Intensifier  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Intensifier is a linguistic term (but not a proper lexical category) for a modifier that makes no contribution to the propositional meaning of a clause but serves to enhance and give additional emotional context to the word it modifies. Intensifiers are grammatical expletives, specifically expletive attributives (or, equivalently, attributive expletives or attributive-only expletives; they also qualify as expressive attributives), because they function as semantically vacuous filler. Characteristically, English draws intensifiers from a class of words called degree modifiers, words that quantify the idea they modify. More specifically, they derive from a group of words called adverbs of degree, also known as degree adverbs. However, when used grammatically as intensifiers, these words cease to be degree adverbs, because they no longer quantify the idea they modify; instead, they emphasize it emotionally. By contrast, the words moderately, slightly, and barely are degree adverbs, but not intensifiers. The other hallmark of prototypical intensifiers is that they are adverbs which lack the primary characteristic of adverbs: the ability to modify verbs. Intensifiers modify exclusively adjectives and adverbs. However, this rule is insufficient to classify intensifiers, since there exist other words commonly classified as adverbs that never modify verbs but are not intensifiers, e.g. questionably.

For these reasons, Huddleston argues that intensifier not be recognized as a primary grammatical or lexical category. Intensifier is a category with grammatical properties, but insufficiently defined unless its functional significance is also described (what Huddleston calls a notional definition

Technically, intensifiers roughly qualify a point on the affective semantic property, which is gradable. Syntactically, intensifiers pre-modify either adjectives or adverbs. Semantically, they increase the emotional content of an expression. The basic intensifier is very. A versatile word, English permits very to modify adjectives and adverbs, but not verbs. Other intensifiers often express the same intention as very.


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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Intensifier" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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