So let's kick it back into an easier gear today, with - funnily enough - intensifiers.
Pinkie Rating: 4
Take a look at Judgmental-Cat here. What word could we safely delete from this sentence?
Yep: 'really' isn't really carrying any essential weight. It's acting kinda like that one guy who always sandbags it when you're moving furniture: he LOOKS like he's helping to heft that couch, but really he's just there for the free pizza.
This is one example of an intensifier: a word* used to add emotional emphasis to the word** it modifies. Basically, it's a verbal underlining of whatever word comes after it, as if to say, "this, but to the max!"
*which happens to be an adverb
**which happens to be an adjective or another adverb
Try this: what words could you use to fill in this blank?
If you said -
True enough! But it's also introducing a new idea to the sentence. It's saying, "I did not expect this nap to be very nice, and have been pleasantly surprised to discover that it is, in fact, nice as hell."
What if we used a word like 'somewhat' or 'slightly'?
Likewise, those modify 'nice' and can be deleted, but they don't count as intensifiers, because they're making 'nice' less intense, rather than more so. A better way to say it is that they are not adding emotional emphasis to the words they modify. (What they are is 'degree adverbs', which mean that they quantify the word they modify - somewhat, profoundly, moderately, pretty, kind of, hardly, scarcely, etc. - but aren't suggesting that you feel a certain way about it.)
Furthermore, English has a number of "part-time" intensifiers. For example,
In this case, 'sincerely' is an intensifier: it's emotionally emphasizing the same idea already found in 'hope'. (In other words, it's not like you can hope insincerely - because then it's not really hope at all, is it?)
However, if we had a sentence like,
It was a promise sincerely made.
You see this all the time in everyday usage: adverbs that COULD introduce a new idea, but which are paired with words that render them mostly redundant. For example:
- sincerely hope
- honestly believe
- seriously doubt
- categorically deny
- fully convey
Not in the slightest - not in the least! For all that your 8th-grade English teacher derived grim pleasure from systematically striking 'very' and 'really' from your compositions, intensifiers are called that because they actually, seriously do intensify the words they serve.
That can be a handy way to add emphasis to what you're saying. Personally, I don't think Judgmental-Cat and Butt-Cat would be as funny if we didn't have 'really' and 'sincerely' in there. And you can see with Nap-Cat how the intensifier can help the two sentences run parallel, while adding a little extra punch to the second one.
However, it is true that these are easy words to overuse, and can add significant belly-flab to your writing if you aren't careful with them.
(Sorry, Jak - couldn't resist.)
So what can you do if you know you have an issue with these? One handy trick is to write your composition, and then do a Search/Find for "ly " (with the space at the end, so you won't catch "lying", for example), along with "really," "very," and whichever other words you know you have on mental speed-dial. Then you can decide one by one whether they're adding value to your work.
And the SUPER sneaky trick for hardcore intensifying felons: take these words out of your word processor's dictionary. Here's a guide for removing items from Microsoft Word's dictionary, but you can find others with a little Googling. Let the squiggly red line be your adverbial chaperone!
In conclusion: use intensifiers in your prose as you would salt in your food: sparingly, thoughtfully, and to good purpose. Unless we're talking margarita glasses. Then you can go bananas.
This isn't entirely on-topic, but in researching intensifiers, I stumbled across this article: How To Tell if the Boss Is Lying. Guess what kind of words lying bosses like to use?
Many thanks to today's GrammatiCats!
1. Firefly, courtesy of Jarret O.
2. Our own naptacular Peaches
3. Apollo, courtesy of Honoré Hillman
4. Crookshanks, because I can't quit harassing Jak Cryton
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