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Here is my current understanding of these English phrases:

  • very bad (=not good at all, =not very good);
  • bad (=not good at all, =not very good, =not very bad);
  • not good, not bad (=not good at all, =not very good, =not bad at all, =not very bad);
  • good (=not very good, =not bad at all, =not very bad);
  • very good (=not bad at all, =not very bad).

Is that correct?

In my native language "not very good" can rarely mean "good" but "very not good" means "very bad". So it confuses me what "not" really negates "very" or "good"?

For example, I understand the phrase "I am not very good at English" in such way that it can mean any one of these:

  • I am very bad at English;
  • I am bad at English;
  • I am OK at English;
  • I am good at English (but not very).

And I understand the phrase "I am not good at English at all" in such way that it can be any of these:

  • I am very bad at English;
  • I am bad at English;
  • I am OK at English.

Is my understanding correct or both phrases actually mean "I am very bad at English"?

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    I am confused what you are asking. The title asks about "not very good" and "not very good at all", but the body discusses all possible combinations. Further, describing the comparison between good and bad becomes confusing when you start throwing in "=", "not" "very" and "at all". You need to better explain what your current understanding is of the phrases with (perhaps) an example. It could be read that you are saying that "not good, not bad" equals "not very bad", which equals "not very good" - which makes little sense. – Keeta Sep 26 '18 at 12:14
  • I added an example. Can "not good at all" mean "OK"? Can "not very good" mean "good"? Currently I think that "not very good" can mean good, but "not very". – ABEgorov Sep 26 '18 at 12:54
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    "I am not very good at English" could mean either that you are being modest about your language skills, or that your English really is poor. "I am not good at English at all" definitely means that you think it is poor. – Kate Bunting Sep 26 '18 at 14:00
  • Thank you! In my native language "not very good" can rarely mean "good" but "very not good" means "very bad". So it confuses me what "not" really negate ("very" or "good"). – ABEgorov Sep 26 '18 at 15:20
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'Not very good' and 'Not very good at all' are intensifying descriptors of the middle, ie mediocrity. Someone who's not very good at baseball can still play the game, but they're barely competent. Not very good at all in this example would be the absolute minimum amount of skill/understanding necessary to play baseball but no more.

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