What are Intensifiers in English Grammar?

Adjectives and adverbs that put emphasis other words or phrases

In the phrase an utterly beautiful night the intensifier utterly increases the attributes of the adjective beautiful.

 Suchart Kuathan/Getty Images

In English grammar, an intensifier (from the Latin for "stretch" or intend," also known as a booster or an amplifier) is a word that emphasizes another word or phrase. Intensifying adjectives modify nouns; intensifying adverbs commonly modify verbs, gradable adjectives, and other adverbs. The opposite of an intensifier is a downtoner, which lessens the emphasis on the word or phrase it's modifying.

Examples of Intensifiers

"Oh, I am so not in the mood for this. I've just been shot!"—Nicki Aycox as Meg Masters in "Supernatural"
"The woodwind has a slightly greater scope than the violin."—John Philip Sousa
"The women I had as very close friends were very independent women, very progressive. They're very sensitive about social change."—Toni Morrison

Functions of Intensifiers

"To some degree, an intensifier acts as a signal: it announces that the word following it is worn out and that it should be understood as inadequate. For example, in the phrase an utterly beautiful night, the author is saying, 'Look, I mean something beyond beautiful, even if I don't have the precise word; try to imagine it..."—From "Spunk & Bite: A Writer's Guide to Punchier, More Engaging Language & Style" by Arthur Plotnik

Versatile Adverbs

"Intensifiers are morphologically perhaps the most versatile category of adverbs in English. A glance at their history would appear to support the layering hypothesis. There are intensifiers that may be called fused forms, such as the suffixless very and compound somewhat, which both go back to Late Middle English, whereas the phrasal expressions sort of and kind of are more recent."—From "Three Perspectives on Grammaticalization" by Terttu Nevalainen

Boosters and Language Change

"Humans are indeed natural-born exaggerators, and this trait is one of the main driving forces behind language change. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the constant renewal of intensifying words, or what are sometimes called 'boosters.' These are the little words that fortify adjectives. They express a high point along a scale. Something isn't just good but awfully good, terribly good or even bloody good. Inevitably, such dramatic words wear out with time and become mundane. Alternative expressions then have to be found. This has already happened to boosters like awfully, terribly and horribly. You can see that at the root of these expressions are words like awe (originally, 'fear, dread'), terror and horror. So they had strong, even gruesome beginnings. But overuse bleached them of this energy and force, and before long they meant little more than 'very.'"—From "Gift of the Gob: Morsels of English Language History" by Kate Burridge

Repeat Intensifiers

"The sheer number of [intensifiers], all with more or less the same meaning, is significant. If you haven't made your case, you have to pound the adverbial drums, the same way the boy in the story had to insist that this time, there really, really, really was a wolf."—From "When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It" by Ben Yagoda

Strunk and White on Intensifiers

"Rather, very, little, pretty—these are the leeches that infest the pond of prose, sucking the blood of words. The constant use of the adjective little (except to indicate size) is particularly debilitating; we should all try to do a little better, we should all be very watchful of this rule, for it is a rather important one and we are pretty sure to violate it now and then."

William Cobbett on the Adverbs of Exaggeration (1818)

"Be rather sparing than liberal in the use of Adjectives. One which expresses your meaning is better than two, which can, at best, do no more than express it, while the additional one may possibly do harm. But the error most common in the use of Adjectives is the endeavoring to strengthen the Adjective by putting an adverb before it, and which adverb conveys the notion that the quality or property expressed by the Adjective admits of degrees: as 'very honest, extremely just.' A man may be wiser than another wise man; an act may be more wicked than another wicked act; but a man cannot be more honest than another; every man who is not honest must be dishonest, and every act which is not just must be unjust."


  • Plotnik, Arthur. "Spunk & Bite: A Writer's Guide to Punchier, More Engaging Language & Style." Random House, 2005
  • Nevalainen, Terttu. "Three Perspectives on Grammaticalization" in "Corpus Approaches to Grammaticalization in English," ed. by Hans Lindquist and Christian Mair. John Benjamins, 2004
  • Burridge, Kate. "Gift of the Gob: Morsels of English Language History." HarperCollins Australia, 2011
  • Ben Yagoda, "When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It." Broadway Books, 2007
  • Strunk, Jr., William; White, E.B. "The Elements of Style." Pearson, 1999 (first published 1918)
  • Cobbett, William. "A Grammar of the English Language in a Series of Letters." 1818
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Nordquist, Richard. "What are Intensifiers in English Grammar?" ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/intensifier-grammar-term-1691176. Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). What are Intensifiers in English Grammar? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/intensifier-grammar-term-1691176 Nordquist, Richard. "What are Intensifiers in English Grammar?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/intensifier-grammar-term-1691176 (accessed June 8, 2023).