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3.1.2.Modification by an intensifier
quickinfo

Three different types of intensifiers can be distinguished: amplifiers like zeer'very', which scale upwards from some tacitly assumed standard value or norm, downtoners like vrij'rather', which scale downwards from some tacitly assumed standard value or norm, and neutral intensifiers like min of meer'more or less', which are neutral in this respect.

6
Three types of intensifiers
a. Amplifiers scale upwards from a tacitly assumed standard value/norm
b. Downtoners scale downwards from a tacitly assumed standard value/norm
c. Neutral intensifiers are neutral with regard to the tacitly assumed standard value/norm.

The implied norm can be represented as an interval of the range indicated by the two scalar adjectives, as in (7). The downtoners refer to a certain point or interval on the implied between the neutral zone and the norm, whereas the amplifiers refer to a point/interval at the opposite site of the norm. The neutral intensifiers indicate a point/interval in or in the vicinity of the norm.

7
Scale of “goodness":

      The semantic effect of the use of a downtoner can be expressed by making use of the semantic representations introduced in 3.1.1. First, let us assume that of two degrees d1 and d2, d1 is lower than d2 (d1 < d2), if d1 is closer to the neutral zone than d2. And, further, let us refer to the implied norm by means of dn. Now, consider the examples in (8), along with their semantic representations in the primed examples.

8
a. Jan is zeer goed.
amplifier
  Jan is very good
a'. ∃d [ GOED (Jan,d) & d > dn]
b. Jan is vrij goed.
downtoner
  Jan is rather good
b'. ∃d [ GOED (Jan,d) & d < dn]
c. Jan is min of meer goed.
neutral
  Jan is more or less good
c'. ∃d [ GOED (Jan,d) & d ≈ dn]

The semantic effect of the amplifier zeer'very' can then be described by means of the semantic representation in (8a'). This representation is similar to the semantic representation in (5a) with the addition of the part that expresses that the degree to which Jan is good exceeds the implied norm (d > dn). The semantic effect of the downtoner is expressed in the semantic representation in (8b') by the addition of the part that expresses that the degree to which Jan is good is lower than the implied norm (d < dn). The effect of the neutral intensifier, finally, is expressed by the addition of the part that states that the degree to which Jan is good is approximately equal to the norm (d ≈ dn).
      Intensifiers can be of several categories: they can be APs, NPs or PPs. Their categorial status may be clear from their internal structure, their morphological behavior, or from the fact that the same forms can be used in positions that are typical of APs, NPs, or PPs. The intensifier ernstig'seriously' in (9a), for example, is an adjective, which is clear from the following two facts: it can be modified by means of the adverbial intensifiers zeer'very' and vrij'rather', which are never used to modify a noun (cf. the examples in (9a) and (9b)), and it may undergo comparative formation, as in (9a'). Given the presence of the indefinite determiner een'a' and the possibility of adding an attributive adjective such as klein'little', the intensifier een beetje'a bit' in (9b) clearly has the internal makeup of a noun phrase. The presence of the preposition in in example (9c) clearly indicates that the intensifier in hoge mate'to a high degree' is a PP.

9
a. Jan is (zeer/vrij) ernstig ziek.
  Jan is   very/rather  seriously  ill
a'. Jan is ernstiger ziek dan Peter.
  Jan is more seriously  ill  than Peter
b. Jan is een (klein/*zeer/*vrij) beetje ziek.
  Jan is a   little/very/rather  bit  ill
c. Jan is in hoge mate ziek.
  Jan is to high degree  ill
  'Jan is ill to a high degree.'

Many intensifiers cannot easily be classified as belonging to one of the three categories AP, NP, or PP, because the possibilities for modifying them are themselves limited, and their morphological behavior and their internal makeup provide few clues. Following tradition, we call these intensifiers adverbs, although it may be the case that we are in fact dealing with regular adjectives; cf. Chapter 8.
      The remainder of this section is organized as follows. We will start the discussion on intensification with the amplifiers (Subsection I), downtoners (Subsection II), and neutral intensifiers (Subsection III). This is followed by a discussion of the interrogative intensifier hoe'how' in Subsection IV. The exclamative element wat, which constitutes a category in its own right, will be discussed in Subsection V.

