Tag Archives: ungradable

Making the grade

Half-dead. Totally unique. Nearly impossible. Almost perfect.

We all know what is meant by these common phrases, but when you examine them more closely you’ll see that they make no sense. Something is either dead, or it’s not. It cannot be qualified. The adjectives above, and many others, signify absolute states and they are therefore “non-gradable” (the “grade” being the words half, totally, nearly and almost). We like to grade them anyway, usually for extra emphasis (“Brand new!” “Totally naked!” “Absolutely free!”). Sounds better, doesn’t it? Advertising execs love to grade non-gradable adjectives.

Keep your eyes and ears open and you’ll no doubt come across one of these in your travels over the next few days (you might even inadvertently use one yourself, like I did in the last blog entry). Maybe you’ll ask your child if they’ve finished their homework, and they’ll say “almost!”  You know that means they’ll be done soon, but can we really  “almost finish” something? You might argue “yes” on this one, and you might be partially right. Ha! Did you catch that? You can’t be partially right!

Yes, I’m quite certain of that.

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