I was just browsing the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English and stumbled on this peculiar note under the entry for delighted:

Delighted is not used with ‘very’. You say:

I’m absolutely delighted.

✗Don’t say: I’m very delighted.

This note is rather non-committal. An earlier edition flat-out says this.

► Do not say ‘very delighted’. Say absolutely delighted.

The definition of delighted is "very pleased and happy." Perhaps very is already implied, so another intensifying very would be redundant? But then why does absolutely work?

This Merriam-Webster blog post suggests that it seems somewhat arbitrary that grammarians decided that certain past-participle-based adjectives can't seem to mix well with very, suggesting that another possible reason for this is that delighted is not 100% a full-fledged adjective, but rather, it's still somewhat of a past participle and is thus resistant to very.

Randolph Quirk’s A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language gives four criteria that must be met before a participle graduates from verbhood and is given adjectival status: it can be used attributively (“you have your annoyed face on”); in predicative use with seem (“you seem rather annoyed with me”); it can be premodified by very (“Yes, I am very annoyed”); it can be used in comparison (“I would say I am more annoyed than when you dropped my goldfish”).

And then there's this self-identified American speaker (who gave the highest-voted answer) who claims they expect to hear very delighted, still.

So is very delighted "right" or "wrong"? Is there some inherent quasi-grammatical limitation to delighted as a past-participle-based adjective? Or is it just a matter of collocation, some nebulous notion that makes very delighted sound awkward?

  • There's another question on very historic which isn't quite the same issue but might be worth comparing.
    – Stuart F
    Mar 20 at 9:31
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    It is not ungrammatical but it isn't great style. Better is: so delighted. We were so delighted that you could come to the event. Do you want great style or do you want passable grammar? Hmm?
    – Lambie
    Mar 20 at 15:36
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    Very delighted is never wrong. Very suspected would have a hard time making a case though. Mar 21 at 2:42
  • 1
    'I'm very delighted to receive a colonoscopy' sounds wrong to me.
    – Dave
    Mar 21 at 21:03
  • Arguably it's grammatical, but idiomaticity often ranks as a more important consideration. 'Very delighted' sounds like something few native speakers would say, and some would argue: "It's wrong because 'delighted' is an extreme adjective and thus non-gradable." However, while I'd mark it down as unidiomatic, I can't fully subscribe to the reasoning: 'highly delighted', 'absolutely delighted', and 'quite delighted' have been voted as acceptable by the great mass of Anglophones. The trouble is that 'unacceptable' and 'wrong' are ill-defined hereabouts. Apr 12 at 15:08

4 Answers 4


You can certainly come up with theoretical arguments against it, but "very delighted" is delightfully common. Ngram Viewer says it's more common than "very much delighted" and about half as common as "absolutely delighted."

More importantly, it's quite frequently used by native speakers. Some examples:

Edit: according to Ngram Viewer, "absolutely delighted" is far more common than "very delighted" in British English, so its acceptability may vary between dialects. That said, Queen Elizabeth used "very delighted" at least once (see above), as has Prince William.

For those calling it a poor stylistic choice, the MLK example above is from the opening of "Beyond Vietnam," a masterpiece of oratory and one of his greatest speeches.

  • 1
    I was so occupied with the LDOCE's claim that I never bothered to do corpus research. These examples are pretty enlightening. I suppose there's really nothing wrong about "very delighted" after all. Among the Google Books results, there's even one titled Happy-People-Pills For All that explicitly says "if being “very delighted with X” expresses a more positive view than being “very pleased with X,” Mar 21 at 4:50
  • @Vun-HughVaw I suspect LDOCE is being prescriptivist here; they're warning against "very delighted" precisely because they see it as a "common mistake."
    – alphabet
    Mar 21 at 5:07
  • "Very delighted" sounds bloody awful to me: avoid it as one would a leper with cholera.
    – Greybeard
    Mar 21 at 10:01
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    @Greybeard I disagree; it sounds totally fine to me. The MLK example is from the opening of "Beyond Vietnam," widely considered a masterpiece of oratory and one of his greatest speeches.
    – alphabet
    Mar 21 at 11:01
  • It's certainly not common in English English. Mar 21 at 13:42

Adjectives like amazing, awful and boiling are also non-gradable. They already contain the idea of 'very' in their definitions. If we want to make extreme adjectives stronger, we have to use absolutely or really:

The argument that "delighted" doesn't take "very" is based on "delighted" being an ungradable rather than a gradable adjective. It carries implications that are closer to words like "dead" and "pregnant". People can't be a little bit dead - they either are, or they're not.

As such, the intensifier would be a pure intensifier and not a qualifier or quantifier.

Definitions seem to be looser in current use - it wouldn't sound particularly strange to ask "How delighted are you?", in which case "Very delighted" would be fine and it might be considered pedantic to take issue with it.

  • 5
    Another example of an ungradable would be "unique" - "very unique" sounds wrong to me, but "absolutely unique" doesn't.
    – user888379
    Mar 20 at 15:50
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    @Vun-HughVaw The point about ungradable terms rings true to me. It's not whether a term is already heightened - the test is whether one can have degrees of it.
    – Lawrence
    Mar 20 at 15:59
  • "People can't be a little bit dead - they either are, or they're not." That argument forbids "absolutely delighted", since "absolutely dead" implies partially dead.
    – RonJohn
    Mar 20 at 18:20
  • 2
    Delighted is gradable though. Mar 21 at 2:30
  • 2
    The argument that "delighted" doesn't take "very" is based on "delighted" being an ungradable rather than a gradable adjective. The link contained in this sentence doesn't mention "delighted", so why do you say this? Is it your own supposition, or is the argument stated somewhere? Mar 21 at 4:17

The grammarians that you quote are on weak ground. There are other words that contain the notion of intensification. To give two examples, there are:

Extreme and forceful or (of a feeling) very strong:

Very intelligent
very skilful, impressive, or successful

Both these words, and others, are often intensified by very.

