Are there examples of non-gradable adjectives that, over time, have come to be used as gradable?

For example, has a word commonly accepted as non-gradable (like binary in "It's a binary choice" [example suggested by @JasonBassford]) ever transitioned to being commonly accepted as measurable in degrees?

An example of what this might look like:

There seem to be competing definitions for anonymization, and therefore anonymized. It seems the non-gradable definition is prevalent, and I wonder if that might change in the future.

One definition asserts that anonymized data is, by definition, irreversibly anonymized:

Anonymization: The act of permanently and completely removing personal identifiers from data, such as converting personally identifiable information into aggregated data... Once this data is stripped of personally identifying elements, those elements can never be re-associated with the data or the underlying individual.

Educause, emphasis mine

Another definition seems to allow for the possibility of incomplete anonymization:

Anonymization: The process in which individually identifiable data is altered in such a way that it no longer can be related back to a given individual. Among many techniques, there are three primary ways that data is anonymized... Note that all of these processes will not guarantee that data is no longer identifiable and have to be performed in such a way that does not harm the usability of the data.

IAPP, emphasis mine

Under the former definition, anonymized would seem to be a non-gradable adjective (that is, data is either anonymized or not-anonymized, with no degrees of anonymization in between).

Under the latter definition, anonymized would seem to be a minimum-standard absolute gradable adjective (that is, anonymized data possesses a non-zero degree of anonymization).


@CWill aptly pointed out that the second definition doesn't necessarily mean anonymized is gradable, because an incomplete anonymization process may not result in data which may be described as anonymized.

However, I've found uses of anonymized which necessitate its measurement in degrees rather than two categories. For example:

A piece of text is under-anonymized if identifying information (such as names and locations) are only partially removed or replaced in a way that the described individuals can still be re-identified in a given document.

What does it mean to anonymize text?

  • I believe the two definitions are still the same, just that one definition defines the "act" of anonymization, while the other describes the "process" of taking that action. For example, you could say, "Her baking skill is top notch." and it is discrete and non-gradable. Or, you could say, "She's been on a ferocious baking kick for a month and I've gained at least 40 lbs because of it." and that would allow degrees.
    – CWill
    May 12, 2020 at 22:22
  • @CWill interesting... I guess I’m extrapolating a definition of anonymized, which allows for something to be partially anonymized, from the second definition. That extrapolation might not be justified. May 12, 2020 at 22:26
  • 1
    @MichaelCrenshaw My last comment had a typo. I'd meant to type that it's of dubious value as something non-gradable. Sorry about that. The addition of binary to the question helps. May 13, 2020 at 0:22
  • 1
    Something can be true, or it can be false. Nongradable. But then again, truer words were never spoken. Gradable. May 14, 2020 at 2:31
  • 1
    @EdwinAshworth I'm somewhat asserting that common usage of anonymize is non-gradable and that there is a competing, less-common gradable usage. I agree, it's not a great example. The examples of pregnant and infinite are both much clearer examples. Unfortunately I didn't think of them at the time of the question. :-) Thanks for your addition! May 21, 2020 at 15:32

2 Answers 2


Are there examples of non-gradable adjectives that, over time, have come to be used as gradable?

Yes. The adjective “infinite”.

Prior to 1891 “infinite” was ungradeable, in that year Georg Cantor’s paper was published which demonstrated that there are infinite Natural numbers but there are more Real numbers. Thus the paper showed that there were sets of infinities whose cardinalities were of different sizes. “Infinite” then became technically gradeable.

  • This is exactly the kind of example I was looking for. It's a technical term that made a clear transition in meaning from non-gradable to gradable. Thanks! May 21, 2020 at 15:13
  • I don’t see how this follows. Different infinities all have the quality of being infinite; I don’t think it is necessarily the case that we must be able to say that an infinity of greater cardinality is “more infinite” than another. They’re both infinite, as in “not finite”.
    – herisson
    May 21, 2020 at 16:32

Okay, I'll give it a try. How about dead, as deprived of life, no longer alive (M-W)? Commonly accepted as either YES or NO, but we also have almost dead, half dead, etc. The dog is dead; the dog is not dead, the dog is almost dead; the dog is half dead; etc. I must be missing something. And then there's Schrodinger's cat, which is simultaneously dead and not dead. That may not make dead fully gradable, but it does create a grade different from dead and not dead, i.e., both.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.