I’m going to talk about one of my favorite types of words today: adverbs of degree!
Wait. Adverbs… of degree? What?
Maybe I should explain!
Most of you, I’m sure, know what an adverb is. If you don’t, here’s a helpful link for you.
In any case, what many of you may not know is that adverbs describe not only verbs, but adjectives too!
When adverbs describe adjectives, they usually describe how much or to what degree.
Let’s take the adjective “big” as an example.
I could say:
“That house is big.”
But what if I want to emphasize how big it is? I could say
“That house is very big.”
“That house is so big.”
“That house is really big.”
What if I wanted to diminish how big it is? I could say
“That house is not very big.”
“That house is pretty big”
“That house is kind of big.”
These are called “adverbs of degree”. As you can see, there are a ton of them.
Today I want to talk about a few of the more popular ones: so, really and too.
All of these are emphatic adverbs: they make the adjectives stronger. They’re also very natural – much more naturally than the adverb “very” – so you should use them a lot!
However, it’s important to know how they are used before using them. Many English learners don’t use them correctly, and accidentally express something they didn’t intend to express!
So let’s look at how they are used:
1. So is used both positively and negatively
So can be used to describe something positive, or something negative.
- “Whew, I’m so tired today.” This is negative.
- “She is so good at cooking!” This is positive.
2. So is used to describe something unexpected
When the degree of an adjective is unexpected, you can use “so”.
- “This pizza is so good!” This means “I expected the pizza to be good, but I didn’t expect it to be good to such a degree!”
- “This test is so hard.” This means “I thought this test would probably be hard, but I didn’t expect it to be hard to such a degree.”
3. So can be used sarcastically
Sarcasm is a major part of humor, especially in Western cultures. Sometimes a native English speaker makes a statement and actually means almost the opposite! Native speakers often use “so” to emphasize the sarcasm.
- “This museum is so fun…” This actually means “This museum is really boring!”
- “Plastic flowers for my birthday? You’re so thoughtful.” This actually means “Plastic flowers for my birthday? You’re so thoughtless. I wish you were more thoughtful.”
1. Too is only used negatively
This is really important! So many English learners use “too” in order to describe something positive, not realizing that it actually makes the sentence sound bad!
More specifically, “too” means “to such a degree that it is a problem” or “to such a degree that one ought to decrease it”! In other words, if I say “You’re too nice”, it’s not a compliment. I mean “You should be less nice”!
- “You put the tools too high on the shelf.” This means you should have put them on a lower shelf; putting them on a high shelf was bad.
- “You took too much time.” This means you were slow; you should have taken less time.
- “You’re too nice to her.” This means you are so nice that it is a problem; you should be less nice to her! Maybe she takes you for granted or doesn’t treat you very nicely.
2. Too is usually used for something unexpected.
“Too” can be used as a judgment (for example, “You’re too slow”), but it can also be used to express that something is unexpected.
- “This soup is too hot!” This means “I expected this soup to be hot, but the degree to which it is hot is unexpected and unpleasant!”
- “This test is too hard.” This means “I expected this test to be hard, but the degree to which it is hard is unexpected and I don’t like it.” The speaker may feel the test is so hard that they cannot pass it or finish it in time.
3. Too can be used jokingly
“Too” is also sometimes used as a joke. In this case, it’s actually positive! It means the speaker is pleasantly surprised.
- “Oh, you are too kind!” This means “I wasn’t expecting you to be kind, so I am surprised and happy that you are this kind.”
- “This amusement park is too much fun!” This means “I wasn’t expecting this amusement park to be fun, so I’m surprised and happy that it’s this much fun.”
Really is the easiest one to use.
Like “so”, it can be used both positively and negatively.
- “This pizza is really good!”
- “This test is really hard.”
It can also be used for both expected and unexpected situations.
- “You should check out that new amusement park. I went there last week. It was really fun.”
- “This new amusement park is really fun!”
It can also be used jokingly, but it isn’t used for that as much.
- “This test is really fun.” This is probably sarcastic, since tests usually aren’t fun.
- “You’re really kind.” This is probably not sarcastic.
As you can see, “really” is… well, really common and really useful! I recommend using it.
That’s all for today! If you have any questions about these adverbs, or other adverbs of degree, leave me a comment, or send me a tweet! Hope I can help.
By the way, in case you are interested, here is a big list of adverbs of degree!