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I recently listend to an audio book and this sentence stuck in my head

he put her on the cot gently and ever so gently

mainly because I heard it a few more times (not the exact sentence, but the "ever so" phrase) until the end of the book. What does it exactly mean? I can guess that it emphasizes slowly in this case, like he did it really slow?

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  • correct. Typically used for soft, slow, gentle, etc. You'd be less likely to see "ever so hard/strong/fast/etc" - though you do on occasion (and it has the same meaning of emphasizing the adverb). – Doc Jan 17 '14 at 19:22
  • "With the currency ever so strong against the US dollar Brazilians are..." ;) – anongoodnurse Jan 17 '14 at 19:35
  • @Doc: That's an interesting idea, but the evidence from NGrams suggests to me that if anything, the relative dominance of so hard over so soft actually becomes more pronounced when they're preceded by ever. – FumbleFingers Jan 17 '14 at 23:36
  • @FumbleFingers Wow, you're right. I find that surprising - I very rarely hear/see the "ever so..." used with the more aggressive words. Must be reading the wrong stuff. That said, compare "ever so hard" to "ever so gently"; gently has completely overtaken hard since the early 1900's. – Doc Jan 18 '14 at 8:11
  • @FumbleFingers see this NGrams – Doc Jan 18 '14 at 8:15
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ever so is an intensifier (usually) for adjectives, meaning very

Life is made of ever so many partings welded together. - Charles Dickens

Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home.

Of course, it also shows that Peter is ever so old, but he is really always the same age, so that does not matter in the least. - J.M. Barrie (Peter Pan)

  • Is there some rule of thumb when to use it instead of very? It seams to me that it mostly finds its place in books or poems. – Ondrej Janacek Jan 17 '14 at 19:42
  • That's correct, it is more common in writing, and is considered to be somewhat formal. Thank you ever so much is still heard. – anongoodnurse Jan 17 '14 at 19:56
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    @Ondrej: As Susan says, ever so [adjective] may be seen as rather formal. But it's also worth noting that it's a declining usage. If you want a quick and easy rule of thumb for when to use ever so instead of very, the best answer is probably "Never!". – FumbleFingers Jan 17 '14 at 23:43
  • @FumbleFingers Maybe if I am to write a book. Which won't happen :) – Ondrej Janacek Jan 18 '14 at 8:46

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