Very Necessary: The Meaning of Non-gradable Modal Adjectives in Discourse Contexts


  • Maryam Rajestari
  • Simon Dobnik
  • Robin Cooper
  • Aram Karimi



modal adjectives, degree modifier, gradability, meaning variation


In this paper we provide a quantitative and qualitative analysis of meaning of allegedly non-gradable modal adjectives in different discourse contexts. The adjectives studied are essential, necessary, crucial and vital which are compared with a gradable modal adjective important. In our study sentences containing these adjectives were chosen from a large corpus together with their contexts. Then 120 English native speakers evaluated the meaning of these adjectives in a crowd-sourced study. Different types of contexts were chosen for this purpose. In some the adjectives were used as gradable with a modifier very while in others as non-gradable, without a modifier. We also modified the contexts by adding or removing the modifier very. The task for evaluators was to provide a replacement for adjectives for all the resulting contexts. From the replacements we are able to quantitatively evaluate the semantic potential of these contexts and what kind of adjectives they license.