[by Liz Walter]
He was very pleased.
The ship is extremely large.
However, we don’t use very or extremely for adjectives that already have a strong meaning, for example fantastic, delighted, huge, furious. For these, the most common adverb is absolutely. Utterly is even stronger, and is usually used for adjectives with a negative meaning:
This apartment is absolutely perfect for us.
At the end of the day, I was utterly exhausted.
Really is slightly informal, and used both with strong adjectives and other adjectives:
Your shoes are really dirty.
Her bedroom is really tiny.
The food was surprisingly good.
It was incredibly difficult to get a ticket.
She was terribly upset.
We were dreadfully late for the meeting.
You may be surprised to learn that terribly and awfully can also be used with positive adjectives in a rather formal way:
We were terribly relieved.
That’s awfully kind of you.
It’s a highly successful company.
This issue is hugely important to us.
However, note that if you hear someone say that a person will be highly delighted, they are almost certainly being sarcastic (saying the opposite of what they really mean):
You’ve lost your coat again? Your mum will be highly delighted to hear that.
You can use ridiculously if you want to emphasize that something is not reasonable:
These clothes are ridiculously expensive.
The portions are ridiculously small.
Some adjectives are very often used with a particular adverb, and you need to learn these combinations. Here are a few useful ones:
More advanced students can improve the range and style of their English by listening out for or even inventing more interesting combinations. For example, while it is fine to describe the sun as extremely hot, or a lecture as very boring, it would be very impressive to produce blisteringly hot or mind-numbingly boring.