Black and White, No Gray Area

Lots of people use the adverb “very” to modify adjectives that do not have a range of values.

Bad Examples:
Adequate hydration is very necessary.
This equipment is very critical to our operations.

In fact, a search on Google showed 902,000 hits for “very necessary,” so the Grammar Police have declared it an official epidemic.

Either something is necessary, or it’s not. It’s critical, or it’s not. There is no sliding scale of degrees of necessary, no gray area of criticality, only black and white. The only choices are yes and no, not maybe.

Very is an intensifier that is used to make adjectives stronger. Intensifiers should only be used to modify gray words, adjectives that have ranges of degree, not absolute words that are either black or white.

Some other “absolute” words that should never have “very” in front of them:
• Dead
• Unique
• Perfect
• Fatal
• Irrevocable

The only acceptable usage of “very critical” would be when you mean “inclined to criticize,” rather than “vital or indispensable.” The length, the regularity, and the degree of the criticism could all vary from a little to a whole lot.

She has a very critical mother-in-law, who gives her the third degree every time she visits.

The Free Dictionary defines “the third degree” as a situation in which someone tries to find out information by asking you a lot of questions.


Profound Quote of the Day:

“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”
– Winston Churchill, English statesman, 1874-1965


2 Responses to “Black and White, No Gray Area”

  1. petrocomputing Says:

    David Gilson of Houston commented:
    And the widespread use of “more complete” these days.

  2. Ellen Says:

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