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[+]  I.  Amplification

Amplifiers scale upwards from a tacitly assumed norm. In order for an intensifier to be characterized as an amplifier, we should be able to infer from the combination intensifier + adjective that the state described by the adjective exceeds the assumed norm. This can be tested by placing the modified scalar adjective in the frame shown in (10a), in which co-indexation expresses that the subject of the first clause is coreferential with the subject of the second clause. The element zelfs'even' requires that the following AP scale upwards: the degree d2 implied by the second clause must be higher than the degree d1 implied by the first clause (d2 > d1). If the result is acceptable, we are dealing with an amplifier; if it is not, the modifier is most likely a downtoner. This is illustrated for the amplifier zeer'very' in (10b), and for the downtoner vrij'rather' in (10c).

10
Amplifier test
a.   NPi is A; pronouni is zelfs MODIFIER A
    NP is A   is even    
b.   Jan is aardig; hij is zelfs zeer aardig.
    Jan is nice he is even very nice
c. % Jan is aardig; hij is zelfs vrij aardig.
    Jan is nice he is even rather nice

The following subsections discuss the categories that may function as an amplifier. Adverbs apart, amplifiers belong to the categories AP and PP.

[+]  A.  Adverbs

There are a limited number of elements that function as amplifiers for which it cannot readily be established whether they are APs, NPs or PPs, and which we will refer to as adverbs for convenience. Some examples are given in (11).

11
a. heel goed 'very good'
b. hogelijk verbaasd 'highly amazed'
c. hoogst interessant 'most interesting'
d. uitermate gevaarlijk 'extremely dangerous'
e. uiterst belangrijk 'extremely important'
f. zeer zacht 'very soft'

The adverb heel'very' is special in that, at least in colloquial speech, it optionally gets the attributive -e ending if it modifies an attributively used adjective ending in -e. This is completely excluded with the other adverbs in (11). This contrast is illustrated in (12).

12
a. een heel/hel-e aardig-e jongen
  very  nice  boy
b. een uiterst/*uiterst-e aardig-e jongen
  an  extremely  nice  boy

      The examples in (13) show that the adverbs in (11) cannot be modified themselves, and are normally not used in negative clauses (except in denials of some previously made assertion). In that respect, they differ from the adjectival amplifiers in (20) in Subsection B below.

13
a. * zeer heel goed
  very  very  good
a'. Dat boek is (?niet) heel goed.
  that book  is   not  very  good
b. * zeer hogelijk verbaasd
  very  highly  amazed
b'. Jan is (*niet) hogelijk verbaasd.
  Jan is    not  highly  amazed
c. * zeer hoogst interessant
  very most  interesting
c'. Dat artikel is (*niet) hoogst interessant.
  that article  is    not  most interesting
d. * heel uitermate gevaarlijk
  very  extremely  dangerous
d'. Vuurwerk is (*niet) uitermate gevaarlijk.
  Firework  is    not extremely  dangerous
e. * heel uiterst belangrijk
  very  extremely  important
e'. Het probleem is (*niet) uiterst belangrijk.
  the problem  is    not  extremely important
f. * heel zeer zacht
  very  very  soft
f'. De deken is (?niet) zeer zacht.
  the blanket  is    not  very soft

      The adverbs typisch'typically', specifiek'specifically' and echt'truly' may also belong to this group, but they have the distinguishing property that they combine with relational adjectives, not with scalar set-denoting adjectives (cf. *typisch groot'typically big'). Although as a rule the relational adjectives do not occur in predicative position, addition of these amplifiers generally makes this possible due to the fact that the modified adjective is then construed as a set-denoting adjective referring to some typical property or set of properties; cf. Section 1.3.3. Example (14), for instance, expresses that the cheese under discussion has properties that are characteristic of Dutch cheese.

