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I hear phrases like

I very almost fell over!

often and to me they sound awkward. Is the word, "very", wrong, just superfluous or completely valid? Should this wording be avoided?

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The answer is a resounding yes (you should not use it). However someone else will have to explain why as I'm not sure the exact mechanics of it. I'm fairly certain you can't modify an adverb with another adverb, though. I would guess that the problem lies there. –  advs89 Jan 21 '11 at 4:33
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@advs89: You can very easily modify an adverb with another adverb. –  Robusto Jan 21 '11 at 13:42
    
Makes me think of the Catherine Tate character, Derek Faye: "How very dare you!" –  Daniel Roseman Jan 21 '11 at 15:01
    
@robusto: clever –  advs89 Jan 22 '11 at 4:05
    
People using "very almost" are more than likely poking fun at the English language. I enjoy using oddly phrased, non-sensical saying with clear implications just for a quick laugh. "Very almost" is now on my list of grammar trolling phrases. (These phrases are also an expression of frustration regarding "legitimate" phrases like "I could care less.") –  MrHen Mar 27 '11 at 15:29

5 Answers 5

You can say

"I very nearly fell over!"

but to say

"I very almost fell over!"

will brand you as very nearly a beginning speaker of English. This is a bit harsh for English learners, since nearly and almost mean almost the same thing. But that's how it goes sometimes.

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So will "very nearly a beginning speaker of English" :p –  Jake Jan 21 '11 at 4:38
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@Jake: That's me being funny. –  Robusto Jan 21 '11 at 4:40

Consider the relevant definitions of the adverbs, very and almost, from the New Oxford American Dictionary (2nd Edition):

  • very — in a high degree
  • almost — not quite; very nearly

Now, it is standard to modify one adverb with another. Examples:

  • very: He dragged the chair very slowly across the room.
  • so: Why must she leave so soon?
  • almost: We are almost there.
  • too: By the time we got there, we knew we'd come too late.

In your example, however, very and almost modify over. There are certainly several instances in English where two adverbs (modifiers) modify a third. Examples:

  • so very: Why must she go so very fast?
  • almost too: She hit me almost too hard; I nearly passed out.
  • far too: You went far too easy on her.

Some other constructions, especially those containing very and so, could be considered colloquial and not suitable in formal writing:

  • so very: That was so very good!
  • way too: His speech was way too boring! (Actually informal)

Now, the construction, very almost is probably the most unidiomatic of these informal expressions, especially considering the fact that very is already in the definition of almost:

  • I almost fell over.
  • I very nearly fell over.
  • I very almost fell over. [?]
  • I very, very nearly fell over. [Better, but overly informal]

These days, the overuse of very is rightly frowned upon. It is not a bad idea to stay away from very and try to use more descriptive language. Certainly, use very as often as you want, but note that very almost is quite unidiomatic in regular formal and semi-formal usage. It may well be more of a regionalism than anything else.

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"In standard English, it is very well possible to have two or more modifiers (modifying another adverb)" But that's not what's happening here. We have one adverb modifying another adverb. (which I'm pretty sure you can't do) Your examples have two adverbs modifying one verb. –  advs89 Jan 21 '11 at 4:35
    
@advs89: By modifiers, I meant modifying adverbs. I concede one example is off, but in the others, consider: almost too cold and quite hard indeed. In these, two adverbs modify another. But I'll edit my answer for inconsistencies. Thanks! –  Jimi Oke Jan 21 '11 at 4:38
    
No you're right. I only glimpsed over those two examples and didn't realize they were modifying each other. But "almost" definitely modifies "too" and "too" definitely modifies "cold." (and same goes for "quite hard indeed") –  advs89 Jan 21 '11 at 4:42
    
I don't think I'd call "cold" and "hard" adverbs: they rather seem to be subject complements. Why not say "she was running very fast indeed", or "she hit me almost too hard; I nearly passed out", or "you went far too easy on her". –  Cerberus Jan 21 '11 at 5:19
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@advs89: of course an adverb can modify another adverb, as you will very quickly see if you think about it. The traditional categories of "adjective" and "adverb" are quite inadequate for a full account of the grammar of modifying expressions in English. –  Colin Fine Jan 21 '11 at 12:22

I have never heard "very almost", and would find it odd.

Which makes me wonder if you are in another part of the world, where perhaps it is more common?

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I'm in New Zealand, so you may be right. –  Jake Jan 23 '11 at 7:19

yes!! it is wrong to use "very almost" together. It may be accepted colloquially in informal conversations but it is not correct

In general "very" would add value to the noun/ action in question. She runs very fast i like her very much He is very talented

"Almost" would more appropriately describe the "status" of the current action/ noun

She almost made it to the list of Winners I almost have him the money before i realized something was wrong...

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I would consider the use of 'very' as shown in these examples to be superfluous and redundant. Certainly the use of 'very almost' together not only sounds wrong but is grammatically incorrect. In the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary which I use for my students, various examples are given; one has to be extremely careful in the use of 'very' and one should note that 'very' should not be used with adjectives and adverbs that alrady have an extreme meaning although 'very' can be used to emphasise superlative adjectives however, the inclusion of 'much' or 'very much' would be preferable. This perhaps is where the confusion lies.

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