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Techniques > Use of language > Modifying meaning > Intensifiers

Method | Example | Discussion | See also



Amplify the effect of a verb by using an adverb that intensifies the meaning and particularly the emotional content.

Use the intensifier to subtly suggest to the other person what emotions they should feel.

In the same way, you can also use adverbs to attenuate and reduce the natural emotional content of a verb.


That is very interesting. (basic intensifier)
That is very, very interesting.
(repetition to increase effect)
That is extremely interesting.
(suggests extreme response)
That is amazingly interesting.
(suggests being amazed)
That is scarily interesting. (suggests being scared)
That is quite interesting. (reducing intensity)
That is a bit interesting. (reducing intensity)


The basic intensifier is 'very' and can be used with many verbs. Other intensifiers often have the same meaning as 'very' but use different forms Intensifiers include: very, really, extremely, remarkably, fantastically, etc.

Suggesting what to feel

Intensifiers often subtly suggest to the other person what to feel. By naming emotions within the adverb, the other person has to consider this emotion and hence begins to feel it.

As the adverb is not the subject, object or verb, it is not as noticed and hence such suggestions may slip past conscious (or even subconscious) filters.


Just as intensifiers increase emotion, the same effect can be done in reverse, where the natural level of emotion implied by a verb may be reduced. This can be done deliberately to cool down a situation. It also can appear in floppy language, where you are seeking to avoid saying anything that upsets the other person and hence end up making very weak statements that have a very low chance of changing anybody's mind.

Borrowing from the negative

There is a curious pattern of intensification that uses negative words to intensify positive verbs. These words include: Awfully, dreadfully, fearfully, terribly, ridiculously, insanely, disgustingly, hideously, etc.

Thus, for example:

She is dreadfully beautiful.
What an insanely good idea!

What in effect is happening here is that many strong emotions are negative, so using them in a positive context borrows that intensity of emotion whilst the contextual cues show that the real meaning is positive. An additional effect is that combining negative and positive words in the same sentence creates confusion, which itself is also adds to the emotion.

A curious fact about this usage is that it is particularly popular with upper-class British people. What a ridiculously interesting thing!

De-intensification by intensification

Sometimes intensification is done deliberately but with the opposite intent. This use of sarcasm may be done against another person or used in a more ironic sense about the situation.

Oh, very clever! (actually meaning rather stupid)


The tonal cadence of the way something is said can have a significant effect on the emotional intensity that is conveyed. Simply by feeling an emotion as we speak, we automatically intone the words in a way that the feeling is communicated. Body language of course also adds to the display.

Emphasis often acts as a tonal intensifier as we add indicative pauses and change such speaking speed, pitch and volume to indicate words that are more significant and emotionally charged.

See also

Amplification principle, Enhancing with adverbs, Using emphasis


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