Question: “My pet peeve is the misplacement of “very” in the heightening of the phrase ‘I am looking forward to it.’ As far as I am concerned, the only way to make this stronger is to say, ‘I am looking forward to it very much,’ or, ‘I am very much looking forward to it.’ But some folks seem to think this is too ‘much of a muchness’ and say, “I am looking very forward to it,” (as opposed to looking backward to it?) or even, ‘I am very looking forward to it.’ The former comes up in my circle more often than the latter. The minute I hear ‘I am looking very forward to it,’ I stop looking forward to it at all.” (Alison Brown)
Answer: I have to say, I agree with you, Alison. That is a very odd construction your friends have there.
This is a perfect example of a grammar problem we talked about a few weeks ago: misplaced modifiers.
When I hear the phrase “looking very forward,” I picture someone standing on their tiptoes, their upper body leaning forward, almost mimicking the classic stance of the hunter’s pointing dog. Or, maybe Wiley Coyote, overextended over the cliff, moments before he realizes the Road Runner’s got his goat again. I suppose “looking very forward” could also mean dressing in a provocative manner … but I’m the last person who should be making fashion calls.
Since “very forward” is at best a comical stance, and at worst deserving of a lecture from your grandma, and “very looking” just doesn’t make any sense (“Verily looking,” however, has a nice, Shakespearean vibe to it), we’re left to conclude that “very” is intended to intensify “much.” And, since we concluded just a few columns ago that modifiers should be placed as humanly close as possible to what they modify, so as to avoid any possible confusion, “very” and “much” should be stuck to one another like glue.
So, good news this week, Alison: You’re right on the money with this one. Bad news: I’ve got no advice on how to get your friends off their wayward grammar path. Perhaps suggest their modifiers are a bit … disordered. Tell them the Grammar Guy said so. Verily.