I noticed that I'm using the word very quite often. I'd say: I use it very often.

For example:

  • I find search engines very helpful.
  • I'm very happy for you.
  • Your are very good at that.
  • He's very sad because the dog died.

Is there a way to recognise when to use it and when not?

  • The examples you cite look ok. – Lawrence Jan 17 '19 at 12:06
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    My feeling is that it's more acceptable in speech than in writing, though certainly it could be overused in speech. A long time ago I studied journalistic writing. Writers were told to change every "very" to "damn," the editor would take them all out, and you'd have a better piece of writing. (This a was tongue-in-cheek way of telling writers never to use "very.") – Literalman Jan 17 '19 at 15:01
  • I see what you mean, it does make sense. How can I stress on the adjectives without using very? – overkill22 Jan 23 '19 at 9:42
  • There are (very) many close synonyms for "very" but most of them are longer words and some of them are much less universal than "very". Examples include "extremely", "deeply"(in the case of "sad" or "moved"); "greatly" (but only when constructing descriptive phrases with verbs as in "greatly pleased", "greatly saddened" and so on); "enormously" (although "enormously happy" might be thought a bit odd); "really" is useful but would soon become at least as tiresome as "very". Try looking up synonyms for "very" on line and practice using them, but don't worry too much about it in speech. – BoldBen Jan 23 '19 at 11:21
  • You're right @BoldBen, in fact also "really" is another of those words I use frequently and I feel it's becoming too frequent. – overkill22 Jan 24 '19 at 7:54

Complaining about overuse of "very" seems to be a very common peeve: Merriam-Webster, Columbia Journalism Review, Grammarcheck, Daily Beast. Criticisms generally boil down to it being overused and that overuse is repetitious (and repetition in writing is usually considered bad). "Very" has a tendency to be vague or imprecise, or at least to give an impression of imprecision. There are often better ways to increase the force of writing than just sticking "very" in all over the place: rather than say "this is very very bad", either factually explain why it is bad, or use more sophisticated rhetorical devices (e.g. litotes, hyperbole, irony).

So while your examples are perfectly grammatical and not hideous, and would be fine especially in speech or informal writing, you could rephrase them to be more specific. Say "I find search engines invaluable/essential", and explain why or for what purpose. Most people would be very sad if their dog died, so "He's very sad because the dog died" isn't really news - "he has been crying all night because his dog died" or "the dog he grew up with and played with every day has died" would convey more information.

There are certain circumstances where "very" is ungrammatical or very awkward, but they don't apply here.

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  • This is a good example, I use it mostly in speech, when I write I use more complex sentences and search for alternative ways to express something. Do you mind show some examples of circumstances where "very" is ungrammatical or very awkward? – overkill22 Jan 24 '19 at 7:57
  • Even though the OP's comments consider how an adjective might be stressed without using very, the main question is "Is there a way to recognize when to use it and when not?" – user02814 Jan 25 '19 at 3:55

There are a few examples that I can think of where very does not work as an intensifier but I cannot think of a strict usage rule.

Very excellent (as in, The meal tasted very excellent), and very ridiculous (as in, His behaviour was very ridiculous) both seem to me to be malformed utterances, probably because excellent is usually treated as an unmodifiable absolute, and ridiculous seems at least to imply an absolute. However, one increasingly hears very unique (as in, I really liked the house; it was very unique) despite the fact that unique is also usually described as an absolute.

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