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My English book, Dr P Prasad's "Communication Skills" says:

  1. Incorrect: It is very much surprising.
  2. Correct: It is very surprising.
  3. Incorrect: He was very surprised by the news.
  4. Correct: He was much surprised by the news.

Can you tell why the correct ones are correct and incorrect ones incorrect?

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    Can you tell us what textbook made these pronouncements? The prohibition against the "very" similitude dates to the 1800's, and it was wrong even then. There is nothing at all "incorrect" about "very surprised." Your book is just plain wrong. In He was very surprised by the news, "surprised" is not a past participle: it's an adjective, so "very" can modify it. @StoneyB - FumbleFingers - a little help here? – P. E. Dant Sep 18 '16 at 6:19
  • @Cardinal I don't have a copy, but if that volume contains a statement of this nonsensical "rule," I think it can be safely and appropriately used for kindling. This one is right up there with never a sentence with a preposition end and never dangle a participle. Past participles like surprised and finished and scores of others that act like adjectives are adjectives in modern grammars. It's a travesty that new learners of English are still being taught these things. – P. E. Dant Sep 18 '16 at 6:45
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    @Cardinal Some day we will get together and have a grand bonfire, and we'll consign all of these awful old "rulebooks" to the flames. Their authors are trying to squeeze a 21st century living language through an 18th century pasta mold. – P. E. Dant Sep 18 '16 at 6:55
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    @AnubhavSingh Except for the first, to me these sentences are all both idiomatic and grammatically correct. (I exclude the first only because it doesn't sound idiomatic to my NAmE ear; it may well sound quite natural to another.) Modern grammars will find no fault with any of them, though. – P. E. Dant Sep 18 '16 at 7:02
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    @P.E.Dant in Unit 92, p184 (in the first edition) Hewings write: "We don't use very before verbs, but we can use very much before some verbs to emphasise how we feel about things: 1. "I very much agree with the decision. (not ...very agree...) etc. No mention of the example with "surprising" to be incorrect. I strongly suggest that the OP double checks that he has correctly written the examples and their answers. – Mari-Lou A Sep 18 '16 at 10:33
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As has been pointed out in the comments, the first example is the least used (although a quick search on Google Books still returns several hundred examples of published use). Of the four though, it's the only one that would sound wrong to most English ears.

The other three are all in common use. The suggestion that #3 is, in some way, incorrect is just plain wrong or is misunderstanding a (fairly loose) rule.

You have to look at the way 'surprised' is being used.

If it being used as a verb then the writer is correct - it should take much as the modifier. If it's being used as an adjective, it can take either.

Take a less ambiguous example - the verb 'Praise'

The work was much praised or The work was very praised

Here, because 'praised' hasn't made the jump from verb to adjective 'very' sounds wrong. 'Surprised' though (like interested, disappointed, confused and many others) can be used in both ways.

Again, as has been eloquently pointed out in the comments, English is a dynamic, evolving language.

  • Community wiki as most of the work has been done in the comments and I just wanted to bring them together and move it out of the unanswered list – PerryW Sep 23 '16 at 4:54

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