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Absolute words

Earlier in the week I wrote a post about products being exclusively available in one department store being a misleading statement (things are either exclusive or they aren’t!) and it reminded me of an article I wrote in my newsletter some time ago (it was my November 2004 newsletter to be precise!)

Here is what I wrote back then:

Don’t over qualify

There are a group of words that have very precise meanings – these words don’t need any qualifying to make them strong, and in fact it is grammatically wrong to attempt qualifying them.

For instance, the word unique means one of a kind so something is either unique or it isn’t – ‘very unique’, ‘particularly unique’, ‘most unique’ and similar combinations are unnecessary.

Other words that are commonly misused in this way are:

Electrocuted – the word actually means to be killed by electricity, not receive an electric shock.

Perfect – means there can be no improvement; adding ‘very’ to it doesn’t serve any purpose.

Fatal – means deadly. An accident is fatal or it isn’t, it can’t be ‘very fatal’ or ‘really fatal’.

In most of these examples, they can be qualified by using a word such as ‘almost’ or ‘nearly’; the word unique, however, can’t be qualified at all.

What other words can you think of that are absolute in their own right?