Is responsible a gradable adjective that can be modified with too? E.g., "He is too responsible".

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    I don't think any adjective can be modified with too much.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Oct 11, 2013 at 18:24
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    @RegDwigнt Perhaps OP was thinking of this too much: "It sounds like you've done the best you could and we can't be responsible too much for what happens outside the consulting room." But there too much modifies the entire adjectival predicate, not just the adjective. (At any rate, I think it obvious that the grammaticality of too responsible is what's worrying OP, though such a q would be better asked at the English Language Learners SE.)
    – Talia Ford
    Commented Oct 11, 2013 at 18:57
  • Have you looked at English Language Learners? You might find that useful.
    – TrevorD
    Commented Oct 11, 2013 at 19:30
  • @Talia Ford Are you after Benedict Cumberbatch's role? Commented Oct 11, 2013 at 19:50
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    If you look up 'responsible' in a good dictionary, you will find that it has quite a few senses. Certainly, most if not all of these are ungradable. 'He has (been given) too much responsibility' is definitely permissible and idiomatic. From the dictionary definitions, one could perhaps engineer a paraphrase using the adjective that seems allowable, but I'd stick with the noun here. Commented Oct 11, 2013 at 19:58

1 Answer 1


Given the proper context, "responsible" is indeed a gradable adjective. The phrase is most commonly used when discussing the human psyche both in the context of psychology and the context of "self help." For example, the psychology text Ethics and the Discovery of the Unconscious by Prof. John H. Riker contains the phrase too responsible in the following way:

"First, ethics has an inadequate concept of responsibility that makes humans both too responsible for who they are and not responsible enough for what they do. ... This illusion made us too responsible, for it held that all humans have control over their own personal destinies and can be anything they want...."

Another good example is the self help book Too Good For Her Own Good by Claudia Bepko:

"Our responsibility for others is too much of a good thing. When we're being too responsible, we may act as if we care more about another person's feelings than we do about our own."

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    I can't say I'm too impressed with this answer (just kidding! :) Commented Oct 11, 2013 at 20:23
  • You can 'say' "tooo fuuurioously sleeeping" and 'He led them a jovial dance'. I've found 'I went to the store I got milk and cookies.' on the web. If you look at a fairer comparison of Ngrams, 'was responsible' vs 'was too responsible', the second is negligible. Commented Oct 11, 2013 at 21:02
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    @EdwinAshworth I'm not sure it is a fair comparison, as the two statements are used to express different sentiments. Using this same logic, I ran a google Ngram for was tall vs was too tall. Surely we can agree that tall is a gradable adjective, and as the ngram demonstrates, usage of "was too tall" is negligible in comparison to "was tall."
    – Lumberjack
    Commented Oct 11, 2013 at 22:15
  • I'm pointing out the pitfalls associated with raw Google and Ngram stats (I don't think it's been done for a while, and it's about my turn) - and 'you can says' based on such data. The quoted example you give in your second edit is far better evidence for the acceptability of 'too responsible' (for 'carrying / regarded as having etc too much responsibility'), and I'm happy with its use here. However, it is cocooned in context (ethicists attributing it; responsible for ...), and I would be very wary of using it without such contextualisation (and OP doesn't suggest any). Commented Oct 12, 2013 at 15:38
  • @EdwinAshworth at this risk of turning this comment thread into a chat, I can understand where you are coming from. Quite frankly, I have gone from one extreme to the other in the 1 month I have been a contributor on this site. One of my first answers was a negative assertion that someone should not do something because of the "rules." I was in turn corrected by my fellow contributors, because "usage is king" in linguistics. Quite frankly, it has turned my world upside down to see people suggesting that singular subjects are ok with plural verbs, and beginning a sentence with And is "a-ok."
    – Lumberjack
    Commented Oct 12, 2013 at 17:29

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