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Lesson 4.4: Degree Words


There is a group of words that are sometimes called adverbs which actually are a category distinct from adverb. These degree words (also sometimes called intensifiers) include words like very, so, too, rather, and quite. They serve to express degree of an adjective or adverb.


I ran very quickly. - degree word modifying adverb quickly

They are running so fast. - degree word modifying adverb fast


She is rather happy. - degree word modifying adjective happy.


Notice how adverbs cannot appear in these positions, modifying adverbs or adjectives:


*She is quickly happy.

*They are running happily fast.


There are a few adverbs, mentioned in the lesson on adverbs, that can modify adjectives that do not express degree.


She is obviously surprised.

They are probably happy.


Most -ly words that precede adjectives, however, are degree words, not adverbs.


She is incredibly tired.

We are really excited.


Activity: Determine what each of the following italicized words is modifying and whether it is an adverb or degree word.


The chair is significantly damaged.

The student was unexpectedly nervous.

The teacher is visibly frustrated.

The owl is thought to be inherently wise.

The test was incredibly easy.

My friend is overly competitive.

Your room is meticulously neat.

It’s horribly cold outside!

This purse is outrageously expensive.

The cake is sinfully delicious.


When one tries to fit the words of English into eight parts of speech categories, Degree is typically not one of them. Then we’re left confused and doubting our intuitions, which tell us that such words are different from adverbs. They occur in different positions and modify different words. Now, that is very interesting!


Here is this lesson as a pdf.


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