'Very', though most commonly used as an adverb to modify an adjective or another adverb, is also sometimes used as an adjective to qualify a noun. For example, 'You are the very man I wanted to see', 'That is the very thing I have been looking for', 'On the very day he started work, he was told that the factory was to close', 'The very thought of another operation fills me with dread', 'Go back to the very beginning of the piece and start again'.
'Very' in this use serves to emphasise, in various ways, the noun it qualifies. Sometimes it has the force of 'precisely, exactly, just'. Thus for 'You are the very man I wanted to see' we might say 'You are just the man I wanted to see' and for 'That is the very thing I have been looking for' we might say 'That is exactly what I have been looking for'. Rather differently, 'very' may emphasise the noun it qualifies by means of an implicit contrast. Thus when I say 'The very thought of another operation fills me with dread' I emphasise that what fills me with dread is not an actual operation to be undergone tomorrow but (merely) the thought of a possible operation in the more distant future. And when the music teacher tells her pupil 'Go back to the very beginning of the piece and start again', going back to the beginning of the piece is implicitly contrasted with, e.g., (merely) going back to the start of the phrase or the top of the page.
The adverb 'very', used with superlative adjectives and with 'first'. 'last', and 'next', serves in a similar way to give emphasis - for example, 'This gown is made of the very finest cloth', 'What is your very best price for that gold brooch?', 'Only the very fittest competitors complete the course', 'On his very first day at school he decided he wanted to become a teacher', 'It was the very last thing I said before leaving the room', 'The goods I ordered on Monday came the very next day'.
- Etymological note: 'very' comes, through French vrai, (Old French verai), from the Latin adjective verus, meaning 'true'. Its etymological roots are apparent in an archaic use of the word in English to mean 'true' or 'real', as in the phrase 'the very living God'. Chaucer uses the word in his portrait of the Knight in the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales: "He was a verray, parfit, gentil knyght", or 'He was a true, perfect, gentle knight".
See also Very.