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I have few confusions regarding the usage of very and very much.


1. From OALD I found this usage guide -

enter image description here

It states that very can be used with past participles used as adjectives, but not with past participles that have a passive meaning.

Now here comes the confusion. How to distinguish between past participles used as adjectives and past participles that have a passive meaning?

Looking at the examples - I am very pleased to get your letter and Your help was very much appreciated - it seems like both the past participles - pleased and appreciated - can be used as adjectives as well as the one with passive meaning. So how to distinguish between them so that I can use very correctly with past participles?


2. From OALD I found this usage guide -

enter image description here

It is clear that very is used with adjectives, but it is apparent with the exception mentioned in the guide that not all adjectives is used with very*, some take **very much to make correct usage.

There are other such examples I found from this thread - (I have not found good answers there, so I had to ask it myself here)

i) I am very much tired (Incorrect)

ii) I am very tired (Correct)

iii) I am very aware of ... (Incorrect)

iv) I am very much aware of ...(Correct)

So clearly very can't go along with all adjectives, there are certain adjectives with which simply very will cause error in sentence. In case of those adjectives, we need to use very much.

My question is which adjectives to use with very and which adjectives to use with very much. How to determine?


3. From OALD I found this usage guide -

enter image description here enter image description here

This looks very like what we had at our shooting party in November.

Source - Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

Let's analyze the quoted sentence -

i) How this looks? This looks like what we had at our shooting party in November.

So it's clear that like what we had at our shooting party in November is an adverbial phrase. And so as stated in the above guide from OALD, very can be used with adverbs. So the quoted sentence is correct.

There is another way of analyzing that quoted sentence. In that sentence like is a preposition and what we had at our shooting party in November is a noun clause. And very is an adverb that modifies a verb - looks here. As stated in the above guide from OALD, very can't be used with verbs this way. We have to use very much to make the sentence correct.

Now it confuses me. In one way this sentence is correct, and in other way if we look at it, this sentence is incorrect? So my question is is this sentence is really correct?


Please help me. Thank you in advance.

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    I am very aware of over 55,000 written instances of those first five words. You'll have a hard time convincing me that the usage is "incorrect". – FumbleFingers Nov 8 '14 at 19:24
  • ...having said that, I am very much aware of almost exactly the same number for those six words. They're both perfectly normal English to me. – FumbleFingers Nov 8 '14 at 20:00
  • The obvious answer is that there's no universal rule. They're mostly idiomatic and irregular, and tradition governs which ones allow very versus very much. – Barmar Nov 9 '14 at 22:55
  • @Barmar Now that's a big problem for us learners. Well, in that case, I have to learn it individually. But it's not possible to learn all cases individually, and of course there is not all cases written. So if I find a new term, and want to know whether it will go with very or very much, where will I go for help? Any link? Or any path to follow as a suggestion will be a great help. Thank you. – Man_From_India Nov 10 '14 at 13:12
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Q1. How to distinguish between past participles used as adjectives and past participles that have a passive meaning?

Past participles that have a passive meaning have an explicit or implicit agent.

  • She is admired by everyone who knows her (explicit).
  • Your help is appreciated (implicit, by me).
  • The price of petrol has been reduced (implicit, by the oil company).

Such past participles are typically not modified by very, but by very much or an alternative adverb:

  • She is greatly admired. (?She is very admired.)
  • Your help is very much appreciated. (?Your help is very appreciated.)
  • The price of petrol has been significantly reduced. (?The price of petrol has been very reduced.)

Past participles used as adjectives very often describe mental or emotional states, and therefore have a person or animal as their subject. There is no explicit agent, and often not even an implicit one. Such past participles are typically modified by very, not by very much.

  • I'm very bored. (?I'm very much bored.)
  • John's been very depressed for several days. (?John's been very much depressed for several days.)
  • She looked very disappointed. (?She looked very much disappointed.)

Q2. Which adjectives to use with very and which adjectives to use with very much.

As noted in the section above, past participle adjectives that describe mental states are generally modified by very, not very much. Most other adjectives are also modified by very alone. However, there are some common exceptions. For example, adjectives that describe extreme qualities are not usually modified by either very or very much (?very enormous, ?very much wonderful). There is another group of adjectives that needs a different modifier than very (fast asleep, wide awake, far apart, well known, etc.)

Q3. "This looks very like what we had at our shooting party in November." Is this sentence is really correct?

A short answer: yes, This nGram shows is very much like to be more common currently than is very like, but before 1940 the reverse was the case.


In answer to your supplemental question (How to determine which form to use?), my recommendation would be to invest in a good grammar of English usage* to learn about general patterns, and run an nGram as above on specific instances (or do a simple Google search on the two phrases: for example "is very like" gets 411,000 hits, while "is very much like" gets 36 million - so it is clear which is the preferred form).

*The two books I consulted in preparing this answer were Swan's Practical English Usage and Collins Cobuild English Usage.

  • How about this sentence - John is very much willing to come with you. Is this sentence correct or it should be just 'very' instead of 'very much' ? – user212388 Nov 3 '17 at 14:41
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I think North Americans will prefer 'is much like' to 'is very like.' And will be fine with 'is very much like.' 'Is very like' sounds awfully British. 'Is much like' gets 180 million Google hits.

  • This is mostly opinion without any explanation or documentation. – Xanne Jun 10 '17 at 9:56
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The key constraint is that "very" cannot modify verbs. The major confusion factor is that the "-ed" suffix has two functions: (1) morphologically, suffix "-ed" can convert a verb to an adjective, (2) syntactically, "-ed" can convert an active verb into a passive verb (which is still a verb, however, not an adjective). Traditional grammar is often not very clear about this, often calling the passivized verb a "participle", or even an adjective. But verbs, active or passive, are not adjectives, and "very" is useful in bringing the difference out.

For instance, in "He was often irritated", there is an ambiguity between "-ed" the morphological adjective-forming suffix, where "irritated" is an adjective, and "-ed" the passive suffix, where "irritated" is a verb form. However, if we add "very", we get only the adjective reading: "He was often very irritated," which can't be interpreted as a passive in view of the unacceptability of *"Joyce very irritated him." That last sentence violates the constraint that "very" does not modify verbs.

For some people, the adjective "irritated" can take "at/with" to express the source of irritation, but not "by", which is only used after passive irritated: ?"He was very irritated at/with/*by Joyce." Unfortunately, some seem to use "at/with" also in passives.

When you need to use "very" with a verb, to express your meaning, you can circumvent the constraint on "very" by interpolating "much": "Joyce very much irritated him" or "He was very much irritated by Joyce."

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