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 adverb, but not verbs. Other intensifiers often express the same intention as 'very'.
- -ass, as in "a sweet-ass ride"
- awful, as in "awful good"
- bare, as in "bare jokes" (slang)
- bloody, as in "bloody hell"
- dead, as in "dead wrong"
- fucking, as in "fucking awesome"
- hella (slang)
- holy, as in "holy shit or holy crap"
- most, as in "Most Reverend"
- precious, as in "precious little"
- real, as in "real nice"
- wicked (regional)
- a. The car is really expensive. - Predicative intensifier
- b. the really expensive car - Attributive intensifier
- a. Today was super cold. - Predicative intensifier
- b. a super cold day - Attributive intensifier
- a. The car is so expensive. - Predicative intensifier
- b. *the so expensive car - Attributive intensifier (not grammatical)
- a. *Today was cold-ass. - Predicative intensifier (not grammatical)[note 1]
- b. a cold-ass day - Attributive intensifier
In general, overuse of intensifiers negatively affects the persuasiveness or credibility of a legal argument. But if a judge's authoritative written opinion uses a high rate of intensifiers, a lawyer's written appeal of that opinion that also uses a high rate of intensifiers is associated with an increase in favorable outcomes for such appeals. Also, when judges disagree with each other in writing, they tend to use more intensifiers.
A 2010 Stanford Graduate School of Business study found that, in quarterly earnings conference calls, deceptive CEOs use a greater percent quantity of “extreme positive emotions words” than CEOs telling the truth. This finding agrees with the presumption that a CEO attempting to hide poor performance exerts herself more forcefully to persuade her listeners. David F. Larcker and Zakolyukinaz give a list of 115 extreme positive emotions words, including intensifiers: awful, deucedly, emphatically, excellently, fabulously, fantastically, genuinely, gloriously, immensely, incredibly, insanely, keenly, madly, magnificently, marvelously, splendidly, supremely, terrifically, truly, unquestionably, wonderfully, very [good].
A 2013 Forbes Magazine article about counterproductive modes of expression in English specifically discouraged use of really, observing that it provokes doubt and degrades the speaker's credibility:
"Really" - Finder calls this a "poor attempt to instill candor and truthfulness" that makes clients and coworkers question whether you're really telling the truth.
The narrator. It is easy to tell whether a narrator is narrating because the subject matter interests him or because he wants to evoke interest through his narrative. If the latter is the case, he will exaggerate, use superlatives, etc. Then he usually narrates the worse, because he is not thinking so much about the story as about himself.
- The exception to this is badass which appears to be the source of this intensifier rather than an instance of it.
- Tagliamonte, Sali A. (2012). Variationist Sociolinguistics. UK: Wiley-Blackwell. p.9
- Human, All Too Human, § 343
- Modifying Meaning: Intensifiers