14
Deze kaas is typisch Nederlands.
  this cheese  is typically  Dutch
[+]  B.  APs

The group of adjectival amplifiers is extremely large and seems to constitute an open class to which new forms can be readily added. The adjectival amplifiers can be divided into two groups on the basis of whether the have retained their original meaning.

[+]  1.  Adjectival amplifiers that have lost their original meaning

The adjectival amplifiers in (15) resemble the adverbs in (11) in that they only have an amplifying effect; their original meaning, which is given in the glosses, has more or less disappeared.

15
a. knap moeilijk
  handsomely  difficult
e. verschrikkelijk geinig
  terribly  funny
b. flink sterk
  firmly  strong
f. vreselijk aardig
  terribly  nice
c. oneindig klein
  infinitely  small
g. waanzinnig goed
  insanely  good
d. ontzettend aardig
  terribly  nice
h. geweldig lief
  tremendously  sweet

Like the adverbs in (11), the amplifiers in (15) cannot be amplified themselves, and cannot occur in negative clauses. Two examples are given in (16).

16
a. * heel vreselijk geinig
  very  terribly  funny
a'. Jan is (*niet) vreselijk geinig.
  Jan is    not  terribly  funny
b. * erg waanzinnig goed
  very insanely good
b'. Jan is (*niet) waanzinnig goed.
  Jan is    not  insanely  good

We can probably include the evaluative adjectives in (17) in the same group as the adjectives in (15): the examples in (18) show that they cannot be amplified or occur in negative clauses either.

17
a. jammerlijk slecht
  deplorably  bad
c. verduiveld goed
  devilishly  good
b. verdomd leuk
  damned  nice
d. verrekt moeilijk
  damned  difficult
18
a. * erg jammerlijk slecht
  very deplorably bad
a'. Dat boek is (*niet) jammerlijk slecht.
  that book is    not  deplorably  bad
b. * zeer verdomd leuk
  very  damned  nice
b'. Dat boek is (*niet) verdomd leuk.
  that book is    not  damned  nice

However, example (17d) is somewhat special since the amplifier verrekt can be intensified by the addition of an -e ending, as illustrated in (19a). As the AP verrekte moeilijk is used in predicative position, this ending on verrekte cannot, of course, be an attributive ending. Actually, the use of the additional schwa has a degrading effect if the AP is used attributively, as is shown in (19b).

19
a. Dit is verrekte moeilijk.
  this  is damned  difficult
b. *? de verrekte moeilijke opgave
  the  damned  difficult  exercise
[+]  2.  Adjectival amplifiers that have retained their original meaning

The adjectival amplifiers of the second group have more or less retained the meaning they have in attributive or predicative position. As a result of this, giving a satisfactory translation in English is occasionally quite difficult. Some examples are given in (20) and (21).

20
a. druk bezig
  lively  busy
c. hard nodig
  badly  needed
b. erg ziek
  badly  ill
d. hartstochtelijk verliefd
  passionately  in.love
21
a. absurd klein
  absurdly  small
f. buitengewoon groot
  extraordinarily  big
b. afgrijselijk lelijk
  atrociously  ugly
g. enorm groot
  enormously  big
c. behoorlijk dronken
  quite  drunk
h. extra goedkoop
  extra  cheap
d. belachelijk groot
  absurdly  big
i. ongelofelijk mooi
  unbelievably  handsome
e. bijzonder groot
  especially  big
j. opmerkelijk mooi
  strikingly  beautiful

      The use of the adjectival amplifiers in (20) and (21) is very productive, although it should be observed that they cannot be used to modify an adjective of the same form. This is illustrated in (22).

