Does the word "quite", when modifying an adjective, mean "very" or "fairly"?

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I got into a bit of an argument with my spouse over the phrase "quite difficult"... Neither of us is a native English speaker, but we use English between us. Anyway, he thinks "quite difficult" means something is more difficult than if it was just "difficult", whereas I think it means something is a bit less difficult (though still fairly difficult) than if it was just "difficult", without the qualifier.

There might also be a difference between the kinds of English we use, because she learned gringo English in Costa Rica, while I was taught the Queen's English here in Finland... Who do you think is right here?

Tuomas, Tuesday, 12 December 2017 19:08 (one month ago) Permalink

both

-_- (jim in vancouver), Tuesday, 12 December 2017 19:09 (one month ago) Permalink

Fairly

Does depend on inflection tho

remember the lmao (darraghmac), Tuesday, 12 December 2017 19:09 (one month ago) Permalink

in american english it tends to be an intensifier, in uk english it tends to be a modifier

mark s, Tuesday, 12 December 2017 19:10 (one month ago) Permalink

xps. although the one were quite means "very, almost completely" is a little archaic and bougie/anglo seeming to me (i.e. you would only hear it from an older person who speaks british english in a middle to upper class register)

-_- (jim in vancouver), Tuesday, 12 December 2017 19:10 (one month ago) Permalink

Tuomas, are you quite sure she's the one for you?

♫ very clever with maracas.jpg ♫ (Le Bateau Ivre), Tuesday, 12 December 2017 19:11 (one month ago) Permalink

*he

♫ very clever with maracas.jpg ♫ (Le Bateau Ivre), Tuesday, 12 December 2017 19:11 (one month ago) Permalink

quite upset we weren't invited to the nuptials

mookieproof, Tuesday, 12 December 2017 19:13 (one month ago) Permalink

fairly shook

♫ very clever with maracas.jpg ♫ (Le Bateau Ivre), Tuesday, 12 December 2017 19:13 (one month ago) Permalink

Yeah jim basically otm although I like to affect the older usage sometimes and I'm not much bougie. Tho I guess I affect it in gentle mockery of bougieness so as you were.

The Dearth of Stollen (Noodle Vague), Tuesday, 12 December 2017 19:13 (one month ago) Permalink

In US English I only hear "quite" as an intensifier, so "quite difficult" suggests more difficulty than "difficult" ... it's not a large difference, though, and could easily be offset by context or intonation.

Brad C., Tuesday, 12 December 2017 19:15 (one month ago) Permalink

if you just use the word on its own (or with "well" in front of it) it's neither amplifier nor modifier, it means "exactly right"

(this usage even more old-fashioned uk posh tho)

mark s, Tuesday, 12 December 2017 19:17 (one month ago) Permalink

This was quite fun.

A is for (Aimless), Tuesday, 12 December 2017 19:17 (one month ago) Permalink

Yeah over here if you say "I'm quite cold" it means "I'm kinda cold". And yet if you said here that x was "quite the gourmet", it would be understood as "very much the gourmet"

sonnet by a wite kid, "On Æolian Grief" (wins), Tuesday, 12 December 2017 19:20 (one month ago) Permalink

^^^latter often with an edge of irony tho

mark s, Tuesday, 12 December 2017 19:21 (one month ago) Permalink

there can only be one english

brimstead, Tuesday, 12 December 2017 19:22 (one month ago) Permalink

*he

Sorry, I meant "she", when I'm typing fast I still occasionally forget your gendered nouns, since we don't have those.

Tuomas, Tuesday, 12 December 2017 19:22 (one month ago) Permalink

the soup is quite hot - the soup is rather hot. Discuss.

StanM, Tuesday, 12 December 2017 19:26 (one month ago) Permalink

i grew up in england and use "quite" as a modifier to mean "fairly".

new noise, Tuesday, 12 December 2017 19:27 (one month ago) Permalink

there can only be one English

and it quite resembles the ever-accreting garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean

A is for (Aimless), Tuesday, 12 December 2017 19:28 (one month ago) Permalink

second is likely a warning, first might be but as likely to be a recommendation or tamping down a worry (differentiated by tone)

swap in nice, first is a tepid warning or an expression of surprised pleasure (after expectation it wd only be ordinary), second very much a recommendation

mark s, Tuesday, 12 December 2017 19:29 (one month ago) Permalink

sorry, xps back to stan

mark s, Tuesday, 12 December 2017 19:29 (one month ago) Permalink

*he

Sorry, I meant "she", when I'm typing fast I still occasionally forget your gendered nouns, since we don't have those.

