Absolute Adjectives; No Argument

When it comes to absolute adjectives, either it is or it isn’t.

You’ve probably heard statements like ‘That’s a fairly unique design’ or ‘He has a very unique style’. The problem is that ‘unique’ is what we call an absolute adjective. Something is either unique (the only one of its kind) or it isn’t; there are no degrees of uniqueness.

What are absolute adjectives?

When you use ordinary adjectives, you might say someone is ‘more intelligent’ or ‘extremely tall’. Something might be ‘the prettier (of the two)’ or ‘the kindest (of all)’. 
When an adjective is an absolute, though, there are no degrees. You can’t, for example, be  ‘slightly pregnant’ or ‘more dead’.

And even though it’s a colourful expression (an example of figurative speech), you literally can’t be ‘half dead’ either. 

For more about figurative speech, see Take It Literally.

Just a few examples of absolute adjectives

  • Perfect; Absolute; Ultimate
  • Finished; Complete; Final; Fatal  
  • Indispensable; Unanimous
  • Circular; Square; Triangular
  • Infinite; Eternal; Supreme.

Let’s qualify that a little

Some of these adjectives can be qualified if there are stages on the way to achieving them – as in, ‘You are nearly perfect (well, of course)’ and ‘The courtyard is almost square’.

In other words, the description isn’t true yet, but it’s getting close. It isn’t a matter of degree, but of progress.

It doesn’t work for ‘pregnant’, though, and probably not for ‘infinite’ or ‘eternal’, either. 

Even though the pigs in Animal Farm famously tried to convince everyone that ‘All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others’… well, sorry, it just isn’t so.

Let me know if you have other absolute adjectives to add to the list.

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