The grammarian argument seems to be that a word deriving from intensification (very, extremely, gravely, even absolutely) of another word must not itself be intensified. This restricts the scale of intensification arbitrarily. It also expects users of a word to consider its antecedents, meaning and etymology before intensifying it.

Degrees of intensification are acceptable;
It is appalling (=very bad) that grammarians should adopt such an attitude and,
it is very appalling that they presume to proscribe our usage.

As a matter of usage rather than semantics, they are clearly wrong, very wrong, very very wrong, extremely wrong, and absolutely wrong.

  • 1
    You misunderstood. The part about "redundant intensifiers" is purely my own conjecture. Grammarians have a different theory, which is about how certain adjectives derived from past participles are incompatible with certain intensifiers. You wouldn't say "very prepared", for example, even though "prepared" has been used as an adjective. I've put "past participle" in my question in bold for some clarity. Mar 20 at 8:37
  • 5
    "Very prepared" while criticised is very common even from educated people (doctors, lawyers, global intelligence unit). "Very delighted" is less common, but then "delighted" is less common than "prepared" both in writing and in life.
    – Stuart F
    Mar 20 at 9:34
  • 3
    I suggest that the general argument about this type of intensification and the inappropriate restrictions placed by over-prescriptive grammarians applies not only to the words in my answer but also to very prepared, very engaged, very involved and many others.
    – Anton
    Mar 20 at 13:54
  • @Vun-HughVaw For one thing, even if that's true of "certain" adjectives derived from past participles, it's not true of them all ("very tired" and "very embarrassed" are fine), so why can't "delighted" be another which may be qualified by "very"? For another, the matter of whether an adjective was derived from a past participle seems to be a red herring: some adjectives not so derived are similarly ungradeable, e.g. "huge", "vast" and "enormous".
    – Rosie F
    Mar 20 at 15:03
  • @RosieF The Merriam-Webster blog post I cited addresses your concern. I said "certain adjectives" because I indeed meant "not all adjectives". As you can see in the blog post, which cites Randolph Quirk’s A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, says "four criteria that must be met before a participle graduates from verbhood and is given adjectival status [...] it can be premodified by very (“Yes, I am very annoyed”)". Mar 20 at 15:24

According to Wikipedia:

The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (LDOCE), first published by Longman in 1978, is an advanced learner's dictionary, providing definitions using a restricted vocabulary, helping non-native English speakers understand meanings easily. It is available in four configurations

As is the case with learner's dictionaries in general, LDOCE has usage guidelines that have to be prescriptive. So what they mean by "don't say" is not always that the construction is not grammatical per se, but sometimes that it's not idiomatic or natural among native speakers.

This Ngram shows that "very delighted" is the least productive among "[adverb] + delighted". (Although it is shown above "not delighted", "very delighted" is actually less productive than even "not delighted".)

Just because famous people have uttered this expression doesn't mean it's necessarily idiomatic or natural. Native speakers, famous or not, do utter unidiomatic or unnatural things from time to time. What's clear is that the expression will never make it to the article of The New York Times or some such, unless in a quote.

I don't agree with the Merriam-Webster blog post you've cited, and it is not even relevant here, because "very pleased", unlike "very delighted", is the most productive of all "[adverb] + pleased", according to this Ngram. Note also that "much ecstatic" is even less productive than "very ecstatic", according to this Ngram, which perhaps tells us that adjectives converted from past participles are more likely to be collocated with "much".

I think you may have guessed it right when you said:

The definition of delighted is "very pleased and happy." Perhaps very is already implied, so another intensifying very would be redundant?

Note "very ecstatic" is similarly unproductive, according to this Ngram.


But then why does absolutely work?

I guess "absolutely" as well as other emphasizing adverbs such as "so" and "quite" emphasizes the following adjective in a different way than does "very".

  • "Native speakers, famous or not, do utter unidiomatic or unnatural things from time to time." Could you clarify on this further? I'm not sure if you're confusing "commonality" and "idiomaticity/naturality". I agree that native speakers occasionally say "unidiomatic" things, like verbalizing the adjective "gay" in "gay it up" for humorous effect for example, but given the contexts where "very delighted" occurs, I don't see why it can't be "idiomatic." Mar 21 at 9:11
  • I don't think there's anything to clarify. It just depends on how you'd define "idiomatic/natural". Some native speakers utter things like "I should have went" instead of "I should have gone" from time to time. In my own dictionary, the former is not idiomatic or natural, regardless of how often some native speakers use it. If you'd consider it idiomatic/natural simply because some native speakers keep using it, that's your prerogative. There's nothing I can clarify.
    – JK2
    Mar 21 at 9:56
  • I think this response of yours is enough clarification, that you personally think it's not "idiomatic". In my opinion, if enough native speakers use a particular expression, it eventually becomes idiomatic. Idiomatic expressions are very different from "standard" or "received" expressions: the former are authentically used by native speakers even to the annoyance of grammar police, the latter are recommended for school or high-brow jobs. "Should have went" could be idiomatic without being "standard" or "received" Mar 21 at 14:20

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