WordReference Collins English Usage © 2020
basic use
You use very to emphasize an adjective or adverb.
She is a very tall woman.
That's very nice of you.
Think very carefully.
used with -ed words
You can use very to emphasize adjectives ending in -ed, especially when they refer to a state of mind or emotional condition. For example, you can say ‘I was very bored’ or ‘She was very frightened’.
He seemed very interested in everything.
Joe must have been very worried about her.
However, don't use ‘very’ to emphasize -ed words when they are part of a passive construction. Don't say, for example, ‘He was very liked’. You say ‘He was well liked’. Similarly, don't say ‘She was very admired’. You say ‘She was very much admired’ or ‘She was greatly admired’.
Argentina were well beaten by Italy in the first round.
I was greatly influenced by his work.
He is very much resented by his colleagues.
Don't say that someone is ‘very awake’. You say that they are wide awake or fully awake.
He was wide awake by the time we reached the hotel.
He was not fully awake.
Don't say that someone is ‘very asleep’. You say that they are sound asleep or fast asleep.
Chris is still sound asleep on the sofa.
Charlotte had been fast asleep when he left her.
Don't say that two things are ‘very apart’. You say that they are far apart.
His two hands were far apart.
Also, don't use ‘very’ with adjectives which already describe an extreme quality. Don't say, for example, that something is ‘very enormous’. Here is a list of adjectives of this kind:
comparatives and superlatives
Don't use ‘very’ with comparatives. Don't say, for example, ‘Tom was very quicker than I was’. You say ‘Tom was much quicker than I was’ or ‘Tom was far quicker than I was’.
It was much colder than before.
This is a far better picture than the other one.
➜ See far
You can use very in front of best, worst, or any superlative which ends in -est.
It's one of Shaw's very best plays.
We must deal with the very worst crimes.
They use the very latest technology.
However, don't use ‘very’ with superlatives that begin with the most. Instead you use much, by far, or far and away.
He is much the most likely winner.
The last exam was by far the most difficult.
This is far and away the most important point.
used with ‘first’, ‘next’, and ‘last’
You can use very in front of first, next, or last to emphasize that something is the first, next, or last thing of its kind.
I was their very first guest.
We left the very next day.
Those were his very last words.
Be careful
Don't use ‘very’ to say that something happens because someone or something has a quality to an unusually large extent. Don't say, for example, ‘He looked very funny that we couldn’t help laughing'. You say ‘He looked so funny that we couldn’t help laughing'.
We were so angry we asked to see the manager.
He had shouted so hard that his throat was sore.
➜ See so
Don't use ‘very’ in front of prepositions such as ahead of, above, or behind. Instead you use well or far.
Figures are well above average.
David was following not far behind us.
prepositional phrases
Don't use ‘very’ in front of prepositional phrases. Don't say, for example, ‘He was very in love with Kate’. Instead, you use very much or greatly.
The findings were very much in line with previous research.
I was greatly in awe of Jane at first.
'by far' also found in these entries (note: many are not synonyms or translations):
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