I've recently come across the terms helping-adverb and helping-adjective in some old grammar books.

From the book A practical grammar of the English language (by Roscoe Goddard Greene, 1830):

A Helping-Adverb (1) is a word employed to aid an adverb, or another helping-adverb; as, " He rides too fast ;" " He rides much too fast."

Helping-adverbs, (2) very, quite, exceedingly, excessively, extremely, too much, &c.

The same words are called helping-adjectives when they are employed to aid adjectives; as, " The house is too large ;" or another helping-adjective; as, " The house is much too large."

These words are, by some writers on grammar, called adverbs of degree.


The words very, quite, exceedingly, excessively, extremely, too, and some other words, are called by some grammarians, helping adjectives, when they modify adjectives — when they modify adverbs, they are called helping adverbs. — Blair.

From the book The American system of English grammar (by James Brown, 1826):

Helping adjectives relate to the principle adjective and to other helping-adjectives:

  1. The weather is very much too warm.
  2. The richer the soil, the better the fruit.

Warm is the principal : too relates to warm;much to too;and very to much.

The is a helping adjective relating to richer and better.

From the book An analytical, illustrative, and constructive grammar of the English (by Brantley York, 1862):

If such adverbial elements limits a substantive element, through the medium of some adjective element, they may be called secondary or helping adjectives ; but if they modify a verb or participle indirectly, i.e., through the medium of some other element, they may be called secondary or helping adverbs.

Questions (all related):

  • Are the terms helping-adverb and helping-adjective used in the grammar of the contemporary English or are they abandoned long time ago?
  • Is there any credibility of the explanation of the terms above? Or is it covered by adverbs of degree already and is it the only used term currently?
  • Might the terms helping-adverb and helping-adjective be used in the grammar of other languages currently but not in English grammar?
  • 1
    Quite interesting to see old "grammar" words and they make perfect sense. I have not encountered those words, though.
    – user140086
    Commented Oct 1, 2015 at 6:36
  • 1
    "The weather is very much too warm." is not a construction that I have ever seen, nor could I warm to it very much. It is very much too convoluted for me.
    – Cargill
    Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 3:14
  • I prefer the term 'intensifier'. The difference between adject[ival] and adverbial is that adjectives restrict the search for the noun, while adverbs give extra info about the event. Intensifiers work with either to modify degree.
    – AmI
    Commented Dec 14, 2015 at 19:37

1 Answer 1


Searching Google Books, I find only 25 results for "helping-adverb" and eight for "helping-adjective," so I'm not sure if they were so much abandoned, as such, but, rather, never very common to begin with.

"Adverb of degree" receives 5,500 Google Books results (major contrast with the above), so I would certainly say that one would be better off, in terms of likelihood of being understood, if one used that term rather than the one with "helping."

In terms of "credibility," I don't see anything particularly wrong, per se, with the use of "helping-adverb"—just a lack of currency. "Helping adjective," seems wrong, however, as English adverbs are defined in any current dictionary or textbook as modifying either verbs or adjectives, and hence "helping adjective" seems to make little sense because all cited examples would normally be classified as adverbs or adverbial phrases.

The idea of a "helper" word is, however, used in grammar sometimes; the Chicago Manual of Style, for instance, mentions "helper verbs." However, since all the examples cited above do pertain to degree, one could argue that "adverbs of degree" is more readily intelligible.

I don't think any term directly translatable as "helping-adjective" is commonly used in describing Japanese grammar, but Japanese is an agglutinative language, meaning that multiple word-like entities are frequently combined together to form what could be considered single words but that do the work of what could be a whole clause in other languages. To wit, Ikaserarezu..., whose basis is the verb iku "to go," could mean, in context, something like "Without anyone forcing him to go..." The various things added to the end of verb stems and then onto one another in turn are usually called in English-language descriptions of Japanese grammar "auxiliary verbs" or "helper verbs."

The rub: some of these "verbs" are conjugated as though they were adjectives: -yasui, as in yomiyasui "easy to read" (from yomu, "to read"), is exactly conjugated like, and functions as, an adjective. In fact, yasui exists on its own as an adjective in its own right, etymologically related though with a slightly different meaning. Hence, one might (though typically doesn't) speak of "helping-adjectives" in Japanese, and these do not necessarily have anything to do with degree.

Korean and Turkish are other agglutinative languages, so somebody familiar with them might have more to add on your last question.

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