― Tuomas, Tuesday, December 12, 2017 7:22 PM (six minutes ago) Bookmark Flag Post Permalink

I'm Dutch tbh, and it was just a type, no worries

♫ very clever with maracas.jpg ♫ (Le Bateau Ivre), Tuesday, 12 December 2017 19:30 (one month ago) Permalink

*typO ffs

♫ very clever with maracas.jpg ♫ (Le Bateau Ivre), Tuesday, 12 December 2017 19:31 (one month ago) Permalink

i am hearing clair foy saying all these, so jim_in_vancouver's point is well made

mark s, Tuesday, 12 December 2017 19:31 (one month ago) Permalink

tough question guys

Definition of quite

1 : wholly, completely not quite finished
2 : to an extreme : positively quite sure —often used as an intensifier with a quite a swell guyquite a beauty
3 : to a considerable extent : rather quite near
— quite a bit
: a considerable amount
— quite a few
: many

k3vin k., Tuesday, 12 December 2017 19:32 (one month ago) Permalink

https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51EQGwtWq-L._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

Tuomas's question reminded me of this book title, which I *think* is playing off the two contradictory meanings? i.e. "quite the diplomat" is an arch or semi-ironic way that you might call someone very diplomatic, "not quite the diplomat" = Patten is a diplomat who is being 'undiplomatic' by writing this sprightly wry etc book about diplomacy? (also he was in a diplomatic role as HK gov even though he wasn't a career diplomat)

(the book was published in the US as 'Cousins and Strangers: America, Britain, and Europe in a New Century', which could be because the double meaning wouldn't be understood there? But I suppose it's also because ppl in the US don't know who Patten is, so there's no point giving it an arch jokey title that plays on his public persona?)

soref, Tuesday, 12 December 2017 19:39 (one month ago) Permalink

as well as 'quite' meaning 'very' often being used semi-ironically, 'quite' meaning 'fairly' is *also* used ironically a fair bit in UK English I think, as comic understatement, when you actually mean 'very', which confuses this question further?

soref, Tuesday, 12 December 2017 19:42 (one month ago) Permalink

if you just use the word on its own (or with "well" in front of it) it's neither amplifier nor modifier, it means "exactly right"

(this usage even more old-fashioned uk posh tho)

I like this usage.

Action of Boyle Man Prompts Visitor to Stay (Tom D.), Tuesday, 12 December 2017 19:45 (one month ago) Permalink

It's a British - American difference for sure, but it's also about the intonation. Rising means 'a little' and falling means 'very'

mfktz (Camaraderie at Arms Length), Tuesday, 12 December 2017 19:48 (one month ago) Permalink

rising/falling also different for uk and us i think

mark s, Tuesday, 12 December 2017 19:50 (one month ago) Permalink

actually is "not quite" (as in "not exactly" i.e. "fairly") where the contradictory double meaning comes from?

soref, Tuesday, 12 December 2017 19:55 (one month ago) Permalink

SOED (1933 edn) doesn't include the modified-downwards meaning, interestingly (unless i'm being dim, but it's a short uncomplicated entry)

mark s, Tuesday, 12 December 2017 20:06 (one month ago) Permalink

Nor does Fowler's Modern English Usage (1933), though by 1965 it is acknowledged, as colloquial and by implication recent

mark s, Tuesday, 12 December 2017 20:10 (one month ago) Permalink

(sorry, Fowler 1st edn is 1926 not 1933, i was muddling it with the SOED date)

mark s, Tuesday, 12 December 2017 20:11 (one month ago) Permalink

Fake tuomas

remember the lmao (darraghmac), Tuesday, 12 December 2017 20:53 (one month ago) Permalink

Thanks guys for clearing this up, seems like we were both right/wrong. The wife says she won't have to divorce me now. :)

Tuomas, Wednesday, 13 December 2017 09:53 (one month ago) Permalink

Interestingly(?), a similar thing exists in Norwegian: "ganske" usually means "fairly", but in a more archaic sense (and, I think, modern-day Danish?) it can mean "very" or "fully", compare "ganz" in German. In the latter case it can also be used adjectivally as well as adverbially: "det ganske land" -- "the whole country" -- is still a quite common, if a bit stilted, idiom.

anatol_merklich, Wednesday, 13 December 2017 10:04 (one month ago) Permalink

In my experience it tends to mean "fairly" when modifying a normal adjective, eg "good", and "very" when modifying an extreme adjective, eg "brilliant". This is not always the case though.

chap, Wednesday, 13 December 2017 13:19 (one month ago) Permalink

Funny, I was just remembering an incident in my youth when I, gracelessly, told a female friend she was "quite intelligent". When she took offence I lied and kept lying that by quite I had meant very. She may have been no Einstein, but she wouldn't fall for that.

Eyeball Kicks, Wednesday, 13 December 2017 17:25 (one month ago) Permalink

Funny because the original meaning would have been something like “wholly intelligent, completely intelligent.” I guess what it implies, though, is “intelligent enough to suit”. Which, there’s no backpedaling from that.

bumbling my way toward the light or wahtever (hardcore dilettante), Wednesday, 13 December 2017 17:46 (one month ago) Permalink

quite the most confusing adverb

jmm, Wednesday, 13 December 2017 17:48 (one month ago) Permalink


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