Niccolo Paganini: Highly Recommended

Niccolo Paganini: Highly Recommended

There’s nothing at all wrong with the word very – it’s a very serviceable intensifying adverb and much less annoying than really, but it is a word you need to use a lot, especially in, say, reviews, articles and persuasive texts, so a few alternatives would be, well, very welcome.

I could have said ‘particularly welcome’, of course, or ‘especially welcome’, just to emphasise the idea that a lot of synonyms were just what you needed at this point in your schooling/writing career/day. I could have said they would be welcome indeed, which has a warmer connotation, as if you’re glad a cohort of smiling synonyms has turned up at your door.

I could have picked up my thesaurus and used the first alternative given – ‘they would be acutely welcome’, but that would be to ignore my advice from yesterday about using a thesaurus wisely and with a dictionary and search engine to hand. Acutely  sounds silly next to ‘welcome’, but if I were talking about being acutely aware of an unpleasant fact, or of someone being acutely ill, I’d be on safer ground. If you were mean ‘very’ and ‘noticeably’, you could say decidedly as in, ‘our room was decidedly smaller than the one in the brochure’. Some words just seem to go with other words, don’t they – this is called ‘collocation’: you wouldn’t say I was highly upset, but you would say a violinist was highly skilled or comes highly recommended, but then that his work left you deeply moved. Profoundly works in many of the same sentences as deeply, and both are often used to emphasise the extent and sincerity of an emotion: I am profoundly saddened, shocked etc. Your thesaurus will also give you uncommonly and unusually, which you use when describing a rare talent – she was uncommonly good at conjugating Latin verbs.

There are a group of intensifying adverbs that are twice as intensifying as ‘very’ – they really mean ‘very very’. The most common of these is absolutely, but tread carefully, young hobbit, you have to be careful with this one – there are rules for this one. ‘Absolutely’ can only be used with strong adjectives – that is with adjectives that already mean ‘very something’. You can say absolutely brilliant (brilliant meaning very clever), but not absolutely clever – just very clever. By the same token, you can’t call someone very terrible – they’re very bad or absolutely terrible. My spaghetti Bolognese is either very tasty or absolutely delicious, probably the latter. Other strong intensifiers can only be used with normal strength adjectives: incredibly bad, extremely sad, remarkably young.

There are of course a lot more adverbs that can be used in place of very that also show you the writer’s feeling about the subject: it was getting worryingly late and she still hadn’t called, and we all know how depressingly common anti-social behaviour is in our town. It’s a wonder such an astonishingly pretty girl can get home safely. Of course, sometimes the intensifier is purely rhetorical – that father can’t still be astonished at his daughter’s looks, though he is genuinely worried that she still isn’t home.

For more poetic and descriptive writing, you might reach for an intensifier specific to your subject. You can describe winter nights that are deathly cold or bone-chillingly cold. That uninspiring lecture might be teeth-grittingly boring.


Write a short review about a particularly impressive, or unimpressive, day out. Use a variety of intensifiers.


2 thoughts on “Better Words for Very

  1. A quick thanks for these invaluable insights into the English language. Your explanations are excellent and useful reminders, even to those of us that think we use the language correctly.

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