English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

In which cases is very used with the same meaning it has in a phrase like "the very minute after"? Is it a set phrase, or are there other similar phrases?

The very minute after I leave, they start taking my books from the shelf, reading them, and leaving them in the kitchen.

share|improve this question
up vote 5 down vote accepted

Very is acting here in a sense closer to its old meaning of truly, precisely, literally:

You’re the very man they’re looking for!

The very fact that we’re alive is a miracle.

The given sentence is very similar to:

Literally the minute after I leave, they start taking my books from the shelf…

The evolution that very underwent, from this older sense to its more common modern usage as an intensifier, is the very same shift in meaning that literally is now undergoing, to the chagrin of many pedants.

share|improve this answer
In that sense I would say the closest substitute word would be actual. – Orbling Feb 20 '11 at 18:02
"exact" or "self-same" would also be usable in this context. – Ben Voigt Feb 20 '11 at 22:13

When very is used in that context, it takes the place of mere, the form originally derived from the Latin merus (meaning pure or undiluted), a comparitive meaning "nothing less than" or "downright", or indeed "just", "only", "no more than".

In that context it particularly means immediately or "as soon as". It is pretty much always prefixed with "the".

The very idea of it.

The very best of luck.

That is the very worst thing that could have happened.

share|improve this answer

From dictionary.com:

"very: precise; particular: That is the very item we want."

It can be used with a variety of nouns. From http://pinedalepumpkinpatch.blogspot.com/2009/08/giant-pumpkin-in-making.html

"You may see the very pumpkin that you wish to purchase."

From http://fuckyeahtvpicspam.tumblr.com/post/379433655/daisy-what-do-you-say-the-very-second-were-done:

"DAISY: What do you say the very second we're done here, we go back to my place for a drink?"

share|improve this answer

Very is just a means to give emphasis to something. In your example, "The very minute after I leave..." gives emphasis to people taking the person's books the moment he/she leaves and so on (though I think the very minute I leave... is better usage). Another example of very used for emphasis is:

You're the very person I need to talk to...


This is the very book I was looking for

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.