Very simple grammar question

When referring to a circumstance, is stating something as “very hypothetical” gramatically correct? I ask this because something that is hypothetical has not been proven, and therefore “very” would not make any sense (I was debating against this with a friend of mine today).
Thanks

I don’t think it’s a problem. When you say something is “very hypothetical”, you are emphasising that it is unlikely to happen. On the other hand, you could say something is “not very hypothetical” when it (probably) has happened.

I do not think “very hypothetical” is grammatically correct. It either is hypothetical or it isn’t. It is the same as saying “very pregnant”. She either is pregnant or she isn’t. I know it’s common usage, but IMO it is wrong. “Very rare” is another example. Something is either rare or it isn’t.

Yeah. And something is either tall or it isn’t; you can’t call it “very tall”! And something is either important or it isn’t; the phrase “very important” is improper English. Hell, it seems to me, every single usage of the word “very” is mistaken; the word itself is grammatically incorrect.

[/sarcasm]

If a woman were described as “very pregnant”, I’d assume it meant that she was in the third trimester. I don’t see that as problematic at all. And it’s rare that I’m wrong, and very rare that I admit it :smiley:

“What would have happened if I had forgotten my keys this morning” is hypothetical. “What would have happened if I had been run over by a bus this morning” is more hypothetical, and “What would have happened if I were abducted by aliens this morning” is more hypothetical yet.

While we’re at it, I also get annoyed when people say something can’t be “very unique”.

I agree that the usage (this is not a grammar question) is not really correct, since there are not degrees of hypotheticalness. (Note that some people make the same argument about “unique,” but “very unique” is used all the time.) However, there is nothing really wrong to use “very” this way colloquially for emphasis, or to indicate that the hypothesis is very unlikely, or even ridiculous.

I disagree on this one. White diamonds are rare but yellow diamonds are very rare. And it must be said that I like my steak rare but not very rare :wink:

I would argue that even “unique” has degrees of uniqueness – Sex is a unique experience. Walking on the moon is a unique experience. Walking on the moon is more unique than having sex. Most of the people who frequent this board have done one, but none have done the other.

The real issue of “unique” is that it is usually used to mean “vaguely good, but I’m too lazy to specify why.”

BTW, this isn’t a grammar issue; it’s usage usage issue (as are 50% of all “grammar” questions here; the other 45% are style issues).

“very” is an adverb, and “hypothetical” is an adjective. There can be no argument: “very hypothetical” is grammatically correct.

I think the OP perhaps has a question about the semantics of using “very” in this situation. At this point it’s not a question of whether it’s “correct” usage or not; rather, the question is about what it means.

In this context, “very” implies that the hypothetical situation is highly improbable.

Likewise, “Very” pregnant is often used to describe a woman who appears likely to give birth to a fully-formed whale at any moment. Back in the '80’s when Demi Moore appeared naked and pregnant on the cover of Vanity Fair, Newsweek described her as “titanically pregnant,” which would mean basically the same thing.

**From Sienfeld ‘The Statue’ **

RAVA: Maybe you think we’re in cahoots.

ELAINE: No, no… but it is quite a coincidence.

RAVA: Yes, that’s all, a coincidence!

ELAINE: A big coincidence.

RAVA: Not a big coincidence. A coincidence!

ELAINE: No, that’s a big coincidence.

RAVA: That’s what a coincidence is! There are no small coincidences and big coincidences!

ELAINE: No, there are degrees of coincidences.

RAVA: No, there are only coincidences! …Ask anyone! (Enraged, she asks everone in the elevator) Are there big coincidences and small coincidences, or just coincidences? (Silent) …Well?! Well?!..

E.T.A. I don’t think it is necessary to point out the degree to which something is hypothetical.

Speaking purely literally, there are no degrees to hypotheticality, pregnancy, uniqueness, coincidences, etc. However, most human beings do not speak in purely literal terms 100% of the time.

If there are no degrees to uniqueness, then I challenge you to name me anything that isn’t unique.

I’m reminded of the scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian:

(Bold added)

How do you know, Mr. Smartypants?

C’mon Chronos, you can claim that each and every Oreo Cookie is unique until you’ve dipped them all in milk, but “very hypothetical” is OK, but “very unique” is lazy.

Lazy how? Do you think they were trying to say something else but lacked the energy? We could equally well call it creative, imaginative, or playful. Although it’s widespread enough now that it’s mostly just a reasonably common pattern available in the language.

Besides, Chronos is right. Whenever you describe something as unique, you mean unique in some respect, not just unique in itself (which would hardly be a coherent notion). When you say something is “very unique”, you perhaps mean that the respects in which it is unique are somehow more remarkable than just any old respects in which just any old thing might be unique, or the degree to which it is isolated from other similar objects along the axis of the respect in which it is unique is greater than typical, or such things.

(Or the number of relevant respects in which it is unlike other relevant objects is greater than for other objects, or the extent to which it is considered idiosyncratic is particularly great, or …)

Any two separate Oreos are unique in some respect (spatial location, say); if they weren’t, they wouldn’t be two separate Oreos. Every thing is different from every other thing (or else they’d be the same thing!). Should we then say that everything is unique and nothing more can be said and leave it at that? Nonsense; the language has a clear and understandable use for nontrivial, even gradable, employment of the word “unique”, regardless of whatever pigheadedly Boolean philosophizing one thinks would demonstrate this to be meaninglessly illogical.

Oh, come on, RealityChuck, with as many members as we have here, I’m sure there’s at least someone on this board who’s had sex.

Yes, but just one. It’s a unique experience.

You know, the best argument against the illogicality of “very unique”, I suppose, is that no one complains about saying, say, “very different” (or do they?). Things are unique to the extent that they are different from everything else, as the pedants keep reminding us. Well, there’s “different” and then there’s “very different”; surely, it’s then perfectly natural to have corresponding notions of “unique” and “very unique”.

Any two separate Oreos are unique in some respect (spatial location, say); if they weren’t, they wouldn’t be two separate Oreos. Every thing is different from every other thing (or else they’d be the same thing!). Should we then say that everything is unique and nothing more can be said and leave it at that? Nonsense; the language has a clear and understandable use for nontrivial, even gradable, employment of the word “unique”, regardless of whatever pigheadedly Boolean philosophizing one thinks would demonstrate this to be meaninglessly illogical.
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Borges wrote about this in his story “Funes the Memorius” where the title character is in a kind of hell by remembering each object as being different, because it is from a later time, or it has moved, or he has blinked, etc.

Also there is the famous case of Clive Wearing, whose anterograde amnesia interestingly parallels the hell of Funes by forgetting all objects almost instantaneously, so each one is unique again and again.