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In dictionaries 很 is translated as 'very' but I'm not sure this is correct.

If I want to say "I am happy" the mandarin is 我很高兴. The character 很 is used even though the english phrase shows no sign that I am very happy or extremely happy.

I have been told to say 我非常高兴 if I am feeling more happy than normal

So does the character 很 show any indication that I am 'very' happy?

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很 is often pronounced lightly, so it is actually without any real information. It seems to fill the role of a predicate marker (e.g. 'copula') with adjective phrases. However, if it's stressed, then it does mean 'very'. (Mandarin Chinese does have stress; however, it seems to get ignored in many language classes.)

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我很高兴, 我挺高兴,我真高兴, 我非常高兴 are commonly used.

我高兴 is valid too, but not that common as the sentences above. You could say 我今天高兴(I am happy today), 我高兴你能来 or 你能来我高兴(I am happy with your coming.)

我很高兴 and 我挺高兴 are interpreted as "I am quite happy."

我非常高兴 is "I am very happy."

我真高兴 is "I am really happy."

我高兴 is "I am happy," but people might use '我很高兴' to interpret 'I am happy' too because 我很高兴 sounds more natural from Chinese perspective.

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  • I think 我高兴 is natural, but in a different context: e.g. “老板给你涨薪水了,你高兴吗?” “我高兴!” – YiFan Mar 2 at 9:16
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Both yes and no :) Speaking from my 3 semesters of Mandarin, we still do use it when to emphasize a degree of "very", but later on some stronger adverbs arrive, e.g. 非常 or 更. So, with the time 很 might become redundant in the translation from Chinese to other languages cause its degree of "very" is smaller comparing to the other adverbs.

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It often does not mean "very":

Nouns are linked to other nouns with 是 (shì). Nouns are linked to adjectives with 很 (hěn). ...

Noun + 很 + Adj.

The noun in this structure is the subject of the sentence. Sometimes the 很 (hěn) in this structure is translated as "very," but often it is just a way to link a noun to an adjective.
Simple "noun + adjective" sentences

(See also the What 很 (hěn) Really Means section of that page.)

But sometimes it does mean "very". This occurs in e.g. the following grammar structures:

Subj. + 很 + [Certain Verbs]
Special verbs with "hen"

An example they give is 我很喜欢你. The 很 is optional (我喜欢你 also works), which indicates it means "very".

The following grammar structure might be considered an example of where 很 means "very":

Adj.+ 得很

It is similar to adding 很 before the adjective,the main difference being that adjective + 得很 is more informal, and adds more emphasis than just 很 + adjective.
Adjectival complement "de hen"

So something like 他高兴得很 has more emphasis than 他很高兴.

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  • Quote:- "A psychological verb is a verb that conveys the speaker's mental state or attitude" If we accept that 高兴, (like 喜欢), is a "mental state or attitude", than, ipso facto, 我很高兴 is to read as "I am very happy"?, 很 = "very"? – Wayne Cheah Mar 2 at 9:17

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