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I sometimes see tout used where I might expect très, such as in this sentence:

On vient d'un tout petit village dans les Ardennes.

Is there a limited set of words for which it is normal to use tout rather than très?

  • Indeed, for instance, you can't use it with "grand"... But I can't find the reason it works with some, and not with others... – Random Apr 13 '16 at 7:12
  • We can use "Il est devenu tout grand cet arbre" to emphasize that the tree has become very big. – MorganFR Apr 13 '16 at 8:26
  • I rather agree with random: "tout grand" is indeed never used. One would always say "il est devenu très grand". – BBBreiz Apr 13 '16 at 8:34
  • We are not just talking about what the preferred expression is, but also about the different possibilities, and "tout grand" is in fact an expression that is used in French. Other examples include "ouvrir tout grand les yeux", "un tout grand merci" and more. It is just a different register, that is used mostly in literature. Here's the ngram to support it. tinyurl.com/glhsgz9 – MorganFR Apr 13 '16 at 8:53
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There is no specific rule defining the use of "tout" instead of "très". It is mostly an oral use adding an undertone. For example, "un très petit bébé" in a french's mouth means that an usually small baby. "un tout petit bébé" means a cute baby. Sometimes the undertone is friendship, cuteness, humour ... If you use "très" to mean "very" in some cases, your friend might not react as expected.

Keep in mind : "tout + adj" does not mean "très" in every cases. "La salle est toute bleue" : means the (almost) only color of the room is blue.

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  • What do you mean by "If you use "très" to mean "very" in some cases, your friend might not react as expected." ? – temporary_user_name Apr 18 '16 at 20:40
  • "tout" is laudatory while "très" is more pejorative – Charly Apr 19 '16 at 7:08
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I would say it is possible to use it with almost any adjective (tout petit, tout beau, etc...) but in my mind using it implies some sort of affection, and denotes a sense of endearment towards the thing being described.

A bit like using 'wee' in English: un tout petit bébé -> a wee baby

I do not think there is an actual rule for it.

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