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When to use “very”

While editing, one of the words I remove most often is “very”.  In most cases, it’s unnecessary.

Even worse, it has the effect of lessening the importance of something you intended to emphasize.

For example, instead of saying something was “very important”, say it was “of the utmost importance.”  Instead of saying a meal was “very good,” say it was a “delight”.

Why is “very” ineffective?  When used like I have above, the word “very” doesn’t give any extra information, except for a vague understanding of degree.  As readers, people understand that “very handsome” means “more handsome than most,” but your readers don’t understand how he looks.  There’s a big difference in connotation between: “his smile dazzled me” and “his rock-hard abs sent my heart aflutter”.

Think about what you’re really trying to say.  What is it about the detail that you’re trying to describe that makes it “very” <something>?  Say that instead.

However, there are a couple of cases where “very” is correct and useful:

  • When you’re talking about a particular item: “There it was, the very item we’d been searching for: the golden medallion.”
  • When you’re talking about the mere mention of something:  “The very thought of going to the dance with him made me shudder.”

For the most part, it’s safe to simply remove the word “very” from your sentences.  That will ensure your words have the very impact you intend.

What do you think?  Is it better to never use “very” at all?  Or are there other cases I missed where it’s okay?

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