Fine in the sense of very good quality seems to be an absolute adjective, and since absolute adjectives are not gradable, so I am wondering if this principle applies to fine in the sense ‘of very good quality’ as well?

Regarding why fine seems an absolute adjective to me, let us take a moment to consider the following etymology of fine from the Oxford Dictionary of English and Wiktionary:

from old French fin ‘end’, cognate with Eng. finish

This etymology brings me the impression that it means ‘too good to be improved further’ or ‘so good as cannot be better’, so I feel like fine is much like an ‘absolute adjective’ such as superior.

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    This question is entirely answerable with a dictionary (specifically, learner's dictionaries tend to specifically cover this example). Unfortunately this means this question is off topic. – Laurel Dec 2 '18 at 5:53
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    The notion that absolute adjectives are inherently non-gradable is, at best, a very prescriptivist way of looking at it. Even "perfect" is gradable, though less than it used to be. – Kevin Dec 2 '18 at 6:29
  • @Laurel Not necessarily. Our research guidelines would allow this question to stay open if a proper citation for the quotation can be added. Some reasons that may make it more acceptable is that it raises the bar of evidence, and/or shows that the information is at least somewhat hard to find, which is not to mention the etymology is interesting. Would you please inform us which which source you checked for the etymology Lynno? I can't find it myself, but it seems to be valid info. – Tonepoet Dec 2 '18 at 7:09
  • @Tonepoet thanks for your advice, the etym. info is from OED and wiktionary, which i just instert in the post. – Lynnyo Dec 2 '18 at 10:10
  • "This is a fine wine, but that other blend is even finer." – Chappo Says SE Dudded Monica Dec 2 '18 at 10:17

Fine is as gradable an adjective as was ever spoken. Finer and finest are used half a dozen times each in Shakespeare. They're in common figures of speech: the finer things, their finest hour.

So then, why doesn't the etymological argument hold up?

First, the past is not the present. If fine really did mean "too good to be improved further", then it would mean "perfect"; and yes, there would be less occasion to use it comparatively or superlatively. But that's not what it means.

Second, even absolute adjectives like perfect or complete are usually gradable. More perfect is understood to mean more nearly perfect, and more complete means more nearly complete, or more thorough.

  • "Fine" is also used in speech to indicate reluctant acceptance of the inevitable as in "There's no one else to empty the bedpans so you'll have to spend your 16 hour shift doing it, alright?" "Fine". Obviously it's not perfect but I'm going to have to do it whatever I say. – BoldBen Dec 2 '18 at 12:29

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