Is there a word which describes the strength of an adjective within an ordered set?

For example, these words describe “quality” in ascending order of their “power”:

  • good
  • great
  • fantastic

Is there a name for a set like this or a tool, similar to a thesaurus, that could be used to identify such a set?

Background information: I asked a question on UX StackExchange regarding naming different levels of system stability. I was looking for confirmation that the ordering of OperationalTemperamentalUnstableCriticalDire was appropriate when it struck me that there must be a name to describe the relationship between these words.

  • 1
    How about "scale"?
    – user19148
    Commented Sep 16, 2012 at 22:36
  • 1
    Would either "degree" or "intensity" suit your purpose?
    – user16269
    Commented Sep 17, 2012 at 0:00
  • Interesting question. I would say that unstable-critical-dire all describe degrees of severity, while happy-elated-jubilant would describe degrees of emotiveness. However, I'm not sure if there's a generic term could apply to any set of words in a word spectrum – other than strength, which you've already used in the title of your question. I'll be interested to see if there's an "official" accepted term for this – for the relative strength or weakness of a word compared to its synonyms. Maybe forcefulness?
    – J.R.
    Commented Sep 17, 2012 at 8:21

2 Answers 2


The technical word for this is "Word Spectrum." As seen in the Dictionary App on OSX (more specifically only shown in the Oxford's American Writer Thesaurus). Another thing you may want to check out is "Aristotle's Golden Mean." Not the same, but in the spectrum category.

Word Spectrum

  • 3
    spectrum simply suggests a range. I think the OP's question is "what is the independent variable that traces this range?"
    – Jim
    Commented Sep 17, 2012 at 0:49

I've found a couple of papers, which use the term "Adjective Polarity" to describe the position of each related adjective within a numerical scale.

"polarity" refers to the way the scale includes both positive and negative values, which cunningly allows antonyms and synonyms to be placed within the same series.

From what I understand, a word's polarity value is subjective, and dependant upon the classification technique chosen. Here's an example of how we may choose to assign polarity values for adjectives of "quality":

-2  terrible
-1  bad
 0  acceptable
+1  good
+2  great

Here are the papers for reference:

Agarwal & Bhattacharyya
Williams & Anand

  • Polarity works well when the words on the ends are antonyms, but I'm not sure that would be a good word to describe the situation when all the words are synonyms, as in the original question. Polarity implies two opposites; the original question asked about weak vs strong.
    – J.R.
    Commented Sep 23, 2012 at 11:31
  • I agree that "polarity" doesn't seem to be the most appropriate word but its use within the referenced papers suggests that it includes magnitude as well as sign
    – Wheelie
    Commented Sep 23, 2012 at 15:28
  • Your comment prompted me to read the papers more in-depth, where I saw that your assertion is true. "By the Polarity of a word, we mean the extent to which it contributes in determining the sentiment or tone of a phrase or a sentence in which it is contained. For example, excellent and outstanding are words with a strong positive polarity. Poor and bad are examples of words with a high negative polarity." Maybe an excerpt like that could have been included in your answer?
    – J.R.
    Commented Sep 23, 2012 at 21:38

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