What Is an Intensifier? (with Examples)

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What Is an Intensifier?

An intensifier is a word (usually an adverb) that strengthens or weakens another word (usually the word immediately to its right). An intensifier will have no real meaning in itself and can usually be removed from the sentence. The sole purpose of an intensifier is to tell us about the intensity of another word.

Examples of Intensifiers in Sentences

Here are some examples of intensifiers (shaded) in sentences:
  • This pie is tasty.
  • (There is no intensifier in this sentence.)
  • This pie is very tasty.
  • (In this example, the intensifier very strengthens the adjective tasty. Of note, very is the most common intensifier in English.)

  • The delegation is late.
  • (There is no intensifier in this sentence.)
  • The delegation is very late.

  • Last week's test was easy.
  • (There is no intensifier in this sentence.)
  • Last week's test was really easy.
  • Last week's test was incredibly easy.
  • Last week's test was insanely easy.

Intensifiers Can Also Weaken Intensity

In the examples above, the intensifiers strengthen the words to their right. Intensifiers can also weaken the words they govern. For example:
  • She feels quite lonely.
  • Jack is working fairly hard on the report.
  • He was talking a bit anxiously.

Negative-sounding Intensifiers Provide Strength

Oddly, negative-sounding words such as awfully, dreadfully, insanely, and terribly provide strength to the words they govern. For example:
  • You look awfully pale.
  • I am dreadfully sorry.
  • That is an insanely clever plan.
  • The pressure is dropping terribly quickly.

Intensifier, Boosters, and Amplifiers

In English grammar, intensifiers are sometimes called boosters or amplifiers.

None of these words is particularly accurate as intensifiers (such as quite, fairly, and a bit) can also be used to weaken words. Of note, not all grammarians classify the words with a decreasing effect as intensifiers, preferring the term downtoner. Here at Grammar Monster, we teach that a downtoner is a type of intensifier not the opposite of an intensifier. After all, whether they give an increasing effect or a decreasing effect, all intensifiers play the same role from a structural perspective.

Read also about limiting modifiers.

Using Intensifiers

Over time, intensifiers lose their power to strengthen. The intensifiers awfully and terrible are good examples. Even though these words derive from the powerful words awe and terror, they no longer radiate the same level of gravitas. Through common usage, they have lost their shock value.

To strengthen the intensifying effect, writers (especially in informal writing) often double up their intensifiers. For example:
  • I love you so so much.
  • She tried very very hard.
  • Tomorrow's meeting is so terribly important.
The use of intensifiers is considered by many to be lazy writing, and doubling up intensifiers is unlikely to be permissible in formal correspondence. In formal writing, the level of intensity you need to portray should be achieved through word choice (e.g., by using strong adjectives instead of intensifiers). For example:
  • It is very tasty.
  • It is delicious.
  • (With a strong adjective like delicious, there is no need for an intensifier. In fact, using an intensifier would sound unnatural.)

  • He took an extremely big risk.
  • He took a huge risk.
  • (With a strong adjective like huge, there is no need for an intensifier.)
One effective way to use intensifiers is to limit their use. For example, if you use the word very just once in your document, your readers will believe that very really really does mean very.