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I have been told that it is wrong to say "very incredible " and "very fantastic". Could you tell me why?

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    It isn't "wrong". Any adjective can basically be preceded by very, except for unique. Some thing that is unique is unique. Ergo, very unique sounds like one doesn't know the basic meaning of unique. – Lambie Feb 3 '17 at 13:29
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    Unique isn't unique in this way: pregnant, dead, anything that is discrete instead of continuous. "Incredible" wouldn't be on that list. But using "very" is not creative and is not specific, so for some styles of writing, is not welcome. It's clearly understandable, though. – jejorda2 Feb 3 '17 at 13:42
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    What has your own research shown, lucy? At the top right of this page, there is a small "help v" button. Please click on it and take the "Tour." It will give you a better idea of what is expected of questions here. Welcome to EL&U! – Mark Hubbard Feb 3 '17 at 13:43
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    Also, the question will be improved by quoting specific examples (with context /surrounding text/source) of "very incredible" and "very fantastic" that you are concerned about. – jejorda2 Feb 3 '17 at 13:45
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    Incredible, can mean that something was exceptionally good e.g. A: How was the food? B: It was incredible, or It was incredibly good To say something was very incredible, could be ambiguous. Not wrong, but confusing or redundant. Things can also be "incredibly bad" ( = very incredible) – Mari-Lou A Feb 3 '17 at 14:00
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There are certain adjectives, called absolute adjectives, which allegedly should not be modified, because logically ( but not grammatically) there is no way to modify them. Logically, you can't be be very dead, very pregnant or very unique. I can give you a perfectly logical argument (and I admit that an argument is either logical or it's not) that our founding fathers couldn't form a more perfect union, and that you cannot be more specific because you either specify something or you don't. English is beautiful, but not logical, so that the answer to the question is that when you modify an absolute adjective, you should know that those of a logical bent will fuss. I won't agree with them not now, not never, not noways. Do not count up the negations to check the parity to see what I mean. Here, https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/very-unique-and-absolute-adjectives, is a defense of might point of view by Merriam Webster.

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To my knowledge, it is not grammatically incorrect however saying "very incredible" or "very fantastic" is both redundant and uncreative. The word "very" is not bad but it generally leads to weak writing because it is often used to strengthen a word rather than finding a stronger word. "He ran very fast" is a weaker way of saying "he sprinted" (Edit: "he ran quickly" is a closer alternative) just like saying "that was very good" is weaker than "that was incredible" or "that was fantastic."

"Incredible" and "fantastic" are already strong words and the use of "very" only serves to weaken their impact.

  • Related to Jon Hanna by any chance? I mean that's really an incredible piece of coincidence, – Mari-Lou A May 15 '17 at 17:01
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    « "He ran very fast" is a weaker way of saying "he sprinted" » — No. Absolutely not. They mean different things, and one is no ‘weaker’ than the other. This kind of “use stronger words” thing is very Strunk-and-Whiteish, and it's terrible advice. Or very bad advice, if you will. It dumbs down language and removes creativity from its usage. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 15 '17 at 18:09
  • Perhaps it is a little hardline. I am, by no means, saying to boycott all instances of "weaker words" because they are equally necessary to the English language and our culture. I am, however, saying not to use "very" and other strengthening words as a crutch. Many people allow these to take over their writing rather than putting forth the effort to find a better word. That is not to say that you should never use "he ran very fast." I will edit the above post so that the alternative is "he ran quickly" rather than "he sprinted." Ironically, I too hate the trope of "remove all the adverbs." – Hanna May 16 '17 at 14:15
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To what extent we'd say "wrong" is debatable, but if something is incredible then it is impossible to believe it. If two things are impossible to believe then one cannot be more impossible than the other; it's an absolute. As an absolute it makes no sense to say something is very incredible; it's either incredible or it isn't.

Fantastic is similar in that it means something is not related to reality. It's a bit more defensible though to say that one thing is further departing from reality than another.

In figurative use though, it makes perfect sense that something described as incredible is more so than something else described as incredible since such figurative uses do not literally mean something is impossible to believe.

But in doing something with the word in a figurative use that cannot be done meaningfully with it in a literal use, it moves further from the literal meaning and figurative senses get their force and vitality from evoking the literal meaning.

As such, while it can be defended as a valid figurative use, it has less power that way and generally we use very to add force, not reduce it. So even if its not "wrong" as such, it may still be worth cutting out the very.

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    Incidentally, my take on the figurative use of literally that people often complain of as wrong is similar; there's no reason why literally can't be used figuratively and if nobody else did it it would be a very forceful and evocative figurative use. It being used so often though has weakened its ability to evoke the literal meaning just as using a word figuratively in a construct that doesn't work with the literal meaning ("very incredible") and so weakened that figurative potential. The result isn't wrong English, it's just not good English. – Jon Hanna Feb 3 '17 at 14:05
  • Curiously it used to be more common in the past: books.google.com/ngrams/… – user66974 Feb 3 '17 at 14:29
  • Would the down-voter care to comment on how Jon should improve his answer? – Mark Hubbard Feb 3 '17 at 14:31
  • @MarkHubbard I'd be surprised if they do. – Jon Hanna Feb 3 '17 at 14:34
  • Thanks, Josh. I guess things were "very incredible" in 1837. :-) – Mark Hubbard Feb 3 '17 at 14:34

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