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I'm having a bit of trouble explaining to a friend whether or not there's a big difference between the three modifiers in the title. Same and very on their own are different enough, but when combined, I find it difficult to draw a proper line on their meanings. Consider the following:

  1. I lived in the same house you're talking about.
  2. I lived in the very house you're talking about.
  3. I lived in the very same house you're talking about.

Here, I understand there is a nuance in sentences one and two, though I have trouble explaining just what it is. "The very same" sounds like "the exact one", but wouldn't that be what "same" means anyway? Plus, that last sentence truly boggles the mind. How do you explain the grade of intensity expressed in sentence three? How do you explain each modifier?

  • For an unemphasised variant, I think (0) 'I lived in the house you're talking about.' sounds more natural. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 9 '15 at 17:57
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It's to do with emphasis. "The very house" is a stronger, more particular way of saying "the same". "The very same" emphasises the identity even further. This might seem odd, because the same house is either just the same house or it's not. What is intensified through such usage though, is the interest in, or surprise about, or the odds against the house being the same.

the very same/the self-same (=the same person or thing and not a different one - used to emphasize that what you are saying seems surprising) [American English] We stood in front of the very same house in which Shakespeare wrote his plays. - Longmans Dictionary of Contemporary English

Though I don't think it's particularly AmE. While we're considering Shakespeare, we might find:

SILENCE This Sir John, cousin, that comes hither anon about soldiers?

SHALLOW The same Sir John, the very same. I see him break Scoggin’s head at the court gate, when he was a crack not thus high... - HENRY IV, Act 3 sc 2

How to explain the use of the modifier? It's in the tradition of the "double superlative", which is well-established usage in English. Just as you can't logically have degrees of "the same", you can't have "most unkindest". But many writers (and speakers) have done/do the very same kind of thing to provide the most boldest emphasis.

  • "In profane authors there are also many instances of the use of the double superlative. Sir Thomas More used the expression, 'most basest'; Ben Jonson that of, 'most ancientest'; John Lilly (of the time of Queen Elizabeth) that of, 'most brightest'; and Shakespeare, 'most boldest, most unkindest, most heaviest.'" ("On the Language of Uneducated People," - Quoted in About Education - Double Superlative

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