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I have seen several obituaries with this kind of wording: "He is very missed." It looks and sounds wrong, perhaps because "very" can modify adjectives ("He is very tall") and adverbs ("He walks very quickly") but it isn't used to modify verbs - one wouldn't say "I very miss him," so that "very" modifying a past participle sounds wrong, even though the past participle is acting as an adjective.

One might, however, say "I very much miss him", where "very" modifies the adjective "much", and "He is very much missed" sounds more correct.

But I haven't been able to find any reference which addresses this point, and automated grammar checkers say it's ok, which I find hard to believe. Is there a reference anywhere that could help?

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1 Answer 1

Words take modifiers according to their role in a sentence, not according to the root form. Therefore, when a participle functions as an adjective, it takes modifiers (and forms comparatives) like an adjective, not a verb. Thus, you can describe someone as very missed just as you can say they're very interesting or very tired.


EDIT: As StoneyB notes, some people may interpret missed as passive voice instead of an adjective, especially in the construction “He will be missed.” In that case, you're right to prefer an adverb better-suited to verbs. For this context, I would prefer greatly or deeply to very much, as they're less verbose and higher in register: “He will be deeply missed.”

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In the case of constructions with BE like he is missed, however, the question is whether we're dealing with a predicate adjective or a passive verb. There's an evolution. Some participles are fully deverbalized (interesting), some are halfway there (missed), and some haven't started (commanded). –  StoneyB May 19 '13 at 22:24
    
@StoneyB Good point! That might explain why missed sounds awkward to the questioner. In fact, if Gerald had written “He will be missed,” I would have probably interpreted it as a passive voice participle and not an adjectival participle. Might need to rethink my answer. –  Bradd Szonye May 19 '13 at 22:29
    
Aha! That pins it down: your name is ambiguous, but only a native speaker would never have been confused by that construction. –  StoneyB May 19 '13 at 22:36
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Most native speakers know by experience which words swing both ways, so they don't notice the ambiguity. Only learners are capable of being confused by things like is very missed. (But then only unsophisticated native speakers are capable of being annoyed by extensions and evolutions, which to them appear to be mere errors.) –  StoneyB May 19 '13 at 23:11
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The standard cliche is he will be sorely missed. –  FumbleFingers May 19 '13 at 23:35

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