“I was fast asleep with the window wide open!” Single-use intensifiers.
While I was teaching an English class recently, I described a car as being “brand new”. A student asked me what “brand” means in this context, and I said “Very”; like “very new”. Understandably, he then said, “so could I say that the car is brand fast?” The answer is no, because ‘brand’ as an intensifier can only be used with ‘new’.
Intensifiers are words like ‘very‘, ‘really‘ or ‘extremely‘, that strengthen the adjective after them. Over the last week, I have been trying to think of what other words can be used as intensifiers in specific cases only. Some are easy to imagine, as they are related to the second adjective, i.e. ‘freezing cold‘, ‘boiling hot‘ or ‘rock hard‘, however, some, like brand new, seem to have no relation at all to their use. To help, I have come up with this list:
Pitch has a few meanings. For sound, a high pitch is an acute sound, like a whistle, and a low pitch is an obtuse sound, like Pavarotti. A pitch can be where people play football, rugby, cricket and a few other sports. Also, when someone has an idea that they are trying to convince you with, they will give you their pitch.
However, unlike any of these nouns, pitch can also be used to intensify how black something is, particularly darkness. This is the only time pitch can be used as an adjective.
As I walked into the cave, I couldn’t see anything – it was pitch black’.
I expect that you are familiar with the word ‘fast’. To my knowledge, its only meanings are a as an adjective, a synonym for quick, and as a noun, a period of time in which someone doesn’t eat. Neither of these uses explain how fast asleep means ‘in a complete state of sleep’.
John, why didn’t you pick up the phone earlier?
Sorry, Anna, I was fast asleep!
You might think that as fast asleep is correct, that maybe slow awake would be the opposite? Nope! For some reason, it is wide awake.
I couldn’t sleep at all last night. I was wide awake at 4.am.
What’s that? Did I say that all of these words could only be used to emphasize one adjective? Well, here’s the exception. When open refers to something physical, that can also be closed, like a door, then wide open can emphasize how very open it is.
The baby bird kept its mouth wide open to receive food from its mother.
I suppose that this does make some sense – when most people think of a bone they imagine a dry stick that hasn’t been part of a body for a long time.
No wonder that the plants have died – the earth here is bone dry.
‘Stark’ usually refers to something that stands out from an image. For example; “there was a stark contrast between the blue sky and the heavy rain”. However, one of its most common uses today, is to describe someone being completely naked. Beware; in the US you may hear people say butt naked, instead.
What’s the best thing about living alone? Well, I can walk around the house stark naked all day.
Attention Spanish-speakers! In English, crystal almost never refers to glass. Crystal is only used to refer to something of very high value, usually used for jewellery, and usually formed naturally in rocks. It is wrong to say that a window is made of crystal.
Crystal clear can be used to describe both something real and physical, or as a metaphor to describe a concept:
What fantastic beaches The Philippines has! The water is crystal clear!
The workmen didn’t have any problems constructing the building, because their instructions were crystal clear.
You have to shout at my Grandad, he’s stone deaf.
- Can you turn on a light, please? It’s _____ black in here!
- You know, I didn’t feel the earthquake at all! I was _____ asleep through the whole thing.
- The fireman was _____ awake throughout his hours of duty.
- Who left the windows ______ open again?
- Put your clothes out in the sun and they will be _____ dry in an hour.
- The children were playing ______ naked in the garden.
- “Do you understand my idea, John?” “Its ______ clear, sir!”
- My dog is _____ deaf since his ear operation.
- I don’t want to eat yesterday’s bread – it’s _____ hard
- Can you turn on a light, please? It’s pitch black in here!
- You know, I didn’t feel the earthquake at all! I was Fast asleep through the whole thing.
- The fireman was Wide awake throughout his hours of duty.
- Who left the windows wide open again?
- Put your clothes out in the sun and they will be bone dry in an hour.
- The children were playing stark naked in the garden.
- “Do you understand my idea, John?” “Its crystal clear, sir!”
- My dog is stone deaf since his ear operation.
- I don’t want to eat yesterday’s bread – it’s rock hard
If you have any questions, or know any other single-use intensifiers, then please leave us a comment below and we will write back as soon as possible!