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What Is an Intensifier?

By A. Leverkuhn
Updated May 17, 2024
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Intensifiers are words that are used to amplify the meanings of other words or phrases. Many times, these are in the form of adverbs, or modifiers that complement verbs. Other intensifiers can be categorized as different parts of the English lexicon.

Many intensifiers are extremely common words in the English language. Some of the most common ones with the broadest general uses include the words “very” and “really.” Providing these examples helps to illustrate the issues around “chaining intensifiers,” where these words can be strung together many times, providing a somewhat incorrect and rather annoying grammar. For example, if someone says it’s “very, very, very, very hot outside,” the language suffers from the overuse of an intensifier, even though it may be commonly understood.

Other intensifiers are much more substantial in that they are based on more complex and specialized adjectives. For example, if an English speaker says “the car was dangerously close to the side of the road,” they are using the intensifier “dangerously,” which is based on the adjective “dangerous” and intensifies the adjective, “close,” in a very particular context. Other similar intensifiers include words like “incredibly” and “thoroughly,” which are also commonly used as either adverbs or modifiers of adjectives. An English speaker might use “thoroughly” as an adverb, as in “He read the book thoroughly” or as an adjective modifier in, “The result was thoroughly disgusting.”

Some special kinds of intensifiers are used with comparative adjectives. For example, the intensifier “a lot” is used with comparatives, where an English speaker might say, “this one is a lot bigger than that one.” Other similar intensifiers include “much,” “a great deal,” “a bit,” and “by far.”

On occasion, intensifier words are technically referred to as “expletives.” Informally, these may be referred to as “fillers.” The idea is that usually, intensifiers are not really needed speech. They often represent unnecessary additions to the sentence, and in an academic environment, instructors often encourage students to leave them out of formal writing.

Learning about intensifiers will help a non-native English speaker to figure out more of the actual grammar of the language. It will also reveal more about the use of “lexical units” that include adverbs and adjectives. Finally, it will help to illuminate the ways that English speakers pursue comparative or superlative language.

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