So, a textbook i purchased has 很 used in the sentence “我很好” but states it only means "I'm good", yet, in the vocabulary section, it expresses that 很 means "very". How are you able to tell when it means "very" and when it is a connection particle? I also want be able to say "He is very tall.", would "他很高“ be able to express this?
很 can also be translated as "quite".
There is an answer to this question here:
I think the key takeaway from that article is:
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.
If you wanted to say "he is very tall" or "he is extremely tall", I advise one of the following:
他非常高 tā fēicháng gāo
他十分高 tā shífēn gāo
他高级了 tā gāo jí le
他很高 just means "he is tall".
You may find it helpful to know that some experts prefer to use the term "stative verb" instead of "adjective". This is because Chinese adjectives actually behave like verbs.
Here is an introduction to this topic, from the ABC dictionary:
S.V. (Stative Verb, Xíngróngcí 形容词). These entries are frequently translated into English as adjectives, even though they actually behave in Chinese as verbs. That is, the sense of 'to be' is already incorporated into these verbs, e.g. Zhèige hěn hǎo 'This is quite good.' In fact, it is simply ungrammatical to place the verb shì, 'to be', directly in front of a stative verb. Because stative verbs are actually verbs, they are directly negated by bù, e.g. bù hǎo 'not good', and can be further modified by adverbs of degree such as hěn 'quite', fēicháng 'extremely' and shífēn 'very; utterly'. One common function of stative verbs is that they may serve as adverbs to other actions, e.g. mànmàn in mànmàn chī 'Take your time (eating)' and rènzhēn in rènzhēn de xiě 'write carefully'.
(copied from a page housed by Pleco)
(Added, #1) The above does not fully answer the question. There are cases when 很 does mean "very". One example seems to be the structure " adj. + 得 + 很" eg:
这几天热得很 / zhè jǐ tiān rè de hěn / It's been very hot these last few days
他这个人好得很 / tā zhè ge rén hǎo de hěn / He's a very good man
Here's another example with a different structure:
他觉得很不好受 / tā juéde hěn bù hǎoshòu / He felt very bad
These examples are from the Pleco dictionary. I am not able to provide an exhaustive description of all the cases when 很 should be translated by "very".
One more example, compare:
他身体很好 / He's fine (talking about health)
他身体不很好 / He isn't very well
Just to show that English isn't very logical here either.
(Added, #2) Another way of coupling an adjective with a noun is the structure "N (noun) + A (adj.) + 了", as far as I know it means that "N is A (but was not A, previously)". Or alternatively, that "N has become A"
An example: 他高了 / tā gāo le / he has become tall / He is tall (before, he wasn't tall)
It's not entirely clear to me in what way 他高了 and 他高级了 are related. Maybe I'll ask a separate question about that myself at some point. I suppose it's something subtle related to the usage of the perfective 了.
Not to disagree with the above, but some differences in view.
When answering the question "你好嗎?"
我很好. - I am very well (also "I feel very good").
我好. - I am well (also, "I feel good". or "I am fine").
好. - Good (also "Fine").
To address the relative height of a person:
He is a tall person. 他是一個高個子.
He is a very tall person. 他是一個很高的高個子.
He is very tall. 他很高 (also 他非常高, or 他相當高).
Adjectives like smart, tall, beautiful, delicious...etc., are of the characteristics of a continuum:
- As a continuum, it has no ending point - one can be very, very, very beautiful, extremely beautiful. The highest degree is always beyond.
- As a continuum, its elements are not perceptibly different from each other. To differentiate them, we need to use the highest degree as reference: the positive ones are oriented towards it while the negative ones away from it.
In Chinese, adjectives of this kind must be oriented in cases like:
很、非常、十分、相当、真 ...etc., are markers that indicate an orientation towards the highest degree, with 很 being the prototype. To orient away from the highest degree, we use 不.
If the context contains elements of contrast or comparison, these markers may not be necessary, as the orientation already comes with the contrast or comparison:
- 我这件衣服漂亮吗？(pretty or not pretty?)
- 小明好像高了。(He is taller than he used to be.)
In fact, 很 usually is 'very'. 很 is an adverb. Because there isn't linking verb like 'be' in Chinese that we have to find some adverbs of degree into 他 and 高 like 他很高；他挺高的；他有点高.
For example when I want to translate 'he is tall' into Chinese, I have to add a '很' between them, and when I translate 'he is very tall', I will write 他非常高.
In daily life, when we express 'very' we can stress the word 很 or use 非常, 特别, 十分, 太……了 instead. Strictly speaking, 他高，他瘦，她漂亮 this usage is legal and will not be regarded as an ill-chosen expression (grammar mistake).