I understand that "so" and "very" are similar in meaning, with "so" perhaps being a little stronger:

"I'm very happy today."

"I'm so happy today."

I also understand that "so" can be used to give reasons for something, while "very" can't.

"I am so late that I need to call an uber."

"I am very late that I need to call an uber." (Incorrect)

However, I don't understand the reason why you can't use "very" in the same way you use "so" in the construction below:

"She never saw someone work so hard like him."

"She never saw someone work very hard like him." (Seems incorrect)

The second sentence sounds incorrect to me, but I don't know why. Does anyone know the grammar rulling here?

  • You understand wrongly. Distrust the sources where you learned those ideas. Very is not less strong than so. In fact, so is not an intensifier; it's part of a construction so Adj that S, where S is some proposition affected by the degree of X: He was so drunk that he fainted. Clearly he was very drunk if he fainted, but the so says precisely how much in the extra clause. If you use so without a resultant clause you're not being grammatical. May 1, 2022 at 15:26
  • "She never saw someone work very hard [like him]" don't sound natural, I agree, but "She never saw someone work so hard like him" doesn't either. Our sister site, ELL, is aimed at those who are blessed not to have spent as many years struggling with the language as some of us here, Ricardo. May 1, 2022 at 15:26
  • @John Lawler Hasn't 'so' been bleached to intensifier usage in "I'm so [, so] happy!" and "I'm so very happy!"? May 1, 2022 at 15:29
  • @JohnLawler So is not an intensifier? That sounds strange to me. If you search any dictionary definition of the word it will defined it as an adverb of intensity. May 1, 2022 at 15:40
  • @EdwinAshworth I admit that "work so hard like him" doesn't sound good, but I thought it was acceptable. I found some matches on google when searching for "so hard like him", but I guess this isn't the most reliable method to find if something is idiomatic. May 1, 2022 at 15:43

2 Answers 2


1/ The concept involved is not "reason". This construction with "so" ("so" in correlation with "that") is used to give a measure of something.

  • I am so sad that I could cry. (The sadness felt has a level of intensity that brings tears into the eyes.)

  • He was so mad that he couldn't be articulate any more.

Note that "that" can be omitted.

  • (ref.) Chris, so close on finishing the game was so mad he could feel the blood inside of him bubbling up as if he was going to explode into little pieces

2/ Both sentences are incorrect.

She never saw someone work so hard like him.

She never saw someone work as hard as he does.

She never saw someone work very hard like him.

She never saw someone work very hard, like him.

The addition of a comma makes the sentence acceptable. It is not a sentence conceived to make a comparison; it says that the person speaking never saw someone of whom you could have said that they worked very hard, but that he did. You could say differently with approximately the same meaning, and perhaps more idiomatically "She never saw someone work very hard, except him.". Irt can be argues that implicitly a comparison is being made, but in terms of grammar there is none.

  • I thought it was related to "giving a reason" because of constructions such as: "We don't know how he is so good at math." Here again you can't replace "so" with "very" (by my understanding), but the structure of so... that is nowhere to be seen. Is there a third explanation for this new example I provided? May 1, 2022 at 15:48
  • @RicardoMaia This way of putting it is not quite clear, not quite idiomatic. A construction without ambiguity is this one, which I think is what you mean: "We don't know how come he is so good at math." . As for "so" in this latter sentence, which didn't seem to correspond to "very" in the original sentence, it does have the meaning of "very", and you can now use that adverb as a replacement. Of course, in the sentence there is no use of a correlation with "that", since "so" has another meaning, that is, the meaning of "very".
    – LPH
    May 1, 2022 at 16:56

I don't find either version idiomatic. You can say

She had never seen anyone work so hard

but if you want to make a comparison, it has to be

She had never seen anyone work as hard as he did.

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