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Very is an overused word. Whenever you’re tempted to use it, try dropping it to see if any meaning is lost. There’s a good chance your sentence will actually benefit from its removal. There are exceptions, however, especially when very provides meaningful emphasis.


For example, consider whether these sentences really need the intensifier very:

Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but over the years the Georgia General Assembly has provided us a vast array of very entertaining and sometimes very bizarre legislative denizens. [Atlanta Journal Constitution]

After all, Coats was the pilot for the shuttle Discovery’s very first mission — the STS-41D flight that marked the beginning of the shuttle’s 27-year spaceflying career. [Fox News]

It goes without saying that almost all Western analysts and pundits know very little about Libyan rebels. [American Conservative]

Their campaign elsewhere in the Middle East, after an apparently promising start, had not been going very well. [Guardian]

In these cases, however, very serves a purpose in providing meaningful emphasis:

He’s the very English luvvie famed for his blue-blooded roles in TV shows such as Brideshead Revisited and Elizabeth I and theatre work in classic Shakespeare plays. [Daily Mail]

When they’re good, they’re very good. [White and Blue Review]

Very and past participles

An old, nearly forgotten grammar rule holds that very should not modify past-participial adjectives, as participles are derived from verbs, and very can’t modify actions. So phrases like very engrossed and very delighted are illogical because it would be impossible to say, for example, this book very engrosses readers, or you very delight me.

This might be good advice, but most 21st-century writers don’t bother with the old rule. For example, these writers use very to modify a participle:

Cobb won’t be very disappointed if he doesn’t win a state title. []

It’s making me feel very annoyed, threatened, unsafe and unsettled. [letter to Morning Sentinel]

There are a few easy solutions to the very-past-participle issue, if you care about pleasing old-fashioned grammarians. One is to remove very (see above). Another is to replace very with quite (which is almost as often overused as very), much, or very much—for example:

Cobb won’t be much disappointed if he doesn’t win a state title.

It’s making me feel quite annoyed, threatened, unsafe and unsettled.

But in both cases, simply dropping the intensifier might be even better.

2 thoughts on “Very”

  1. This entry is ridiculous. It states that we should not apply very to a past participle because it cannot be applied to the verb’s present tense. IE the article cannot “very frustrate me,” hence I ought not to be “very frustrated.” Rather, I ought to be quite frustrated, as the author has no problem with “quite frustrating” me… Oh wait. That sounds funny. In fact, it sounds exactly just as funny as if the author were to “very frustrate” me. I think I might have to amend it to, “The author frustrates me quite a bit.” But if I do that, then I may as well say, “The author frustrates me very much.” But then that would make me “very frustrated…” which supposedly is not legal. Therefore I am lead to conclude that any and all intensifiers ought not to be applied to past participles.

    Mr. Author, you may persuade me to altogether abandon intensifiers for my past participles (to which, by the way, I have not yet aceded), but you will be hard pressed to find a news reporter for the Times who will be swayed from the use of an extra bit of literary impact by such an age old and ridiculously arbitrary rule.

    • If you read the post again more carefully, you’ll see that we in no way endorse that myth or say that we agree with it. In fact, we introduce that old, arbitrary rule just to say that no modern writers have much use for it. The reason we include that section is because the old myth is still going around, and we wanted to do our part to take it down. Perhaps we should be more explicit in our belief that the old myth is useless and should probably be forgotten, but we try to tackle these issues in a dispassionate way here, and in any case, it is indeed true that “very,” along with “quite,” usually bears removal.

      Anyway, we appreciate your calling attention to this post that likely needs revision, but we kindly ask that you read more carefully and be a little more polite should you ever comment here in the future. You have good points, which we appreciate (most of the comments we receive here are not nearly as well thought out), and we will definitely improve this post, but there’s no need for the harsh tone. We are nice people (and most of us are female, by the way).


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