1. Being the only one of its kind: the unique existing example of Donnes handwriting.
2. Without an equal or equivalent; unparalleled.
a. Characteristic of a particular category, condition, or locality: a problem unique to coastal areas.
b. Informal Unusual; extraordinary: spoke with a unique accent.
For many grammarians, unique
is the paradigmatic absolute term, a shibboleth that distinguishes between those who understand that such a term cannot be modified by an adverb of degree or a comparative adverb and those who do not. These grammarians would say that a thing is either unique or not unique and that it is therefore incorrect to say that something is very unique
or more unique
than something else. Most of the Usage Panel supports this traditional view. Eighty percent disapprove of the sentence Her designs are quite unique in todays fashions.
But as the language of advertising in particular attests, unique
is widely used as a synonym for worthy of being considered in a class by itself, extraordinary, and if so construed it may arguably be modified. In fact, unique
appears as a modified adjective in the work of many reputable writers. A travel writer states that Chicago is no less unique an American city than New York or San Francisco,
for example, and the critic Fredric Jameson writes The great modern writers have all been defined by the invention or production of rather unique styles.
Although these examples of the qualification of unique
are defensible, writers should be aware that such constructions are liable to incur the censure of some readers. See Usage Notes at absolute