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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.

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4 Answers

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.

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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
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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?"

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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.

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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...

Or

This is the very book I was looking for

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