Hostname: page-component-77c89778f8-rkxrd Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-07-22T11:19:28.724Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Recent developments in English intensifiers: the case of very much

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 July 2008

School of English, University of Liverpool, Chatham St, Liverpool L69 7ZR,


The nature and behaviour of complex and compound adverbs (e.g. very much, heretofore, anyway) has not received much scholarly attention in recent years. In the case of very much, for instance, recent literature (e.g. Dixon 2005) considers it a clause-internal adverb which typically modifies phrasal constituents (e.g. I liked the present very much; very much alive). The latter claim, however, appears to clash with previous observations (cf. Bolinger 1972) on the growing scope of the adverb in Present-day English. Through a corpus-based diachronic study (1500–present day), the present article unearths a number of environments where very much does not seem to fit neatly within the functional classifications that it has been assigned to in recent literature and standard grammars of English. It suggests that, from the Late Modern English period onwards (1800–), very much seems to have been developing sentence modifier functions, hence moving along Traugott's (1995) Internal Adverb > Sentence Adverb > Discourse Particle cline.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2008

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Adamson, Sylvia & González-Díaz, Victorina. 2004. Back to the very beginning: The development of intensifiers in Early Modern English. Presented at the Thirteenth International Conference on English Historical Linguistics, Vienna.Google Scholar
Aston, Guy & Burnard, Lou. 1998. The BNC handbook: Exploring the British National Corpus with SARA. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.Google Scholar
Bauer, Laurie & Bauer, Winifred. 2002. Adjective boosters in the English of young New Zealanders. Journal of English Linguistics 30, 244–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Behre, Frank. 1967. Studies in Agatha Christie's writings. Gothenburg: Gothenburg University Press.Google Scholar
Biber, Douglas, Finegan, Edward & Atkinson, Dwight. 1994. ARCHER and its challenges: Compiling and exploring a representative corpus of historical English registers. In Fries, Udo, Tottie, Gunnel & Schneider, Peter (eds.), Creating and using English language corpora, 114. Amsterdam: Rodopi.Google Scholar
Biber, Douglas, Johansson, Stig, Leech, Geoffrey, Conrad, Susan & Finegan, Edward. 1999. Longman grammar of spoken and written English. London: Longman.Google Scholar
Blake, Norman F. 1981. Non-standard language in English literature. London: Deutsch.Google Scholar
Bolinger, Dwight L. 1972. Degree words. The Hague and Paris: Mouton.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bolinger, Dwight. 1980. Language – the loaded weapon. London: Longman.Google Scholar
Breivik, Leiv & Swan, Toril. 1994. Initial adverbials and word order in English with special reference to the Early Modern English period. In Kastovsky, A (ed.), 11–43.Google Scholar
Cruttenden, Alan. 1997. Intonation. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dekeyser, Xavier. 1994. The multal quantifiers much/many and their analogues: A historical lexico-semantic analysis. Leuvense Bijdragen 83, 289–99.Google Scholar
Dixon, R. M. W. 2005. A semantic approach to English grammar, 2nd edn. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gilbert, Abraham J. 1979. Literary language from Chaucer to Johnson. London: Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
González-Díaz, Victorina. 2005. Much and very much: Very much the same thing? Presented at New Reflections on Grammaticalization 3, Santiago de Compostela.Google Scholar
Greenbaum, Sidney. 1970. Verb-intensifier collocations in English: An experimental approach. The Hague: Mouton.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Halliday Michael, A. K. 1994. An introduction to functional grammar. London: Arnold.Google Scholar
Huddleston, Rodney & Pullum, Geoffrey K. et al. 2002. The Cambridge grammar of the English language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ito, Rika & Tagliamonte, Sali A.. 2003. Well weird, right dodgy, very strange, really cool: Layering and recycling in English intensifiers. Language in Society 32, 257–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kennedy, Graeme. 2003. Amplifier collocations in the British National Corpus: Implications for English language teaching. TESOL Quarterly 37, 467–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Marckwardt, Albert H. 1970. Much and many: The historical development of a Modern English distributional pattern. In Rosier, James L. (ed.), Philological essays: Studies in Old and Middle English language and literature in honour of Herbert Dean Meritt, 50–4. The Hague: Mouton.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
McCarthy, Michael. 2002. Good listenership made plain: British and American non-minimal response tokens in everyday conversation. In Reppen, Randi, Fitzmaurice, Susan M. & Biber, Douglas (eds.), Using corpora to explore linguistic variation, 4971. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Méndez-Naya, Belén. 2003. On intensifiers and grammaticalization: The case of swipe. English Studies 84, 372–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mustanoja, Tauno F. 1960. A Middle English syntax. Helsinki: Société Néophilologique.Google Scholar
Nevalainen, Terttu & Rissanen, Matti. 2002. Fairly pretty or pretty fair? On the development and grammaticalization of English downtoners. Language Sciences 24, 359–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Nevalainen, Terttu. 1994. Aspects of adverbial change in Early Modern English. In Kastovsky, (ed.), 243–59.Google Scholar
OED = Oxford English dictionary, 2nd edn. 1989. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Online version with revisions: www.oed.comGoogle Scholar
Paradis, Carita. 1997. Degree modifiers of adjectives in spoken British English (Lund Studies in English 92). Lund: Lund University Press.Google Scholar
Paradis, Carita. 2003. Between epistemic modality and degree: The case of really. In Facchinetti, Roberta, Palmer, Frank & Krug, Manfred (eds.), Modality in contemporary English, 197220. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.Google Scholar
Peters, Hans. 1994. Degree adverbs in Early Modern English. In Kastovsky, Dieter (ed.), Studies in Early Modern English, 269–88. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Pyles, Thomas & Algeo, John. 1993. The origins and development of the English language, 4th edn. Boston: Heinle.Google Scholar
Quirk, Randolf, Greenbaum, Sidney, Leech, Geoffrey & Svartvik, Jan. 1985. A comprehensive grammar of the English language. London: Longman.Google Scholar
Swan, Toril. 1991. Adverbial shifts: Evidence from Norwegian and English. In Kastovsky, Dieter (ed.), Historical English syntax, 409–38. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.Google Scholar
Tao, Hongyin. 2007. A corpus-based investigation of absolutely and related phenomena in spoken American English. Journal of English Linguistics 35 (1), 529.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Traugott, Elizabeth Closs. 1990. From less to more situated in language: The unidirectionality of semantic change. In Adamson, Sylvia, Law, Vivien, Vincent, Nigel & Wright, Susan (eds.), Papers from the 5th International Conference on English Historical Linguistics, 497517. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Traugott, Elizabeth Closs. 1995. The role of the development of discourse markers in a theory of grammaticalization. Presented at the Twelfth International Conference on Historical Linguistics, Manchester.Google Scholar
Traugott, Elizabeth Closs & Dasher, Richard B.. 2002. Regularity in semantic change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar