The phrase:

How very dare you!

... was originally used by English comedian and actor Frankie Howard, but has since found fame in the UK through the Catherine Tate show.

  1. In this sentence, is the word very a modifier, and if so, what does it modify?

  2. This sentence is obviously exclamatory in force, but, syntactically, is it an exclamative or an interrogative clause? Note that this sentence exhibits inversion, but that inversion can occur in both interrogative and exclamative clauses.

  3. Is dare a modal verb here? How can we tell?

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    How very find it common? Never heard it, although I am familiar with Frankie Howerd, this catchphrase doesn't jump at me nor is it recorded here: catchphrases.info/frankiehowerd.php – Mari-Lou A Oct 19 '17 at 10:06
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    @Mari-LouA It's used in our office all the time! Here's some youtube links for you :) (For the record, I hate the Catherine Tate show ...) – Araucaria - Not here any more. Oct 19 '17 at 10:09
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    I don't think there's any point in trying to analyse the grammar of the phrase, because it doesn't make any grammatical sense. "How dare you?" is an established expression which I suppose is a rhetorical question. Adding "very" is just a clumsy way of intensifying it. – Kate Bunting Oct 19 '17 at 10:35
  • I think I've heard it a handful of times, generally on British shows. It's simply an intentionally clumsy (& therefore humorous) intensification of "I dare you". – Hot Licks Oct 19 '17 at 11:46
  • @Mari-LouA I can't find an online quote of F.H. saying this, although I feel sure I've heard him doing so, and several places attribute the phrase to him. However, both this Digital Spy forum post and this Cook'd and Bomb'd forum post both indicate it originated with a slightly earlier British comedian, Sid Field. (But I can't find an online quote of him, either). – TripeHound Oct 19 '17 at 12:29
  1. It is strange, and jarring, for "very" to modify a verb, which is the joke here. Normally as an adverb, "very" is only an intensifier and only capable of modifying adjectives or other adverbs. As an adjective it has limited use to modify thoughts and ideas as a substitute for the word "mere". Here it is modifying (intensifying) the verb "dare".
  2. Although used with the force of an exclamation, the phrase "How (very) dare you?" is a (rhetorical) question, revealing itself thus by the subject/object inversion. The phrase rearranged as an exclamation would be: "How (very) you dare".
  3. Dare is a modal verb here. This is illustrated by the inversion and also by extending the sentence to include an infinitive (e.g. how dare you do that?), the infinitive is naked (i.e. no "to" - "how dare you to do that" would not sound right).
  • Hi Aoin. Thanks for the answer. The sentence is 'exclamatory', of course, but syntactically it is interrogative (although it does not have the illocutionary force of a question, as you note). The syntactic test to show this is that if it was exclamatory, the subject auxiliary inversion would be optional whereas if it was interrogative, it would be mandatory. If we don't use the SAI, the sentence is ungrammatical *How very you dare!. So it must be interrogative. If you add this info to your excellent answer, I shall both delete this comment and select your answer with the green ticky thing! – Araucaria - Not here any more. Dec 8 '17 at 11:46
  • Thanks - my first time on here. I googled the phrase when I thought about the Catherine Tate comedy sketch as I was reading about the different uses of "sehr" and "viel" in German. "Ich mag es sehr" looks like it means "I like it very" but of course it means "I like it a lot". Hopefully that explains why Derek the secret gay came to mind! – Aoin Douglas Dec 8 '17 at 14:26
  • I'm struggling with the optional vs mandatory inversion. Firstly "How you dare" makes sense to me ("So greatly do you dare"). Secondly, do you have an example of on optional inversion that is either way an exclamation? – Aoin Douglas Dec 8 '17 at 14:36

How very dare you!?

As a catchphrase this will likely have more than one meaning - deliberately. The obvious sense to me is that 'very' emphasises just how much the speaker feels outraged. 'How' on it's own is insufficient. 'Very' is modifying 'how', making it 'bigger' as in (paraphrase) -

Do you have any idea how much I feel you are overstepping the line?

This is obviously, simultaneously, exclamatory and interrogative.


I would say that 'very' is an adverb modifying the verb 'dare'. It reminds me of the Hellenistic Greek construction when 'apo' is added to a verb and extends the meaning or turns the meaning into another dimension.

Apo is like a funnel. The stem is the original verb and apo then makes it expand outwards massively, inflating the concept.

Adding 'very' to a verb (or noun, see later) is a clever device, in my view.

The supposed joke, I understand, was that the original comedian never publicised his preference officially, though it was no secret privately. The second comedian used the original catchprase in contexts where the speaker's preference was being assumed, and he was expressing outrage at the suggestion. "How very dare you ! Come on, Edwin - we're leaving !"

The female comedian dressed up as a man to carry out the joke, underlining the fact that it was aimed, particularly, at men.

It was a comment on people who live one way privately and present something else to the public.

The comedian portrayed other, similar characters, one being the lady who constantly broke wind in a car and pretended she had not; and one being the grandmother who would express gratitude for presents but, once the donor had left, would enrage at the 'liberty' of being given something far less than she wanted.

In those cases, she dressed as a woman.

Famously, she portrayed a teenage schoolgirl who cared not a jot for what anyone thought of her and, in this case, the catchphrase 'Am I bovvered' (bothered) was publicised by Tony Blair, then Prime Minister of the UK, in an Xmas special on TV.

The two catchphrases 'How very dare you !' and 'Am I bovvered' are a comment on either society in its generations generally, or current society in particular - hypocrisy one the one hand and blatant rebellion on the other.

Perhaps the comedian is trying to tell us to be what we are, wherever we are, neither to pose nor to protest.

Bole - to throw; specifically, to cast a small net over a single large fish (see the South American bolas).

Apobole - to cast away. That is, to throw - but never to retrieve.

The Urban Dictionary carries a quote :

'How very Glenn Beck of you',

Glen Beck being famous for publicising an ailment as a reason for some of his behaviour but the publicised claim being described as 'pseudoscience'. Again, the implication 'very Glenn Beck' being that someone is one thing privately and another in public.

Glen Beck - Wikipedia

In this case there is an inversion, for it was Glenn Beck who expressed himself against criticism (how very !) and was revealed to be posturing. So the 'very' is used as an adjective to describe Glenn Beck. And the whole description 'very Glenn Beck' is then applied to someone else as a comment on their behaviour.

An interesting exercise in how language has developed - an original catchphrase, borrowed and turned back on its originator, then transferred to describe someone else, and inverted to apply to yet another party.

Thus the word 'very' has taken on a kind of life of its own.

All we have to do now is to use it as an adjective, no verb required, and to say 'how very of you'; and we will be understood.

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