Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • adv. In a high degree; extremely: very happy; very much admired.
  • adv. Truly; absolutely: the very best advice; attended the very same schools.
  • adv. Used in titles: the Very Reverend Jane Smith.
  • adj. Complete; absolute: at the very end of his career; the very opposite.
  • adj. Being the same one; identical: the very question she asked yesterday.
  • adj. Being particularly suitable or appropriate: the very item needed to increase sales.
  • adj. Being precisely as stated: the very center of town.
  • adj. Mere: The very thought is frightening.
  • adj. Actual: caught in the very act of stealing.
  • adj. Genuine; true: "Like very sanctity, she did approach” ( Shakespeare).

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • adj. True, real, actual
  • adj. The same; identical.
  • adj. With limiting effect: mere.
  • adv. to a great extent or degree; extremely; exceedingly
  • adv. true, truly

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • adj. True; real; actual; veritable.
  • adv. In a high degree; to no small extent; exceedingly; excessively; extremely.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • True; real; actual; veritable: now used chiefly in an intensive sense, or to emphasize the identity of a thing mentioned with that which was in mind: as, to destroy his very life; that is the very thing that was lost: in the latter use, often with same: as, the very same fault.
  • [Very is occasionally used in the comparative degree, and more frequently in the superlative.
  • Truly; actually.
  • In a high degree; to a great extent; extremely; exceedingly.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • adv. used as intensifiers; `real' is sometimes used informally for `really'; `rattling' is informal
  • adv. precisely so
  • adj. being the exact same one; not any other:
  • adj. precisely as stated

Etymologies

Middle English verrai, from Old French verai, true, from Vulgar Latin *vērācus, from Latin vērāx, vērāc-, truthful, from vērus, true.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Middle English verray, verrai ("true"), from Old French verai ("true") (Modern French: vrai), from assumed Vulgar Latin *vērācus, alteration of Latin vērāx ("truthful"), from Latin vērus ("true"), from Proto-Indo-European *wēr- (“true, benevolent”). Cognate with Old English wǣr ("true, correct"), Dutch waar ("true"), German wahr ("true"), Icelandic alvöru ("earnest"). Displaced native Middle English sore, sār ("very") (from Old English sār ("grievous, extreme") (Cf. German: sehr, Dutch: zeer), Middle English wel ("very") (from Old English wel ("well, very")). More at warlock. (Wiktionary)

Examples

Comments

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  • Thunderbolts and lightning, very very frightening.

    May 18, 2011

  • Very interesting.

    But I think the reason that employing very is often seen as poor style is not that it fails to convey what is meant, but that it does so abstractly, by - *flicks through Creative Writing 101 Textbook* - telling instead of showing. Better to say that reesetee's desk is large enough to accommodate a nine-hole golf course than simply to say that it is very large.

    Also perhaps because it's prone to overuse. However I do like it in its older sense of genuinely, verily: the "very gentil parfait knight".

    May 18, 2011

  • Not convinced. Very works well in particular situations, e.g. writing for children. There are countless other situations where for rhythm, irony, clarity or some other reason it's not necessarily poor.

    reesetee, Minister of Pesky,
    plots from behind his very large desky

    May 18, 2011

  • I agree with the conventional wisdom that "very" is a sign of poor writing, but until today, if you had asked me why I felt that way, I couldn't have told you. "It just looks wrong," I would have said, wringing my hands anxiously. "Stop asking me difficult questions!"

    Now, though, I have a theory. I will explain my theory with an example. Let's say I'm trying to communicate to you the information that reesetee's desk is large. I want you to picture, in your mind, a standard office desk, and I want you to contrast reesetee's desk with that prototypical desk, and I want you to realize that reesetee's desk is by far the larger.

    How can I make this happen? Well, I could just say "reesetee's desk is large" -- but this doesn't go far enough. You hear me say "reesetee's desk is large", and you understand that reesetee's desk is at least somewhat larger than the average desk, but you don't grasp the elephantine immensity of this particular piece of office furniture. I mean, really, you could land a fighter jet on this thing. Merely saying "reesetee's desk is large" is woefully inadequate.

    Aha!, I think. Perhaps I can increase the size of your mental image by specifying that it's a "very large" desk, instead of just a "large" desk. And indeed, when you contrast the two terms, you find that "very large" is, in fact, larger than just plain "large".

    But that's the problem. Before, when I talked about a merely "large" desk, you contrasted this concept of a large desk with your mental image of a typical desk. But the word "very" invites a different kind of contrast. When I talk about a "very large" desk, I'm saying "Hey, it's not just large, it's very large!", and so you don't contrast "very large" with "typical", you contrast "very large" with "large".

    That's my theory. That's why "very large" is bad writing. When I say "very large", I'm suggesting a contrast to large things, instead of a contrast to typically-sized things. That's a much weaker contrast. It's not going to grab anyone's attention.

    The solution, as I see it, is to use a different word that's inherently stronger. For example, when chained_bear brought up the subject of reesetee's desk, reesetee said "I mean, it's enormous." It works. You read the word "enormous", and you contrast this enormous desk to a typically-sized desk, and you go "Whoa".

    Alternatively, instead of using a stronger word, you could use a descriptive phrase. So, for example, I could tell you that when you look at reesetee working at his desk, he seems to have a lovely reddish tinge, because the light that reaches your eyes has to climb out of the desk's gravity well.

    It works. You get what I'm saying.

    It's a big desk.

    May 18, 2011

  • Damn!

    September 26, 2008

  • A rattling good quote, sir.

    September 25, 2008

  • One of my favorite quotes. :-)

    September 25, 2008

  • “Substitute damn every time you're inclined to writevery; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.�?
    - Mark Twain.

    September 25, 2008