I was just correcting an Italki student's short article; Chinese speakers often use 'very' when we require 'really', and it was very/really difficult to explain why. It seems 'really' can also modify/intensify a verb, but 'very' cannot. The Chinese use zhen 真。 The student example was 'very enjoyed' - I cannot think of a case where very can modify a verb.

Here's how I tried to explain: 'very' and 'really' are intensifiers corresponding to zhen 真。They are used in combination with adjectives or adverbs. Really can be used exactly like 真 in the sentences Really? Really! 真的吗? 真的!Zhende ma? Zhende! but 'very' needs to have an associated adjective or adverb. Was it very hot that day? Very! (hot is understood). It seems 'really' can also be used to intensify a verb 'really enjoyed' but 'very' cannot.

Did I do enough, and was it near enough?

  • I really loved it; I didn't really love it; Did you really love it? You cannot substitute "really" with "very" because "love" is a verb, but you can say: "It was very/really lovely"; "It wasn't very/really lovely" etc. because "lovely" is an adjective e.g. "A lovely film" "A really very lovely film"
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 14:20

4 Answers 4


You've identified the grammatical difference (that really can modify a verb as well as an adjective or adverb): to modify a verb, the equivalent to very is very much.

There is a rather subtle semantic difference as well, at least in the case of adjectives/adverbs.

It seems to me that with an adjective, really implies that the degree is somehow unexpected or beyond the norm. So very big is neutral (it's big, but it might or might not be within the expected range of sizes), whereas really big suggests that it's bigger than such things usually are. (This is only an implication, not a definite meaning).

However, I don't find this implication when really is used with a verb. I really enjoyed it is hardly different from I very much enjoyed it - a little less formal, but no difference in meaning.

[There's also another meaning of really where it is not an intensifier, but means in reality, but that is not what the question was about].

  • I could be misremembering, but don't the Scots say "I very enjoyed..."?
    – TimR
    Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 14:28
  • @TRomano: I don't recall hearing this, but you might very well be right.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 17:17

I believe "really" is appropriate with most verbs, adjectives, adverbs. I really like you. It's a really hot day. He runs really fast.

"Very" is appropriate (and means pretty much the same thing as "really") with adjectives and adverbs, but doesn't work with verbs. It's a very hot day (OK). He runs very fast (OK). I very like you (NOT OK).


I'm not an expert in English, however I do speak a little Mandarin.

This is a reverse example in order to explain to that student, the question of "Was it very hot that day?"

The replies that may have better put across your explanation could have been '很,' '太' or even '非常' 热. This could also mean having to rephrase your question as '真的吗?' has an incredulous connotation, hence the reply '真的!' denoted an affirmative.

I hoped I had been able to explain clearly. Please pardon me if it is confusing.

p.s.Would it be too much to hijack this thread and ask for my written English to be corrected?

  • As to the English - only a comment 'incredulous connotation' since incredulous here is an adjective modifying connotation - 'connotation of incredulity'
    – laogui
    Commented Sep 23, 2017 at 12:45

There is a semantic difference between "very" and "really".

"very" only used before adjectives and adverbs expresses a high degree. It is an adverb of degree.

"really" expresses the idea "truth". It can modify adjectives, adverbs, verbs, a whole sentence. Before an adjective and an adverb "really" has almost the same meaning as "very".

  • I dispute that "really" expresses the idea "truth". It does in one meaning (as I said in my reply), but as an intensifier that is bleached out of it.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 17:18

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