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Quite clear to me is the use of very before an adjective. It emphasizes. But then, when very is used before a noun, it confuses me.

Furthermore, if it's before the noun which is not definable in degrees or intensities, is using 'very' okay? In other words, is it okay to use very before a noun that you simply cannot emphasize?

Examples -

Jack L. Scott was born on June 10, 1940, in the very home he was raised and passed away in, in rural Brownstown - The EDN

He disagreed strenuously with Cruz and said the very fact that he had planned to propose the same increase was clear evidence that owners had been disingenuous in their arguments for a much larger rent hike. - Capital New York

What's very home? *If he's raised in some corner of the home - it's in the home; *If he's raised in the center of the home - it's in the very home? ;)

What's very fact? The documents have been stolen - is fact; The documents have been stolen by the President - is very fact? ;)

If it applies to 'undegreeable' nouns, this sentence should be 'okay', shouldn't it? -- The very death of the father shook the entire family.

Also, in such usage, very looks both to me -an adverb and an adjective.

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Very can be used as an adjective to emphasize the noun that comes after it. For example, the very home suggests that it's exactly this home, not any others. For more details (and finer shades of meaning), see macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/american/very, sense 2. –  Damkerng T. Jun 24 at 12:52
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See Google Ngram, the very *_NOUN for related examples. –  CoolHandLouis Jun 24 at 16:48
    
You've asked a couple of people where the answer is to the question in your heading. But your heading is not a question. You will get clearer answers, more to the point, if you ask a single main question. –  Steve Jessop Jun 25 at 11:34
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This question is very Stack Exchange. –  corsiKa Jun 25 at 15:02
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This question was asked on the very day when I was trying to explain the very same thing to a friend. –  ClickRick Jun 26 at 0:22

5 Answers 5

up vote 14 down vote accepted

"Very" has come to indicate a great degree or extent, but this is not the only, or even original, meaning. Ultimately, "very" comes from the Latin for "truth". If someone is "very tall" then they are "truly tall". Over time it has taken on an emphatic meaning, perhaps by indicating that the phrase is more than mere hyperbole or by suggesting that what is claimed would be true by any standard. You might call a person "tall", who appears short to someone else. Calling someone "very tall" suggests a matter of fact, rather than opinion. The underlying meaning of this usage has been forgotten over time.

In other uses, the implied "truthfulness" can have a restrictive or limiting effect, rather than the emphatic effect you are expecting ("the very house" and not some other). It can be useful where the phrase might be surprising or incredible without it. Consider the phoenix, the very death of which gives it new life.

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thanks. this is clearer. –  Maulik V Jun 25 at 4:23

Very is used in way to mean precisely or just. In your example "the very home" means precisely the home and indicates that all those things took place in that same house: he was born, he was raised and he died there.

In a better example: "The very thought of her makes me cringe." Here it means "just the thought of her" (is all I need -or- is enough [to make me cringe])

In the other example: "The very fact" means "just the fact" meaning that that fact is enough and he doesn't need any more evidence.

In your example: "the very death" doesn't really work, unless in some context you mean "just the death" or "precisely the death." So theoretically "The very death of his father should have been enough to discourage him from smoking" kind of makes sense, but is a little clumsy in my opinion, since very should ideally imply "just the death (and nothing more)" or "precisely the death (is enough)" neither of which are necessary in this sentence.

IN SUMMARY: the best and most common interpretation of this very is "just the ... is enough to cause or justify something else"

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Yes! You could also replace the word "very" with "exact" in these cases. –  michelle Jun 24 at 13:30
    
@michelle: thank you Michelle - "the very" corresponds to "the exact" - good call! –  CocoPop Jun 24 at 13:38
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It works in "the exact house that he grew up in," but it doesn't work as well with "The exact thought of her…". –  Joshua Taylor Jun 24 at 14:32
    
@Joshua: In "The very thought of him makes me sick", the "emphasis" is on the fact that it's [merely] the thought - not the actual person, or even his close proximity. It's emphasis, Jim, but not as we know it. –  FumbleFingers Jun 24 at 21:09
    
@FumbleFingers Yes, I was just commenting on michelle's comment "Yes! You could also replace the word "very" with "exact" in these cases." Saying "the exact thought of her" doesn't work. –  Joshua Taylor Jun 24 at 21:25

Emphasis is a rather imprecise term here. Very signals not merely emphasis but contrast either with other entities of the same sort or with what the hearer might expect. In the first it is roughly equivalent to same, in the second to even or itself.

Jack Scott was born not in [not just any home but] the very [=the same] home he was raised and passed away in ...

... the very fact [=the fact itself or even the fact] that he had planned to propose the same increase, [a fact which Cruz had suggested bore quite a different interpretation,] was [on the contrary] clear evidence of ...

Consequently, it is unlikely that “The very death of the father shook the entire family” would be an appropriate use: a reader would expect the family to be shaken by the death. But this would work:

They were shaken by the loss of a husband and father, by the passing of the business into a stranger's hands, by the sale of the family home, by the pompous funeral orations, by the very suit [=even by the suit] he wore in the coffin, which he had not worn since Maria's wedding fifteen years before.

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Absolutely. I think OP's question only arises in the first place because he puts unreasonable constraints on what we mean when we say very can be used for emphasis. –  FumbleFingers Jun 24 at 18:33
    
Where's the answer to my question in heading? –  Maulik V Jun 25 at 4:21
    
@MaulikV Sentence 2. –  StoneyB Jun 25 at 10:52

When very is used to modify a word like house or fact, it often indicates some kind of irony or surprise.

Jack L. Scott was born in 1940 in the very home he was raised and passed away in, in rural Brownstown.

We could replace the word "very" with the word "same", and the sentence would pretty much mean the same thing:

Jack L. Scott was born in 1940 in the same home he was raised and passed away in, in rural Brownstown.

However, by using the word very, the reader is encouraged to think, "Well, isn't that remarkable!"

Similarly, when we say "the very fact", we are indicating some kind of astonishment or strong emotion:

The very fact that you even asked this question shows how confusing English can be!

(The word "very" is unneeded in that sentence, but it indicates that I am somehow more emotionally involved in my exclamation.)

I like how Collins describes this usage:

very (intensifier) used with nouns preceded by a definite article or possessive determiner, in order to give emphasis to the significance, appropriateness or relevance of a noun in a particular context, or to give exaggerated intensity to certain nouns ⇒ "the very man I want to see", "his very name struck terror", "the very back of the room"

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According to Google definitions, very is either an adverb used for emphasis, OR an adjective meaning 'actual' or 'precise'.

Thus in the cases of your examples, you can replace "very" with "actual" (or precise).

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