Intensifiers don’t intensify

What do “very,” “awfully,” and “rather” have in common?

They are adverbs.  True.  Anything else?  They are meant to intensify a word or idea.  True again.  Anything else?  Not sure?  Consider these sentences.

  • I’m tired.
  • I’m very tired.
  • I’m awfully tired.
  • I’m rather tired.

What is their difference in meaning?  Is “very tired” more tired than “tired”?  Is “awfully tired” more tired than “rather tired’?

The truth is that “very,” “awfully,” and “rather” are empty words.  They are meant to intensify, but they fall short.  They are like the second exclamation mark after “Wow!!”  Totally unnecessary.

We have many useless intensifiers in English.  “Really, “terribly,” “utterly,” “completely,” and “wholly” are some.

Here is my favorite quote about using intensifiers:

Mark Twain:  “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”


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