22
a. erg/*bijzonder bijzonder
  very special
b. bijzonder/*erg erg
  very bad

Note also that there are also adjectival modifiers that have fully retained their lexical meaning, but whose main function is not intensification; cf. Section 8.3. Some examples are given in (23).

23
a. De tafel is onherstelbaar beschadigd.
  the table  is irreparably  damaged
b. De soep is lekker zout.
  the soup  is tastily salty

      The main semantic difference between the two sets of amplifiers in (20) and (21) is that amplification is less strong with the former than with the latter: the amplifiers in (20) express that the state denoted by the modified adjective holds to a high degree, whereas the amplifiers in (21) express that the state holds to an extremely high or even the highest degree. In other words, the amplifiers in (20) are more or less on a par with the prototypical amplifier zeer'very', whereas the amplifying force of the amplifiers in (21) exceeds the amplifying force of zeer. This can be made clear by means of the frame in (24a), in which the element zelfs'even' requires that the second AP scale upward with respect to the first one; cf. the discussion of (10). Given that the amplifiers in (20) cannot be felicitously used in this frame, we may conclude that their amplifying force does not surpass the amplifying force of zeer. The fact that the amplifiers in (21) can be readily used in this frame, on the other hand, shows that their amplifying force is stronger than that of zeer.

24
Strength of amplifier
a.   NPi is zeer A;
NP is very
pronouni is zelfs
is even
MODIFIER A.
b. % Jan is zeer ziek.
Jan is very ill
Hij
he
is zelfs
is even
erg
very
ziek.
ill
c.   Gebouw B is zeer lelijk.
building B is very ugly
Het
it
is zelfs
is even
afgrijselijk
atrociously
lelijk.
ugly

This difference between the amplifiers in (20) and (21) is also reflected in their gradability. The examples in (25) show that the amplifiers in (20) can themselves be amplified by, e.g., the adverbs in (11) and undergo comparative/superlative formation.

25
a. een heel erg zieke jongen
  very  very/badly  ill  boy
a'. Jan is erger ziek dan Peter.
  Jan is more.very/worse  ill  than Peter
a''. Jan is hetergst ziek.
  Jan is the worst  ill
b. Een nieuwe computer is heel hard nodig.
  a new computer  is very badly  needed
b'. Een nieuwe computer is harder nodig dan een nieuwe printer.
  a new computer  is more.badly  needed  than a new printer
b''. Een nieuwe computer is het hardst nodig.
  a new computer is the most.badly  needed

The examples in (26), on the other hand, show that amplification of the amplifiers in (21) is excluded and that the same thing holds for comparative and superlative formation.

26
a. *? een heel afgrijselijk lelijk gebouw
  a very atrociously  ugly  building
a'. * Gebouw B is afgrijselijker lelijk dan gebouw C.
  building B  is more atrociously  ugly  than building C
a''. * Gebouw B is het afgrijselijkst lelijk.
  building B  is the most atrociously  ugly
b. * Dit boek is uiterst opmerkelijk mooi.
  this book  is extremely strikingly  beautiful
b'. * Dit boek is opmerkelijker mooi dan dat boek.
  this book  is more strikingly  beautiful  than that book
b''. * Dit boek is het opmerkelijkst mooi.
  this book  is the most strikingly  beautiful

It is important to note that the unacceptability of the examples in (26) is not due to some idiosyncratic property of the adjectives; modification and comparative and superlative formation are both possible if these adjectives are used attributively or predicatively, as is demonstrated in (27).

27
a. een heel afgrijselijk gebouw
  very atrocious  building
a'. Gebouw B is afgrijselijker dan gebouw C.
  building B  is more atrocious  than building C
a''. Gebouw B is het afgrijselijkst.
  building B is the most atrocious
b. een uiterst opmerkelijk boek
  an  extremely remarkable  book
b'. Dit boek is opmerkelijker dan dat boek.
  this book  is more remarkable  than that book
b''. Dit boek is het opmerkelijkst.
  this book  is the most remarkable

Finally, amplification can often be enhanced in the case of the amplifiers in (20) by means of reduplication of the amplifier, whereas this is categorically excluded with the amplifiers in (21). This is illustrated by the examples in (28).

