I was under the impression that ungradable adjectives cannot have comparative forms in any circumstances, because there are no degrees in those adjectives.

But I found a quotation from George Orwell containing an ungradable adjective "equal" and since then I wondered if there are other ungradable adjectives that can be used in comparative form.

"Some animals are more equal than others." (George Orwell)

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    All English adjectives are gradable, but some are more gradable than others. Commented Dec 14, 2015 at 21:52
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    I think one has to say that it's usages, not the adjectives themselves, that are gradable. For instance, 'unique' is ungradable in its original sense, but ODO also gives a broadened sense 'Particularly remarkable, special, or unusual' which is gradable. 'Equal' as used by Orwell is a nonce broadening to illustrate the hypocrisy involved. 'His glass is fuller than mine' is idiomatic for 'His glass is more nearly full than mine'. Commented Dec 14, 2015 at 22:42
  • @EdwinAshworth very helpful.
    – Afsane
    Commented Dec 14, 2015 at 23:01

1 Answer 1


The whole point of that passage is bitter irony: the revolution was carried out under the principle "All animals are equal" but is subverted when Napoleon's party assumes dictatorship and rewrites the principle :

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

Logically and grammatically it's meaningless; but power trumps logic and grammar.

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    How very true..
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Dec 14, 2015 at 21:55
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    And, to generalize, the (relatively rare) technique is used with other adjectives (though I can't think of any at the moment) to indicate a degree of sarcasm/ridicule in a classification system.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Dec 14, 2015 at 22:10

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