33

Here for the past 40,000 years, a deep fissure in the Earth's crust has allowed oily tar and methane to bubble up to the surface from far underground, evidence of the ceaseless activity below our very feet.

I found very feet in above sentence.

What is the difference between feet and very feet?

42

When we say things like

Lead will be changed into gold before your very eyes.

and

The treasure was buried beneath our very feet.

and

The clue had been there all along, under our very noses.

the word very is a sort of emphatic to convey a sense of the remarkable; and it would mean "even as you look on" and "right where we were standing" and "there where we could have easily noticed it (but didn't)".

... the ceaseless activity below our very feet

would mean something like "the activity going on right below where we are standing".

What is being remarked upon is the immediacy of the thing.

  • 2
    In OP's specific context, that's immediacy in the slightly more metaphoric "spatial" sense of being nearby (as in the immediate neighborhood). As opposed to what I would see as more "literal" (temporal) use of very in something like At the very moment the golfer hit the ball, one of the onlookers sneezed and put him off his shot (emphatically at that exact time, not at that exact place). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jul 31 '17 at 14:24
  • 11
    Why do you think spatial metaphoric and temporal literal? That's the very question. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jul 31 '17 at 14:26
  • 2
    As a non-native, I'm with @FumbleFingers here. I would replace the word "immediacy" with "vicinity" or "proximity". I've never heard the word "immediacy" before, and I would have guessed it has a temporal meaning, not a spatial one. – Fabio says Reinstate Monica Jul 31 '17 at 17:38
  • 8
    But spatial nearness or vicinity, @Fabio Turati, is not the meaning of "before your very eyes". Nor is it a temporal immediacy. It is another kind of immediacy. Also, your first action should be to look the word up in a good dictionary, not to tell me that I've chosen the wrong word. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jul 31 '17 at 17:53
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    I would say the immediacy is that of possession as in intimacy. – Aluan Haddad Jul 31 '17 at 18:22
30

Looking up very in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, you can see that very can be an adverb or adjective, and that as an adjective one of its senses is

3 —used as an intensive especially to emphasize identity · before my very eyes

The key word here is "emphasize": inserting the word very into the phrase "our feet" does not take away any of the meaning of that phrase, but draws attention to it.

  • This describes the very meaning of the construct – Hagen von Eitzen Aug 1 '17 at 19:01
  • This is a very good answer. Wait I don't think I get it. – ESR Aug 2 '17 at 4:13
  • Whose identity is being emphasized? – Tᴚoɯɐuo Aug 2 '17 at 12:01
7

It has no meaning in and of itself, it is used to provide emphasis.

The magician sawed a woman in half before our very eyes.

means the same thing as:

The magician sawed a woman in half before our eyes.

but the first sentence has a sense of astonishment.

In your sentence, the very is meant to convey wonder or surprise that something so shocking could be happening beneath us.

0

In 'Le Berbier de Seville' [Act 2 Scene 8] the phrase 'growing before your very eyes' dates this type of expression at least back to 1772, and in that same scene the words piano and pianissimo are used in their literal latin root sense to mean quietly.

Verum, veritas, and verily are all words closely related to very, and in the phrases 'he ate the very last cookie', and 'a place to call your very own', very means 'in truth' or 'really'. 'can I really keep it?' (the puppy) means 'confirm this is not a trick' or 'is it true i can keep it'.

so, before your very eyes, and beneath your very feet, seem to apply the sentiment of 'can it be true' by imitating the structure of those two phrases (very last, very own).

the proper way to phrase it would be 'very happening beneath your feet' (in truth, in reality)

but either by mistake or aesthetics 'happening beneath your very feet' won out over time and usage.

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