28
a. Een nieuwe computer is hard, hard nodig.
  a new computer  is badly  badly  needed
  'A new computer is very badly needed.'
b. * Dit boek is opmerkelijk, opmerkelijk mooi.
  this book  is strikingly  strikingly  beautiful

      Although there seem to be differences between the individual members of the two sets of amplifiers in (20) and (21), they all seem possible in negative clauses (see Section 3.3, sub I, for more discussion of negation). This is shown in (29) and (30).

29
a. Jan is niet erg groot.
  Jan is not  very  big
b. Jan is niet bepaald hartstochtelijk verliefd.
  Jan is not  exactly  passionately in.love
30
a. Jan is niet bijzonder/buitengewoon groot.
  Jan is not  especially/extraordinarily  big
b. Jan is niet opmerkelijk mooi.
  Jan is not  strikingly  beautiful

      The amplifier erg'very' is special in that, at least in colloquial speech, it optionally receives an attributive -e ending if it modifies an attributively used adjective ending in -e, just like the adverb heel in (12a). This is not readily possible with the other adjectival amplifiers. This contrast is illustrated in (31); note that enorme is acceptable if it is interpreted as an attributive adjective modifying the noun phrase donkere kamer, that is, under the interpretation “an enormous dark room".

31
a. een erg/erg-e donker-e kamer
  very dark  room
b. een behoorlijk/??behoorlijk-e zwar-e klus
  pretty  difficult  job
c. een enorm/#enorm-e donker-e kamer
  an  extremely  dark  room

When the adverb heel'very' and the adjectival modifier erg are combined, the adverb must precede the adjective, and the following possibilities with respect to inflection arise; the percentage sign in (32b) indicates that speakers seem to differ in their judgments on this example.

32
a. een heel erg donker-e kamer
b. % een heel erg-e donker-e kamer
c. een hel-e erg-e donker-e kamer
d. * een hel-e erg donker-e kamer
[+]  C.  Noun phrases

Noun phrases do not occur as amplifiers with the possible exception of exclamative wat'how', which is discussed in Subsection V.

[+]  D.  PPs

The prepositional phrase in .... mate'to a .... degree', where the dots indicate an adjective modifying the noun mate'degree', can also be used as an intensifier. Depending on the nature of the adjective, the PP is interpreted either as an amplifier or as a downtoner. The former is the case in example (33a). Another PP that can be used as an amplifier is given in (33b).

33
a. in hoge/ruime mate ongelukkig
  'unhappy to a high degree'
b. bij uitstek geschikt
  'suitable par excellence'

Special cases are the use of the coordinated prepositions illustrated in the examples in (34a&b); cf. also the examples in (37a) in Subsection E below. The isolated preposition in in (34a') can also be used to express amplification, in which case it must receive heavy accent.

34
a. een in en in schone was
  'a through and through clean laundry'
a'. een ìn schone was
  'a thoroughly clean laundry'
b. een door en door bedorven kind
  'a through and through spoiled child'

Finally, the examples in (35) show that there are a number compound-like adverbs, the first member of which seems to be a preposition.

35
a. boven: bovengemiddeld intelligent 'more than averagely intelligent'; bovenmate mooi 'extraordinarily beautiful'
b. buiten: buitengemeen knap 'unusually handsome'; buitengewoon groot 'extraordinarily large'
c. over: overmatig ijverig 'overly diligent'

If the preposition over occurs as the first member of a compound adjective, it may also have an amplifying effect and sometimes even expresses that a certain standard value or norm has been exceeded; some examples taken from the Van Dale dictionary are overactief'hyperactive', overmooi'very beautiful', overheerlijk'delicious', and overstil'very/too calm'.

