Absolutely/Utterly - Highly/Extremely

Discussion in 'English Only' started by norbert7, Mar 19, 2011.

  1. norbert7 Member


    I started reading the book English Collocations in Use. In the 6th lesson it shows what words I could use instead of "very".

    Can you tell me what is the difference between absolutely and utterly? And between highly and extremely? Why are the book is separating the first two from the second two?

    The words in the example for the 1st two: (un)likely, unusual, successful, competitive, profitable, effective, controversial, recommended.

    For the 2nd two: ridiculous, stupid, impossible, wrong, alone, appalled, convinced, devastated, miserable.

    I'm sure there are a lot of other words which collocates with these adjectives but can you tell me which word you would use from the pair in each cases?

  2. baldpate

    baldpate Senior Member

    UK, English
    Hi Norbert,

    interesting question!

    First of all, I think the collocations have been switched - I would instictively use the first that you mention ("absolutely/utterly") with "ridiculous, stupid, ...", and the second ("highly/extremely") with "(un)likely, unusual, ...".

    Note that "ridiculous, stupid, ... etc" mostly refer to (extreme) emotional and mental states (ones that are generally either true or not true) , whereas "(un)likely, unusual, successful, ... " refer to conditions which have varying degrees of probability.

    By definition, for example, appalled means "Bereft of courage or self-possession at the sudden recognition of something dreadful" (OED). So, you can't really be "a little bit apalled"! "Bereft" means "without", "completely lacking".

    Extreme 'emotional' adjectives tend to attract more extreme adverbs. For example, "conviction" is the state of being quite sure of the truth of something : therefore, you are much more likely to hear "utterly/absolutely/completely convinced" than "rather/slightly/somewhat convinced".

    Conversely, for example, "effective" is an adjective describing performance. Performance admits many degrees of effectiveness : ..., awful, poor, adequate, good, outstanding, ...". It doesn't therefore automatically attract 'extreme' adverbs. "extremely" and "highly" are part of a spectrum of degrees - they are at the upper end of the comparative scale - in a way that "absolutely" and "utterly" are not - they are absolutes.
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2011
  3. idialegre Senior Member

    Hamburg, Germany
    USA English
    "Highly" and "extremely" refer to the degree of an adjective.

    He is highly/extremely intelligent = He is very intelligent.

    "Absolutely" and, to a lesser extent, "utterly" refer not to the degree of the adjective but to the certainty of the statement.

    That is absolutely/utterly unacceptable = That is unacceptable, and there is no question about it.
  4. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    English (England)
    The second group are either "absolute" adjectives or so strong that they almost are. As such you can't have degrees of "impossible", say, things are either impossible or they are not. So here it makes no sense to use "highly" or "extremely" because these words mean "to a large extent" whereas the adjective is absolute.

    "Intelligent", on the other hand, is relative and there are different degrees of it. So you can be highly or extremely intelligent.

    Just to note - you can't use "very" with the absolute adjectives either. You couldn't say "very impossible".
  5. norbert7 Member

    Actually, I wrote the words in the wrong place, I simply changed absolutely/utterly with highly/extremely. In the last question, when I said 1st two that should refer to highly/extremely and 2nd two to absolutely/utterly.

    Thank you for the answers. I know what's the difference between the two group now. Can you tell me what is the difference within the groups? I mean between highly and extremely and between absolutely and utterly?

    I found another word reference forum discussing difference between utterly and extremely but regarding the previous posts from this thread those aren't really interchangeable, are they?

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