Learn About Qualifier Words in English Grammar

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

qualifiers - James Thurber
James Thurber made up this sentence to illustrate the oxymoronic effects created by certain qualifiers ( The Years With Ross, 1959).

In English grammar, a qualifier is a word or phrase (such as very) that precedes an adjective or adverb, increasing or decreasing the quality signified by the word it modifies

Here are some of the most common qualifiers in English (though a number of these words have other functions as well): very, quite, rather, somewhat, more, most, less, least, too, so, just, enough, indeed, still, almost, fairly, really, pretty, even, a bit, a little, a (whole) lot, a good deal, a great deal, kind of, sort of.

"Qualifiers have their place," Mignon Fogarty advises, "but make sure they're not just taking up space" (Grammar Girl Presents the Ultimate Writing Guide for Students, 2011). 


From the Latin, "to attribute a quality to"

Examples and Observations

  • "When she waded into the brook, Wilbur waded in with her. He found the water quite cold—too cold for his liking."
    (E.B. White, Charlotte's Web, 1952)
  • "They were fine upstanding beasts, willing workers and good comrades, but very stupid."
    (George Orwell, Animal Farm, 1945)
  • "Granmaw was always on my case about my grades. I was pretty lazy about school, that much was true, but I always managed to pull out the stops by the end of the semester."
    (Tracy Price-Thompson, A Woman's Worth. One World Books, 2008)
  • "In the area where we were hiding, there was a fairly spectacular waterfall."
    (Tom Robbins, Wild Ducks Flying Backward. Random House, 2006)
  • "In fact, death seems to have been a rather late invention in evolution. One can go a long way in evolution before encountering an authentic corpse."
    (George Wald)
  • "John was relaxed and easygoing, as usual, and Mike was friendly and talkative that day, even though he has a reputation among local fishermen for being kind of grumpy."
    (John Gierach, Standing in a River Waving a Stick. Simon & Schuster, 1999)
  • "Reston was a good deal smarter and a good deal more ambitious than the average Washington reporter, but he had not yet developed the instincts and intuitions that set the great journalists apart from the run-of-the-mill."
    (John F. Stacks, Scotty: James B. Reston and the Rise and Fall of American Journalism. University of Nebraska Press, 2003)
  • Fairly
    "Fairly as a modifier indicates an almost large or reasonable degree of a quality (fairly accurate, fairly well-off). It can be used more easily with favourable and neutral adjectives than with strongly unfavourable ones, as with fairly honest, fairly intelligent, fairly reasonable, but not ?fairly dishonest, ?fairly foolish, ?fairly unreasonable:
    He seems to have a fairly good idea of what he wants to do.
    Other adverbs which suggest that something is very close to having the quality named are: almost, nearly, roughly, approximately, partly, largely."
    (Angela Downing, English Grammar: A University Course, 3rd ed. Routledge, 2014)
  • Qualifiers and Adverbs
    "Traditional grammarians usually classified qualifiers as adverbs of degree, and at first glance, judging on the basis of meaning and function, this seems reasonable. Degree adverbs—like completely, absolutely, extremely, and excessively—can fit into the same position as the prototype, and they have similar meanings.
    "However, qualifiers are not true adverbs; they fail to fulfill several of the criteria for adverbs . . .. First, qualifiers do not modify verbs. . . . Second, with one or two exceptions, like really and fairly, qualifiers do not have adverb derivational suffixes. Third, qualifiers cannot be made comparative or superlative . . .. And fourth, qualifiers do not intensify."
    (Thomas P. Klammer and Muriel R. Schulz, Analyzing English Grammar. Allyn and Bacon, 1992)
  • Strunk and White's Usage Advice
    "Avoid the use of qualifiersRather, 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 Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White, The Elements of Style, 3rd ed. Macmillan, 1979)

Pronunciation: KWAL-i-FY-er

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Nordquist, Richard. "Learn About Qualifier Words in English Grammar." ThoughtCo, Aug. 7, 2017, thoughtco.com/qualifier-words-1691707. Nordquist, Richard. (2017, August 7). Learn About Qualifier Words in English Grammar. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/qualifier-words-1691707 Nordquist, Richard. "Learn About Qualifier Words in English Grammar." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/qualifier-words-1691707 (accessed May 22, 2018).