[+]  E.  Other means of amplification

Amplification need not involve the use of an amplifier but can also be obtained by various other means, which we will briefly discuss in the following subsections.

[+]  1.  Morphological

Some adjectives are morphologically amplified. This is the case with complex adjectives, such as beeldschoon'gorgeous' (lit.: statue-beautiful), doodeng'really scary' (lit.: death-scaring), oliedom'extremely stupid' (lit.: oil-stupid), and beregoed'terrific' (lit: bear-good), in which the first part of the compound expresses the amplification. As is illustrated in (36), these complex adjectives cannot be modified by additional downtoners or amplifiers.

36
a. een (*vrij/erg) beeldschoon schilderij
  rather/very  gorgeous  painting
b. een (*nogal/ontzettend) doodenge film
     rather/terribly  really.scary  movie
c. * een (*vrij/zeer) oliedomme jongen
  a rather/very  extremely.stupid  boy
d. * een (*nogal/zeer) beregoed optreden
     rather/very  terrific  act

However, further amplification can often be obtained by reduplication of the first morpheme, as in (37). If the first morpheme of the compound is monosyllabic, use of the coordinator en'and' seems preferred. If the first morpheme is disyllabic, the reduplicated morphemes can be separated by means of a comma intonation. We are dealing with tendencies here, as is clear from the fact that all forms in (37) can be found on the internet.

37
a. Dat schilderij is beeld- en beeldschoon.
?beeld-, beeldschoon
  'That painting is gorgeous.'
b. Die film is dood- en doodeng.
?dood-, doodeng
  'That movie is really scary.'
c. Die jongen is olie-, oliedom.
?olie- en oliedom
  'That boy is extremely stupid.'
d. Dat optreden was bere-, beregoed.
?bere- en beregoed
  'That performance was terrific.'

The compounds in (36) are generally idiomatic, that is, it is not the case that the first member of the compound can be productively used to form inherently amplified adjectives. On the basis of the morphemes in (36) no other compounds can be formed: *olieschoon, *doodschoon, * bereschoon, *beelddood, #oliedood, * beredood, *beelddom, *dooddom, * beredom, *beeldgoed, *doodgoed, *oliegoed. The possible combinations are listed in the lexicon as separate lexical elements. It should be noted, however, that in certain circles of young people the amplifying affixes dood- and bere- are more generally used (which is clear from the fact that some of the starred examples can in fact be found on the internet); this shows that this morphological process of amplification is an easy locus of language change.

[+]  2.  The comparative meer dan A'more than A' construction

The primeless examples in (38) show that amplification can also be expressed by the meer dan A construction, which involves the comparative form of the adjective veel'much/many'. Observe that, as is illustrated in the primed examples, the comparative form of weinig'little/few' cannot enter a similar construction.

38
a. Jan is meer dan tevreden.
  Jan is more  than satisfied
a'. *? Jan is minder dan tevreden.
  Jan is less  than satisfied
b. Dit boek is meer dan alleen maar aardig.
  this book  is more  than  just  prt  nice
b'. * Dit boek is minder dan aardig.
  this book  is less  than nice

It is not entirely clear what the internal structure of the predicative phrases is in the primeless examples. Normally, it is the comparative that functions as the semantic head of the construction, which is clear from the fact that the dan-phrase can be omitted: cf. Jan is aardiger (dan Peter)'Jan is nicer (than Peter)'. In the primed examples in (38), on the other hand, it is the adjective that is part of the dan-phrase that acts as the semantic head, which is clear from the fact that dropping the dan-phrase results in an uninterpretable result. To our knowledge it has not been investigated whether this semantic difference is reflected in the syntactic structure of the predicative phrase.
      To conclude, note that occasionally you will find special adjectives that are more or less equivalent to the comparative meer dan A construction. Some examples are given in (39). This shows that in principle one scale can be relevant for more than one adjective, as is illustrated in (40).

39
a.