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When I saw this ELL question it struck me that very delicious didn't sound vary "natural" to me.

Checking Google NGrams, I find that relatively speaking, toothsome food is five times more likely to be described as delicious rather than tasty...

...but if the intensifier very is present, that preference reverses. Things are actually three times more likely to be very tasty rather than very delicious.

As a native speaker, I already knew intuitively that the preference existed - and it was no surprise to me to discover how strong it was, since otherwise I wouldn't have been aware of it in the first place.

But I can't think of any reason for the difference. It's not obvious to me delicious has any greater sense of being a "non-gradable" attribute than tasty, so I can't see how the phenomenon can be rationalized by analogy with, say, very unique, very dead, very perfect.

Please don't just closevote this as "matter of opinion", or brush it aside as "established idiomatic preference". I feel there must be some "reason" causing such a marked preference, since it's so consistently observed, but it can't simply be that we repeat what we hear others say, since neither of the "intensified" versions occur often enough for an average speaker to consciously notice anything. I feel that somehow or other we must all be influenced by the same underlying principle, without being consciously aware of it.

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3  
From this link: "Delicious" is a strong adjective for "tasty". Typically, you use absolute adverbs (absolutely, utterly, etc) with strong [adjectives], and gradable adverbs (very, really, quite) with gradable adjectives. – joeytwiddle Feb 22 at 18:18
    
On the other hand, "really delicious" is 3.5 times more common than "really tasty". Also, before 1940, very delicious was very common. – wythagoras Feb 22 at 18:20
    
@wythagoras: Indeed. But as this site points out, "strong adjectives" can couple with absolutely, really, whereas "base adjectives" couple with very, really. So your really delicious effectively outperforms really tasty simply because delicious is more common than tasty in the first place. But my chart above only covers the last century - if you check the century before that, it seems pretty clear delicious wasn't considered a strong adjective back then (or the "rule" didn't yet exist! :) – FumbleFingers Feb 22 at 18:33
    
Because English. – Colin Fine Feb 22 at 20:17
    
"delicious" already means "very tasty". – immibis Feb 23 at 8:57
up vote 15 down vote accepted

Intensifiers with strong adjectives:

Strong adjectives are words like:

enormous, huge = very big

tiny = very small

brilliant = very clever

awful; terrible; disgusting; dreadful = very bad

certain = very sure

excellent; perfect; ideal; wonderful; splendid = very good

delicious = very tasty

  • We do not normally use very with these adjectives. We do not say something is "very enormous" or someone is "very brilliant".

(learnenglish.britishcouncil.org)

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5  
“So avoid using the word ‘very’ because it’s lazy. A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. Don’t use very sad, use morose. Language was invented for one reason, boys - to woo women - and, in that endeavor, laziness will not do. It also won’t do in your essays.” – Greg Bacon Feb 22 at 21:25
1  
While I agree that it's technically valid here, "tiny" is perhaps a bad exemplar of this concept. Unlike the other listed words, it can be intensified via "tinier" and "tiniest" while you would never see "deliciouser" (but there is "tastier"). – Adam Katz Feb 23 at 1:23
    
@AdamKatz Those aren't examples of "intensifying"; they're just examples of comparison. One thing can be "more delicious" than another, just as one thing can be "tinier" than another. It might even be that the "most delicious" thing is also the "tiniest". But these are just the comparative forms of the adjective; you haven't added any intensifying words yet. The interesting thing about intensifying is that you can say "positively delicious" or "very tasty", but saying "very delicious" is almost as ridiculous as saying "positively tasty". – Quuxplusone Feb 23 at 9:29

I agree with Josh61 as far as my answer goes. Intensifiers are used in descriptions to strengthen an adjective, particularly weak adjectives. In this case, "very tasty" is about as strong a descriptor as "delicious" on its own. So I believe the reason why you see "very tasty" more often than "very delicious" is because you see the former as a substitution for "delicious", and perhaps you only see "very delicious" every once in a while because people confuse the relationship between intensifiers and weak adjectives. I think that if more people used "delicious" as a descriptor, then you would see "very tasty" less often. I think the main reason you see "very" paired with "tasty" more often now is simply because of the weakness of the adjective.

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I'm not sure what you mean by I think that if more people used "delicious" as a descriptor, then you would see "very tasty" less often. As my chart shows (and as I pointed out in the text), people do in fact use "delicious" five times more often than "tasty", but "very tasty" with the intensifier is still much more common than "very delicious". – FumbleFingers Feb 22 at 19:17

Storng Adjectives vs Weak Adjectives

An easy way to think about it is that strong adjectives - like delicious, perfect, brilliant - are binary in form. They can't be more or less - they can only be present, or not present. If something hits a certain bar, it is delicious - if not, it is not. It could still be tasty, but not delicious.

A subversion of this part of language occurred around 40 years ago, with using strong intensifiers (most, absolutely, totally) with certain strong adjectives (excellent, cool, ace, etc) that is still said in 'skater' culture and occasionally otherwise, today.

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