What is a mitigator?

Mitigators, a subset of adverbs of degree, are adverbs or adverbials (groups of words that function as adverbs) that modify adjectives and adverbs to reduce their intensity, making them seem less extreme or powerful. The following are all examples of 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 movie was rather dull.”
  • “He thought that the parade was just a bit too long.”
  • “The runner performed fairly well, but not well enough to win the race.”
  • “The sky was slightly red and orange at the time of the sunset.”
  • “They were all a little annoyed that the fair had been cancelled due to rain.”
  • “The cake was pretty good, but not excellent.”
  • “I can jump pretty high for my height.”

Difference from intensifiers

Mitigators are the opposite of intensifiers, which are used to increase 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 intensifiers:
  • very
  • remarkably
  • extremely
  • amazingly
  • incredibly
  • completely
  • exceptionally
  • super
  • really
Here are some examples of intensifiers in sentences:
  • “The weather was exceptionally warm.”
  • “The scenery on the train ride from New York to Chicago was incredibly beautiful.”
  • “Her mind was completely focused on getting her coffee in the morning.”
  • “The ocean was very cool when he jumped in.”
  • “Your appointment was really long.”
  • “All of the students did remarkably well on the exam.”
Now, let’s look at some sentences that have both mitigators and intensifiers. Notice how each one is used to modify its respective adjective or adverb in a different way:
  • “The line was fairly short for the extremely scary roller coaster.”
  • “You were pretty late for the show, but the singer was incredibly late!”
  • “Some trees in the forest were exceptionally tall, but some were just a bit taller than me.”
Notice that in all of these sentences, the mitigators reduce the intensity of the adjectives that they modify, while the intensifiers increase the intensity.

Importance in sentences

Adjectives and adverbs help to describe the quality of something or its actions. However, adjectives and adverbs on their own often cannot produce the exact level of description we want when speaking or writing. For example, consider the following sentence:
  • “The rapids looked dangerous.”
This implies that the river might not be safe for recreational activities. However, the meaning of the sentence can change significantly if a mitigator is added. For example:
  • “The rapids looked slightly dangerous.”
By adding the mitigator slightly before the adjective dangerous, the whole meaning of the sentence is changed. Now the rapids seem much less hazardous; they could potentially be safe if the person is very careful.
Here is another example:
  • “The vacation was boring.”
  • “The vacation was a bit boring.”
The mitigator a bit implies that the vacation wasn't completely boring. It also implies an element of surprise or disappointment, as if the speaker expected the vacation not to be boring.
Here is one last example:
  • “Henry felt excited to meet his long lost relative for the first time.”
  • “Henry felt a little excited to meet his long lost relative for the first time.”
In the second sentence, the mitigator a little reduces the intensity of the adjective excited. This change not only results in the man being less excited, it now also carries a possible implication that he was not looking forward to meeting his relative before, or that he was not expecting to be excited.
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 words is a mitigator?

2. Identify the mitigator in the following sentence.
“Kevin quickly decided that he was having a pretty good day after all.”

3. Which of the following words or group of words is not a mitigator?

4. Mitigators do which of the following things?

5. Mitigators act as which part of speech in a sentence?

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