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1.

...from my very first day

2.

...at the very first stage

3.

...from the very first touches

4.

The very first canon of nursing

Are they adverbs?

What is the meaning of VERY in phrases such as...the VERY first [noun]...?

For what purpose are they placed before adjectives?

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    Did you look it up in a dictionary? The definition is the second one here: dictionary.com/browse/very – stangdon Jul 21 '16 at 1:19
  • Yes, my dictionary says that too but it's [very + superlative]. – user9418 Jul 21 '16 at 1:23
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    It may be helpful to think of very as an emphasizer (i.e., it emphasizes a quality or a thing), as opposed to "hugely" or "abundantly" as it may happen in your first language. (A lot of very SOMETHING instances make more sense when I translate them to a lot of SOMETHING in my first language.) – Damkerng T. Jul 21 '16 at 3:48
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We call very an adverb of degree. It strengthens the adjective or adverb it modifies. In addition to your examples, we might say:

It is very cold outside.
The engine is running very smoothly.

The negative form is used as well to modify an adjective; just use not before very:

We are not very happy.

  • Thank you. I look it up in the dictionary. There is another usage [very + adj] like "very French", "very wrong". So I am a bit confused about it. Because [very + adj + noun] looks similar to that. – user9418 Jul 21 '16 at 1:29
  • The part which confuses me is that "the very first touches" is of the form [the very + adj + noun]. It's not just [very + adj]. – user9418 Jul 21 '16 at 1:42
  • @user9418 Very + adj is exactly the usage I describe here. In "He is very French," "French" is an adjective. What confuses you? If a noun comes after the adjective, that does not change the meaning of "very." E.g., "He is a very young man." You may be referring to the use of "very" as an adjective indicating the superlative, as in "This is the very top of the mountain." That is not the usage of "very" in your question. – P. E. Dant Jul 21 '16 at 1:52
  • Because both forms [very + adj with/without noun] and [very + adj WITHOUT noun] are in different entries in the dictionary. Now I understand that. Thank you. I do appreciate it. – user9418 Jul 21 '16 at 1:54
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    @user9418 Don't apologize. Whatever your native tongue, you are already better at my language than I probably am at yours! – P. E. Dant Jul 21 '16 at 3:14
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In a phrase like very first, it's used for emphasis, but I wouldn't describe it as an adverb of degree; the first member of a sequence cannot be more first or less first!

I think this usage is akin to that of “This is the very thing I'm looking for” or “This is the very place where something happened”; the meaning is more like ‘exact’ (compare Latin verum ‘true’, French vrai).

  • Food for thought. Is first here an adjective or a noun used as descriptor? To me, it seems to be an adjective, and if it is, very is an adverb. "The very best thing." "The very first thing." – P. E. Dant Jul 21 '16 at 7:59
  • But does very modify the adjective alone, or the noun phrase {first thing}? I'm leaning to say it's more the latter. – Anton Sherwood Jul 22 '16 at 7:19

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