What is an intensifier?

Intensifiers, a subset of adverbs of degree, are adverbs or adverbials (groups of words that function as adverbs) that modify adjectives and other adverbs to increase their strength, power, or intensity. The following words are all examples of intensifiers:
  • very
  • remarkably
  • extremely
  • amazingly
  • incredibly
  • completely
  • exceptionally
  • super
  • really
Here are some examples of intensifiers being used in sentences:
  • “The soup was very hot, so he put it down.”
  • “The park in the middle of the city was amazingly beautiful.”
  • “You were completely sure that you had done the assignment correctly.”
  • “Sunlight in spring feels incredibly uplifting after a long, cold winter.”
  • “Everyone was really excited to go to the beach and go swimming in the ocean.”
  • “They were all remarkably moved by the movie they saw in the theatre.”
  • “This table was crafted really beautifully.”

Difference from mitigators

Intensifiers are the opposite of mitigators, which are used to decrease the intensity of the words they modify. Knowing what the main intensifiers are, as well as how they are used, makes it easier to tell the difference between these two different types of adverbs. Here are some of the most commonly used mitigators:
  • rather
  • pretty
  • slightly
  • fairly
  • a bit
  • a little bit
  • just a bit
  • just a little bit
  • a little
Here are some examples of mitigators being used in sentences:
  • “The eagle flew over the fairly large canyon before it swooped to the ground for a landing.”
  • “After eating dinner, everyone in the room was a little bit full.”
  • “When Sarah stepped outside, she noticed that the weather seemed just a bit chilly.”
  • “All the players on the soccer team were slightly nervous before stepping out onto the field for the big game.”
  • “The woman sang pretty well, but it was clear she was not a professional.”
Let’s examine some sentences that contain both intensifiers and mitigators. Notice how each one is used to modify its respective adjective or adverb in a different way:
  • “The dog was rather tired, so he took a very long nap in his favorite spot.”
  • “The spring blossoms looked incredibly gorgeous in the fairly strong sunlight.”
  • “Timothy was claiming that everything he was saying was completely true, but it still seemed just a little bit suspicious.”
  • “The book was really entertaining; however, she thought the ending was a bit anti-climactic.”
In each of these sentences, the intensifier strengthens the intensity of the adjective that it modifies while the mitigator weakens its adjective.

Importance in sentences

Intensifiers not only elevate adjectives and adverbs to higher levels of intensity. In many circumstances, the way adjectives and adverbs are described can drastically impact their meaning in a sentence. For example, consider the following sentence:
  • “The 5k race around the city was tough.”
In this sentence, the adjective tough informs you that the race was challenging, but we don’t know any more than that. However, adding an intensifier can change the whole description of the race:
  • “The 5k race around the city was incredibly tough.”
By simply adding the intensifier incredibly, the race comes across as being much more challenging, perhaps more challenging than the speaker expected or was able to handle. Here is another example:
  • “When the ship was leaving the harbor, the waves were choppy.”
  • “When the ship was leaving the harbor, the waves were extremely choppy.”
There is a large difference between choppy and extremely choppy waves. Such a difference could mean that a storm is coming in, and the ship may even have to turn back due to danger. Once again, the intensifier modifies its adjective and alters the sentence's meaning in the process. Here is one final example to illustrate this concept:
  • “The old bridge was safe to walk on.”
  • “The old bridge was very safe to walk on.”
In the second sentence, the intensifier very implies that the bridge is still in excellent condition, and there is no danger whatsoever associated with walking on the bridge. The first sentence, however, only implies that the bridge is passable.
Small changes such as we’ve seen can have both minute and profound impacts on what we write and the way we speak.

1. Which of the following is an intensifier?

2. Identify the intensifier in the following sentence.
“Almost everyone in the group was incredibly excited to go sightseeing in New York City.”

3. Which of the following words is not an intensifier?

4. Which part of speech do intensifiers function as in a sentence?

5. Which part(s) of speech do intensifiers modify?

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