freezing|
|Extremely tired||Completely exhausted|
|Really happy||Absolutely ecstatic|
|Very hungry||Totally starving|
The adverbs in this group are always positioned in front of the adjective (which they intensify).
For example: He is extremely intelligent.
The following adverbs are intensifiers that can be used with ungradable adjectives: awfully, extremely, highly, perfectly, remarkably and terribly. These adverbs can also be used to modify an adverb.
For example: She climbed the mountain extremely quickly.
Adverbs that intensify an ungradable adjective appear in the same position as other adverbs in this group. They nearly always go before the adjective. Note that this group of adverbs do not modify other adverbs.
Example: John was totally exhausted.
The following adverbs are intensifiers that can be used with ungradable adjectives: absolutely, completely, entirely, totally and utterly.
|How strongly adverbs of degree modify adverbs and adjectives|
There are a few adverbs of degree that do not neatly fit into the three groups above. The following examples show the position and use of these adverbs.
For example: I like playing badminton a lot.
For example: That costs too much.
For example: Are you warm enough?
An additional issue with choosing which adverb to use is that some adverbs collocate better with some adjectives than others. In other words, some adverbs and adjectives are used frequently together in English and others just don’t ‘sound right’. Common adverbs usually collocate well. For example very collocates with most adjectives: very tall, very hungry, very beautiful. Other adverbs do not collocate with every adjective or adverb. For example, it is possible to be ‘highly intelligent’, but not ‘highly clever’!
The following are examples of common collocations with adverbs of degree:
highly intelligent perfectly well pretty good remarkably well terribly difficult
totally brilliant utterly awful absolutely amazing perfectly simple
A (little) bit (informal)
He arrived a little bit late.
I’m a bit worried about Tom.
I feel a little tired.
He looked a little confused.
I go out with my friends a lot.
I eat pasta quite a lot.
I absolutely love chocolate cake.
I’m not absolutely sure what time she left.
We have almost arrived at the station.
I can almost imagine what it is like there.
There is an awfully big cut on his leg.
The nurse was awfully kind to me.
I completely understand why you are worried.
That is a completely different situation.
I am deeply grateful to everyone who helped me at that time.
He became deeply involved in politics.
Is that jacket big enough?
Did she run quickly enough to win the race?
Do you think you worked hard enough to pass the exam?
The film was enormously successful.
I enormously appreciate your help with that.
That is an entirely different situation.
I’m not entirely sure what you mean!
That is an extremely difficult question.
She did extremely well in the exam.
I’m fairly sure I saw Sarah next to the Post Office.
I play the piano fairly well.
I greatly appreciate your help.
She is greatly admired for her work on nuclear physics.
He is a highly skilled engineer.
It is highly likely that Sue will get the job.
That exam was incredibly difficult.
He walks incredibly slowly!
I see my friends loads at the weekend.
I missed you lots when you went away!
Most (very formal)
You are most kind.
That was most generous of him.
Note: this is not the same meaning of ‘most’ as with the superlative – the most beautiful, etc. Here ‘most’ means ‘very’. This usage is quite “posh” or old-fashioned nowadays.
Not at all
I’m not at all happy about that!
It is not at all clear how to answer the question.
That was a particularly good film.
I thought she sang particularly well.
I can read the road sign perfectly.
I understand perfectly well why he left his job.
I think I can score 100% in the Maths exam. That is practically impossible!
She practically lives at our house.
I’m pretty sure she will pass the exam.
I thought it was a pretty good film.
It was quite difficult to choose the right present for Sonia.
Tim is quite tall.
I thought her first novel was rather good.
He seemed rather quiet when I saw him last week.
He played remarkably well in the final.
There were remarkably few applications for the job.
I will earn slightly more money in my new job.
How do you feel about the interview? I am slightly nervous actually!
I was somewhat surprised that Joe got the promotion.
It was somewhat late when the show started.
I strongly believe animals should not be exploited.
He was strongly opposed to the new law on driving speeds.
I did terribly in the speaking exam.
What happened to Chris was terribly sad.
I thoroughly enjoyed the film.
I thoroughly approve of loans for students.
It was too hot for me in that room!
That box is too high up to reach.
I feel too tired to come out tonight. That’s OK, I totally understand.
Paul’s behaviour was totally unreasonable.
I was utterly devastated when Grandma died.
That party was utterly fantastic!
Martina is very tall.
They walked very quickly.
Running a marathon every day for a week! That is virtually impossible!
Tim and Tom are not quite the same height, but they are virtually identical.
Underline the adverb of degree in each sentence below:
Answer these questions about adverbs of degree:
1. Adverbs of degree can modify:
2. The adverb ‘absolutely’ can be used with:
3. Adverbs of degree most often occur:
4. Put these 4 adverbs in order of degree, beginning with the weakest and ending with the strongest:
terribly totally pretty slightly
5. Which of the following adverbs of degree can be preceded by ‘not’:<
slightly somewhat almost particularly
Choose the best adverb to complete each sentence:
1. In which sentence can you correctly add the word ‘not’?
2. Which of these adverbs goes after the adjective?
a. enough b. pretty c. too
Match the following adverbs and adjectives to form the best collocation:
3. absolutely a. funny
4. highly b. different
5. terribly c. brilliant
6. somewhat d. educated
|Exercise 1||Exercise 2|
|Exercise 3||Exercise 4|