Highly delighted, bitterly disappointed, ridiculously cheap: adverbs for emphasis.

[by Liz Walter]

We often make adjectives stronger by putting an adverb in front of them. The most common ones are very and, for a stronger meaning, extremely:

He was very pleased.

The ship is extremely large.

However, we don’t use very or extremely for adjectives that already have a strong meaning, for example fantastic, delighted, huge, furious. For these, the most common adverb is absolutely. Utterly is even stronger, and is usually used for adjectives with a negative meaning:

This apartment is absolutely perfect for us.

At the end of the day, I was utterly exhausted.

Really is slightly informal, and used both with strong adjectives and other adjectives:

Your shoes are really dirty.

Her bedroom is really tiny.

If you want to show that something surprises you, you can use surprisingly, or, for more emphasis, amazingly or incredibly:

The food was surprisingly good.

It was incredibly difficult to get a ticket.

To emphasize how bad something is, you can use terribly. Dreadfully and awfully are used in the same way, but sound slightly more formal:

She was terribly upset.

We were dreadfully late for the meeting.

You may be surprised to learn that terribly and awfully can also be used with positive adjectives in a rather formal way:

We were terribly relieved.

That’s awfully kind of you.

Highly and hugely are also slightly formal. They are usually used most often with positive adjectives:

It’s a highly successful company.

This issue is hugely important to us.

However, note that if you hear someone say that a person will be highly delighted, they are almost certainly being sarcastic (saying the opposite of what they really mean):

You’ve lost your coat again? Your mum will be highly delighted to hear that.

You can use ridiculously if you want to emphasize that something is not reasonable:

These clothes are ridiculously expensive.

The portions are ridiculously small.

Some adjectives are very often used with a particular adverb, and you need to learn these combinations. Here are a few useful ones:

bitterly cold/disappointed

highly likely/unlikely

heavily pregnant

blindingly obvious

seriously ill/injured

badly damaged

More advanced students can improve the range and style of their English by listening out for or even inventing more interesting combinations. For example, while it is fine to describe the sun as extremely hot, or a lecture as very boring, it would be very impressive to produce blisteringly hot or mind-numbingly boring.

21 thoughts on “Highly delighted, bitterly disappointed, ridiculously cheap: adverbs for emphasis.

  1. This blog is hugely helpful for learners of English, especially for the non-native speakers of English. It would be more convenient if there is an option to download these lessons because the learners have to spend much time here to learn all of these lessons. If there is an option to download these lessons, the learners can study the materials at their convenient time.

  2. Luc007

    Exceedingly useful, indeed!

    Positively impressed by the lavishly dispended knowledge of the Cambridge Dictionaries team 😉

  3. Andrey Boyd

    The phrase “utterly ridiculous” is another example of using adverbs which came to my mind.

    I got pleasure reading your article. Thanks for sharing.

  4. paul kibor

    The benefits from reading this blog is simply out of this world for a non-native speaker like me.

    Thank you.

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