In the church services I attend, our congregation confesses one of the ancient Christian creeds each week. The one used most often in the Nicene Creed (325 AD). The other Sunday the phrase “very God of very God,” was said in the Creed to describe Jesus Christ. That use of very struck me. In the past I have had people ask me about that phrase. They are not sure what to make of the word ‘very.’
Today most people use the word ‘very’ before adverbs and adjectives to add emphasis. He usually drives very fast. “It is very cold in this house,” says Patti quite often. Used in this manner very means ‘to a great degree’ or ‘exceedingly.’
In the 13th century very was used in English as an adjective, meaning true. The word is derived from the Latin verus, meaning true. Thus, when the Nicene Creed was translated from the Greek the term very was used instead of utilizing the phrase ‘true God of true God.’ The Greek adjective in the creedal sentence was alethes (true).
The dictionary gives varied definitions of very along a similar vein of true. “The arena is in the very heart of the city.” This usage means exact or precise. “A screw rather than a nail is the very thing to use for the purpose.” Here very is exactly suitable or necessary. “Only a very fool would believe such a thing.” This use means absolute. “The very thought of snakes terrified her.” Very denotes mere or bare. “He is the very man I saw at the scene.” This usage implies being the same one. “Many Christians believe the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper is the very body and very blood of the Lord Jesus.” Here very means actual or real. “I am telling you the very truth.” This use means simple, plain, absolute. Very can imply likeness in kind, similar to self-same. “That was the very point I was trying to make.”
Very can be used as an adverb with subtle differences in meaning. “His behaviour at the event was very (beastly) awful.” “Her speech was very (enormously) significant for the future of the project.” “The reaction he had was very (extremely) crucial to the final decision.” “Do you really think that remark is very (seriously) relevant?” “He missed work for 3 weeks due to a very (terribly) bad cold.”
Used as an adverb, very can also signify awfully, badly, colossally, especially, fabulously, greatly, hugely, incredibly, mightily, particularly, really, severely, supremely, surpassingly, vastly, vitally, and wildly. I am sure you can develop your own sentences using very in such a manner.
Other words like very include identical, equivalent, and equal. However, identical suggests absolute agreement in all details. “When the tests came back, they were given identical marks on all questions.” Equivalent implies amounting to the same thing in worth or significance. “The two houses are equivalent in market value.” Equal is being the same in value, magnitude, or some specified quality. “The two sisters owned equal shares in the business.”
As you can see, there are very many ways to use very. Thanks for the suggestion, Ray.
John would like to know if anyone has a sincere interest in a relevant word that he could possibly research for an upcoming column. If so, please send your requests to firstname.lastname@example.org. Words will be selected according to relevance and research criteria. We cannot confirm that all words will be used.
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