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Steven Tan from Singapore writes:

Hi Roger! My friends often argue about the meaning of the adverb quite. Webster's Dictionary defines it as extreme or very. Am I right to say that it is the same in British English?


Roger Woodham replies:

In British English, quite has two different meanings. It does mean completely or entirely, but it also means fairly or rather.

quite = completely

When it is used for emphasis with adjectives that cannot be graded, quite means completely. The colour adjective black, for example cannot be graded. Things can't be more black or less black. They are just black. So, if we put this into context and look at some more examples of quite with ungradable adjectives, we may find:

  • There's no trace of red in her hair - it's quite black.
  • I see no hope - the future looks quite black to me.
  • It's quite impossible to learn twenty new items of vocabulary each day.
  • His performance on stage was quite amazing - we were just spellbound for three hours!
  • Are you quite sure? I think you're quite wrong about this.

not quite = not completely

When not is used with quite, it always means not exactly or not completely. Study the following:

  • Shall we go? ~ I'm not quite ready.
  • Do you like this one?
    ~ It's not quite the colour I wanted.
  • Have you finished that book on Che Guevara yet?
    ~ Not quite.


quite = exactly / I agree

Quite can be used in an emphatic way as a one-word response, meaning exactly or I completely agree:

  • I always knew their marriage would never last.
    ~ Quite! / Exactly! / So did I!
  • If you stay quite still, those animals won't harm you.
    ~ Quite! / That's absolutely right.



quite = fairly / rather

If we are using quite with an adjective that is gradable, it means fairly or rather. The adjective easy, for example, is gradable. Things can be easier or harder. Thus, quite, when used with easy, means fairly or rather. Study these examples:

  • How did you find the maths test? ~ Oh, it was quite
    , really. / It was quite difficult.
  • What did you think of the cabaret? ~ Oh, it was quite entertaining.
  • I'm quite tired but I'll try and finish this book review
    before I go to bed.

quite with verbs

When quite is used to modify verbs, the meaning depends on whether the verb is regarded as gradable or not. Compare the following:

  • I wouldn't want to be on holiday with him, but I quite like him.
  • How did you get on at Barry's party? ~ Oh, it was quite nice. I quite enjoyed myself.
  • I haven't quite finished decorating Jim's bedroom yet, but I will have by Saturday.
  • I quite agree with you. Young children must never be left at home on their own.



quite with a / an + (adjective) noun

When quite is used to modify nouns or adjectives with nouns, it normally has the meaning of rather. Compare the following:

  • I know they left in a hurry. How did they leave the house?
    ~ Oh, it was in quite a mess.
  • How was the house contents auction?
    ~ Oh, it was quite a success. Nearly everything went.
  • Let's take a picnic with us. I think it's going to be quite a nice day.
  • Did you get to see Hamlet at the Barbican?
    ~ Yes, it was quite an interesting production.

If you would like more practice more please visit our Message Board in the You, Me and Us part of our website.

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