In Hamlet, when Hammy Jr. asks Polonius whether a cloud looks like a whale, Polly replies,
Very like a whale.
In contemporary English, however, "very like ..." feels ungrammatical. You instead have to epenthetically say "very much like ...".
Interestingly this restriction doesn't seem to apply to some similar constructions; I find the following all acceptable:
- "Very whale-like" (PP replaced with adjective)
- "Very similar to a whale" (synonymous phrasal preposition)
- "Really like a whale" (synonymous adverb)
- "Exactly like a whale", "Truly like a whale", "Somewhat like a whale" (different adverb)
- "Nothing like a whale" (adverb replaced with a word of arguable lexical class)
- "Very near a whale" (different preposition)
- Cerberus pointed out (in chat) that "That is so very like you" is also acceptable (different argument to preposition)
But these still unacceptable:
- *"Very by a whale", *"Very in a whale", *"Very inside a whale", *"Very toward a whale" (different preposition)
- But "Directly by/in/inside/toward a whale" are fine.
What determines whether "very" can modify a prepositional phrase?