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When someone asks 'how are you?', can I say 'I'm very fine'?

When I was in Oxford, Uk, they said it sound awkward because FINE does not go with VERY here,but I found the sentence on my kid's English textbook, which was written in the US.

Is it just a regional difference in the usage?

  • Most of the time when people ask if you're fine, you need to determine if they actually are interested in how you are (friends for example), or if it is just a polite opener statement (business contacts). If the latter, just go with "I'm fine" - if they genuine care, you would expand on your answer and properly not use "fine" at all. – Allan S. Hansen Feb 4 '16 at 10:41
  • @Stilla "Fine" is one of those adjectives that when used predicatively resists modification by degree adverbs, e.g. I am/he is very fine are only marginally acceptable, though you will occasionally hear “mighty” used as a degree modifier in a somewhat jocular way, as in I’m (feeling) mighty fine!. – BillJ Feb 4 '16 at 13:43
  • The classic American intensifier for "fine" is "so" (or "sooo"). – 1006a Jul 24 '18 at 18:38
  • Very fine regarding how you are sounds foreign to my ear. But, it was a very fine play. – Lambie Jul 24 '18 at 20:57
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Sounds odd to me (UK British). "Very" is a bit redundant.

  • it sounds odd in AmE as well. – Lambie Jul 24 '18 at 20:57
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The word "fine" has many meanings, some of which work well with "very" and some which don't. The uses of "fine" as a noun or verb definitely don't take very, but I don't think that was in doubt. I'll focus on the adjectives, since those could describe a person (thus might be valid in the phrase "I'm fine").

Going with the definitions from Merriam-Webster, even just as an adjective there is a wide range of meanings.

Definitions 2a and 3 roughly cluster the meanings of fine which are "small", and "very" does work with these: a "fine wire" is a thin wire, and a "very fine wire" would be even thinner.

Definitions 1, 2b, 4, 5, and 7 are all based on fine meaning "good", and "very" works with these as well: a "fine day" is a good day, a "very fine day" is even better.

However, in my experience the phrase "I'm fine" always uses fine as an adjective with definition 6a:

well or healthy : not sick or injured

In particular, I would describe it as an ambivalent term: not significantly "good", but also not significantly "bad". Such a term doesn't really work well with the amplification that "very" brings, especially since it's usually thrown about in a non-committal way. For this definition, I would not use "very".

To put things a different way, the phrase "I'm fine" is intentionally vague, while the word "very" adds specificity. If you want to tell someone about yourself in more detail then you wouldn't be using "fine" in the first place and should just use a less-vague word.

As a side note: the typical meaning when describing another person as "very fine" is "that person is extremely attractive". If you intended to describe yourself as very attractive then "I'm very fine" could be valid, though I would recommend the phrase "I'm so fine" instead.

(Lastly, a disclaimer: I only know American English, and could not even say whether a difference exists for this subject between American and British English, let alone what that difference would be.)

  • Basically, this all applies to BrE. You write so beautifully, don't you watch British movies or thrillers, etc.? You'll never hear very fine in response to How are you?. – Lambie Jul 24 '18 at 20:59
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If in this context the word "fine" was conveying its traditional meaning, i.e. "very good" then it would sound OK, albeit somewhat redundant.

However in the British English idiomatic sense "I'm fine" means "I'm OK", so it does not work at all, because that's implying that you're somehow extremely neutral.

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I think it sounds like, " How are you? " and you reply " Very excellent". very excellent, just like very fine, does not sound grammatically correct

  • there is nothing grammatically incorrect with either very fine or very excellent – green_ideas Jul 24 '18 at 21:06
  • Using terms like "a very fine line" or a "very fine day" sound fine. They do not sound "very fine", however. See my answer below. – David Liam Clayton Jul 24 '18 at 21:56

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